Monday Mailbag: What’s next for Sean O’Malley, is Chito Vera impossible to finish, rest of UFC 299


Heading into it, this past weekend looked like one of the best combat sports weekends in a long time – and it somehow delivered. Anthony Joshua delivered one of the single most brutal KO punches I’ve ever seen, and then basically everyone at UFC 299 did their part to exceed expectations. There’s so much to talk about, let’s jump right in.

Sean O’Malley

ICYMI, Sean O’Malley bludgeoned Marlon Vera for 25 minutes in the main event of UFC 299, retaining his bantamweight title. Afterward, he called out featherweight champion Ilia Topuria, but he did say he’d also be down to knock out Merab Dvalishvili.

First off, what a performance by O’Malley. Heading into the fight, I thought he could do something like that, but there’s a big gap between being able to something and actually delivering. He delivered, never letting Chito settle in.

What I was most impressed about from O’Malley, however, is that no only is he getting better, but he showed some real toughness in there. I thought he would need to stick and move the entire fight, and as he slowed down, he’d be there to be hit more, giving Chito a chance. That sort of happened, but when it did, O’Malley sat down and fired back and make Chito respect him. Yes, the performance was tactical and technical and brilliant, but there was also some ruggedness to him that will serve the champion well in the future.

As for what’s next and the difficulty level of it: Merab is next. Bantamweight and featherweight are too good, too deep, and have too many deserving contenders for each of the new(ish) champions to abandon them in the pursuit of a champ vs. champ fight with very little steam to it. In a couple years they can circle back. But for now, O’Malley will fight Merab next.

And I’ve gotta say, after Saturday, I like his chances a lot more than I previously did. If you had asked me a month ago, I’d have said Merab, no question. Devalishvili’s ability to put an insane pace for 25 minutes is truly something to behold, and I still might pick him to win. But O’Malley also fought at a good clip, and he’s undeniably the more dangerous of the two fighters. For all Merab’s strengths, he does tend to get hit a lot, and if we learned anything from Saturday, it’s that Sean will hit you.

And for the sake of answering the questions: Topuria is the worse fight. Topuria is a bad fight for all but a handful of people under 170 pounds. And yes, UFC 299 was an all-timer of a card. One of the best of the past few years, for sure.

Sean O’Mallet, part deux

By “shaken” do you mean he immediately started beating the soul out of Chito? Because I didn’t get a “shaken” vibe from O’Malley at all.

As for being a heel, that could be true, but I’ll reserve judgment. A lot of fans don’t realize just how enormously popular and beloved Chito is. Anyone fighting him is going to be thrust into the heel role, especially when that person’s entire persona lends itself to traditionally heel-ish stuff like flamboyant hair and ridiculous sun glasses. In general, though, O’Malley is obviously quite popular, and outside of facing off with Chito, I’m not sure there’s widespread dislike of him to push him into a traditional heel role.

Cory Sandhagen

Lost in all the “Merab or Ilia” talk is the fact that Cory Sandhagen is right there in the bantamweight title mix (and after Saturday, so is Petr Yan). It seems almost a certainty at this point that Sandhagen will fight Umar Nurmagomedov next, and the winner of that will get a title shot. While I don’t like Cory’s chances, if he wins, he would have a great shot against O’Malley. Both dudes are extremely fun and dangerous, but Sandhagen has a few more tools. I’d love to see it some day.

Marlon Vera, the unkillable

At this point, Chito is absolutely in the conversation for being the most durable fighter in MMA history. Per ESPN, Chito is now tied with Jon Jones for most fights in UFC without being finished, and when you consider that Jones was winning all those fights, while Chito has definitely NOT been winning all of his, that’s an impressive statement about how insanely tough this man is.

But here’s the thing about that: no one stays gold forever. For years I said the same things about Mark Hunt and Carlos Condit that I did about Chito. They simply seemed impervious to damage in an almost comic book-like fashion. But over time, granite erodes, and those iron chins crack. And the beating he just took from O’Malley is the type of beating that accelerates the process. Just ask Carlos Condit about Robbie Lawler. All men break, eventually. But for now, Chito and Max Holloway are not mortal men.

That being said, the punch Anthony Joshua landed on Francis Ngannou would’ve felled an elk. The fact that the the second knockdown punch didn’t sleep Francis is a testament to his otherworldly chin, but no man alive, dead, or fictional could withstand the finishing punch Joshua threw. It legitimately looked like a guy throwing on one of those punch machines, heaving everything they have into a stationary target to max the score – 999 across the board, and if life was an ACME cartoon, it would’ve broken the machine.

Dustin Poirier

ICYMI, Dustin Poirier survived a strong start from Benoit Saint Denis to score another incredible knockout win in the co-main event at UFC 299.

This is a great question, and I spent a ton of time thinking about it, because it’s so close. The biggest pro for Rafael dos Anjos is that he won the undisputed UFC lightweight title (and also challenged for an interim welterweight belt). That is the feather in the cap that every fighter hopes to achieve, and it’s notably lacking from Poirier’s resume.

On the other hand, Poirier has achieved something more than a title and transcended the belt conversation in ways that RDA never has. RDA is undeniably a legend, and a guy who has fought just an insane level of competition his entire career. But is he beloved in the way that Poirier is? No. Not by half.

The question ultimately boils down to whether you value legacy or accomplishment. RDA has a legacy, but it is largely defined by accomplishment (perhaps unfairly). Poirier’s legacy transcends that. Would you rather be Mickey Ward or Pauli Malignaggi? There’s no wrong answer, but I think that I this point I’d take Poirier’s.

