Now the UFC bantamweight champion, O’Malley makes the first defense of his title in a rematch against Vera on March 9 in the main event of UFC 299. O’Malley’s coach Tim Welch stopped by The MMA Hour on Wednesday to preview the matchup.
“I don’t think [he’s improved] a ton. I don’t think his confidence is going to be high,” Welch said of Vera. “And the way he showed up against Cory Sandhagen, he got smoked by Cory Sandhagen. He barely got past a little, short — no diss, but — Pedro Munhoz, who’s not very fast and big, he’s a little bit older. So I don’t think his confidence is super high.
“But Chito’s dangerous. He is really, really good at getting beat up and then winning, which is a dangerous thing. He’s very durable, he trains hard, he’s got a good coach, and he’s dangerous. Last time we fought him, we [underestimated] him. We thought he was just slow and clunky, and then that happened. So we’re not underestimating him this time.”
O’Malley, 29, captured the title with a stunning knockout of Aljamain Sterling this past August at UFC 292. Overall, the Montana native has won nine of his 11 UFC appearances and is unbeaten since his loss to Vera. Included in that stretch is a decision win over former UFC bantamweight champion Petr Yan.
Vera’s road, on the other hand, has not been as straightforward. Since defeating O’Malley, the 31-year-old Ecuadorian has racked up a 5-2 record over his seven octagon appearances, sandwiching blowout losses to Jose Aldo and Sandhagen between big wins over Frankie Edgar, Rob Font, and Dominick Cruz. Vera edged out Munhoz in a closely contested bout in his most recent outing at UFC 292.
Between that and the Sandhagen loss, Welch hasn’t exactly been blown away by what he’s watched on tape from “Chito” in 2023.
“I feel like I know what Chito’s game plan is,” Welch said. “Like everyone’s game plan [against O’Malley], kick the legs, kick the legs — oh, his body’s going to be soft. Kick the legs, kick the legs, maybe kick one to the head, kick his body. Maybe try to mix in some shots. In this big cage, he’ll feel really quickly that he’s not going to be able to take Sean down and his game plan is going to go to s*** really quick, I believe. But like I said, we just pretty much focused on his last fight against Pedro Munoz. How did he look at his last fight?
“That was not that long ago, so we watched film on that. Watched film on Cory Sandhagen, because Cory standing there, obviously he switches stances, moves around a lot, and how did [Vera] go about that fight? What did he do? It seems like he just got confused and he got broke mentally. So if that Chito shows up on March 9, it’s going to be really bad for him.
“I just think that Cory Sandhagen bout is just going to be in his mind,” Welch added, “and when he feels Sean’s movement and Sean’s speed and his reaction times, I feel like that’s going to come back into play into his mind. Like, f***, he just couldn’t get started. He felt like he just couldn’t reach him. He just couldn’t get to him. He was too slow. And I feel like that’s probably going to come back, especially in the big cage.”
Despite losing their first bout in emphatic fashion, O’Malley is currently listed as more than a 2-to-1 favorite to exact his revenge and defeat Vera at UFC 299 in Miami.
Welch sees the fight much as the oddsmakers do, and his prediction is simple: Vera starts slow and tries to pace himself for a five-round battle, until O’Malley ends things in the third.
“I believe it’s going to be a viral knockout,” Welch said. “But like I said, I’m preparing Sean for a five-round war. I’m bringing the toughest people I could find in to spar him, going tons of rounds, trying to break him, trying to break his legs, kicking his legs, and we’re preparing him for a five-war, because Chito is really good at taking shots. He’s very durable.
“So we’re preparing him for five rounds, but I do believe in my heart that he’s going to be probably face-planted at the end of the fight.”