Currently on a nine-fight winning streak, including a lopsided victory over Petr Yan in his previous outing, Dvalishvili sits near the top of the rankings at 135 pounds. But he never wanted to face longtime friend and teammate Aljamain Sterling when he was champion, so he didn’t pursue a title shot.
While Dvalishvili would still defer to Sterling if he was offered an immediate rematch, the 32-year-old Georgian fighter is anxious to get his own shot at gold. The problem is, O’Malley is far more interested in a potential rematch against Chito Vera. O’Malley even suggested a boxing match with Gervonta Davis down the road.
“That’s the thing: They know I’m a hard matchup for Sean, and that’s why they try to not mention my name,” Dvalishvili told MMA Fighting. “No one mentioned my name. I’m like, ‘Bro, I’m here. I’m the No. 1 contender after Aljo.’
“They mentioned everyone! They mentioned Petr Yan, they mentioned Chito Vera, they mentioned everybody. It’s crazy.”
For O’Malley, the push for the rematch with Vera comes down to a previous loss, which stands as the only blemish on his resume. The downside is that Vera just lost to Cory Sandhagen in March before he bounced back with a win over Pedro Munhoz at UFC 292.
As much as revenge is on O’Malley’s mind, Dvalishvili doesn’t understand how that fight makes any sense.
“We all agree that Chito Vera doesn’t deserve the title fight,” Dvalishvili said. “After Aljo, I’m the No. 1 contender, and O’Malley should call me out. We should fight. I have a nine-fight win streak. O’Malley, you are the champion, you are the king now, and you should want to fight the best of the best. After Aljo, I’m the best here. You should fight me. Even if I’m injured, I can fight you with one hand if you want to fight next month. I’m ready. I’m the guy who he should call out.
“Everybody else, Henry [Cejudo], good fighter, but he just lost. Chito Vera got dominated before [by Cory Sandhagen]. Cory Sandhagen, he got his chance for a title, he lost a couple of times, and now he’s injured. He’s a good fighter, but he’s injured, so he cannot fight soon. I’m good. I had a little injury before, but now I’m healthy and I’ll be ready for a fight next month.”
With Vera’s loss to Sandhagen aside, Dvalishvili admits he wasn’t all that impressed by Chito’s win over Munhoz, which was apparently all he needed to earn consideration for a shot at the belt.
“How are you going to fight Chito Vera after this performance?” Dvalishvili said. “He’s a good fighter, but come on. He got dominated and lost against Sandhagen, and Sandhagen wasn’t even grappling. Imagine what I can do to him, or what Aljo can do to him, or what Henry Cejudo can do to Chito Vera. I’m sure they see danger. They’re trying to avoid me.
“They don’t want to fight me because I’m a hard matchup, but at the same time, maybe stylistically it’s good. I’m not a great striker, and especially my right hand, it’s going to take years for my right hand to get to where it was before, but I’m not going to wait. I’m still going to fight, and there is a chance he can knock me out, too. If you are a champion, you have to take a risk. We are fighters. I always take a risk.”
Following his win over Yan in March, Dvalishvili underwent surgery on his hand and was prevented from booking another fight. Now, he’s only thinking about title contention, especially if O’Malley really wants to return in December.
Dvalishvili is also quick to point out he has his own history with O’Malley. He famously took O’Malley’s jacket during a faceoff with Sterling at UFC 288, which led to a viral moment when he celebrated with it on top of the cage before a near-brawl broke out.
Dvalishvili ended up keeping the jacket and even wore it to the UFC 292 pre-fight press conference while taunting O’Malley from the audience.
Now, Dvalishvili is looking to upgrade by taking something else from O’Malley that he covets.
“I stole his jacket, so let’s see if I can steal his belt now,” Dvalishvili said.
Until O’Malley gets booked for a fight, Dvalishvili is going to continue pushing for his chance to get the next title shot. If O’Malley really wants to solidify his reign and beat the best of the best in the bantamweight division, there should only be one name on his mind.
“I’ll be ready [for December],” Dvalishvili said. “Even if I have to fight with one hand, I’ll fight with one hand. I’m a warrior. I was injured before the Petr Yan fight, I still fought. I still won. I’m a warrior, and I’ll fight anybody, but now if Aljo is not coming back soon, and they’re not making the rematch any time soon, I’m the guy to fight Sean. He should know my name. My name is Merab Dvalishvili. M-E-R-A-B.”