Fight IQ

Gotta respect Poirier’s insistence that he’ll keep jumping that gilly despite a 0 percent hit rate. Every man has to have a code, and I support Dustin’s.

Benoit Saint Denis

Comparing Benoit Saint Denis to Jake Shields (as fighters) should be a criminal offense. I was there for Shield’s entire career. I watched him fight. The man has never come close to being as interesting or as fun as BSD in his entire career. You should be ashamed of yourself.

BSD is the new Justin Gaethje, just more grappling focused. I said that coming into the fight, and this confirmed it. BSD has never had defense, because he never needed it. “God of War” has an incredible chin. It would have been reasonable for him to assume that after Zeleski dos Santos couldn’t finish him at welterweight – he took a hellacious beating – no man could.

Now, BSD knows he can get knocked out. He going to learn the same lesson that Gaethje did, from the same guy, and come back better than ever. It’s going to be so sick. Remember, BSD has only been fighting professionally for five years. To have accomplished as much as in that amount of time is ridiculous. He’s going to be around and be a problem for several years to come.

Michael ‘Venom’ Page

ICYMI, Michael Page won a clear-cut unanimous decision over Kevin Holland in his UFC debut.

There was a fair bit of criticism on Page for his performance on Saturday, and I genuinely do not understand why. What exactly were people expecting from MVP? Did they think he was going to knock Holland out? Kevin Holland is as tough as they come. The man has been TKOd one time in his career. That was the Stephen Thompson loss, where he tried to keep fighting but his corner stopped it after four rounds of one-sided beatdown. Basically, the exact same thing happened on Saturday. If that was a five-round fight, it’s entirely possible Holland’s corner throws in the towel after another whomping in the fourth round.

Here’s how you know MVP had a great fight: Kevin Holland didn’t say s***. When do you ever watch a Holland fight where he’s not chatting up a storm about something. That man was silent as the grave for most of that fight, because he was in the middle of an abject ass-kicking and was trying to stop it.

Aside from Conor McGregor and Paddy Pimblett, the conversation around MVP in MMA is the most insane to me. There are people who like him and believe him to be an all-time great. They are wrong. There are people who hate him, and they really believe him to suck. They are very wrong. True, Page has basically fought poor competition his entire career, but he also walloped that competition. That’s what good fighters do. MVP is a good fighter, perhaps even great. Now, in the UFC, we’ll see him fight the best dudes in the world every fight out, and we’ll get to find out just how great he is.

My guess is he gets to a title shot, and if it’s against Leon Edwards, he might win the damn thing since Leon throws about four punches a round.

MVP vs. Israel Adesanya

Trust me, you do not want this fight. The best case scenario is Izzy catches MVP leaping in and we get a decent knockout. The worst case (and much more likely) scenario is we get zero punches exchanged for 25 minutes, because MVP stands 10 feet away and jumps in and Izzy just slides away every time MVP leaps at him. Even in the best case scenario, it only comes after the worst case scenario plays out for some amount of time. This would be a truly awful fight to witness, same as the much talked about MVP vs. Wonderboy fight.

Hope for something else. Something better.

Curtis Blaydes

Just a quick shout out to Curtis Blaydes. The man got completely dominated in the first round by Jailton Almeida, then came out in the second and executed the game plan. Then he made a note-perfect callout of Tom Aspinall for an interim title fight, and Aspinall seems game. Just a great night for him all around.

Blaydes is a guy that many thought would fight for a title some day, but he’s lost every time he’s found himself on the cusp of it. That’s unfortunate, but now it finally seems like he’ll get his shot at the TRUE heavyweight title. You know, the one being defended against actual competition and NOT against 42-year-old firefighters who have not won a fight in four years.

UFC 300

ICYMI, the UFC revealed the final, full fight card for UFC 300, and the Bo Nickal vs. Cody Brundage fight is on the main card over multiple former champions.

The UFC loves Bo Nickal. That’s the long and the short of it, and while some people aren’t stoked about it, whatever. Nickal is extremely likely to win a belt in the near future. Maybe he won’t, you never know. But he’s as good a bet as anyone. Investing in him early in their biggest card in years makes a lot of sense promotionally.

Joanna Jedrzejczyk

Funny that you should ask, because last year we did a whole DAMN! They Were Good on Joanna Champion. You should listen to that now if you haven’t already.

But long story short, Joanna is one of the most important fighters in UFC history. She built the UFC strawweight division, and in so doing, established women’s MMA in the UFC as a legitimate thing and not just Ronda Rousey-centric. Because there is absolutely a world where the UFC could have gotten into the Ronda business and then let women’s MMA fall by the wayside when she was out, like they’ve done with featherweight. Instead, they moved into it legitimately, and Joanna gave them a reason to stay.

There are few people more deserving of a Hall of Fame induction, and this is only her first. It won’t be long before she and Weili Zhang are inducted for their fight at UFC 248, which is the greatest women’s fight in history and a top-seven all-time fight. Congratulations to Joanna Champion.

Thanks for reading, and thank you for everyone who sent in tweets (Xs?)! Do you have any burning questions about things at least somewhat related to combat sports? Then you’re in luck, because you can send your tweets to me, @JedKMeshew, and I will answer my favorite ones! Doesn’t matter if they’re topical or insane, just so long as they are good. Thanks again, and see y’all next week.

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