Sean O’Malley open to ‘very beatable’ Merab Dvalishvili after UFC 299 but still wants ‘scary’ Ilia Topuria

Sean O’Malley had a cageside view of a future opponent at UFC 298, one way or another.

O’Malley makes the first defense of his UFC bantamweight title on March 9 in a rematch against Marlon “Chito” Vera at UFC 299, and if victorious, he could find himself fighting one of the two stars from Saturday’s card. Ahead of UFC 298, O’Malley proposed a champion vs. champion match against Ilia Topuria if the Spaniard defeated Alexander Volkanovski, which he did with a stunning second-round knockout to capture the UFC featherweight strap. Fellow bantamweight Merab Dvalishvili also dominated Henry Cejudo at UFC 298 to extend a division-best 10-fight win streak, then called out O’Malley for a shot at the 135-pound belt.

O’Malley reacted to the two performances on Monday’s episode of The MMA Hour.

“Volk coming off that nasty KO not too long ago, Ilia’s confidence that high, how dangerous he is — I had a feeling that Ilia was going to win,” O’Malley said on The MMA Hour.

“He knocked out the featherweight GOAT in Round 2. I knocked out [Aljamain Sterling], bantamweight GOAT, in Round 2. I’ve kind of pushed that fight a little bit. I’ve been getting a lot of hate for it, a little pushback saying that I’m ducking Merab. I’m like, Merab just barely — not barely, he whooped Henry, but Henry is like 42 or something. He looked horrible. I would’ve knocked Henry out four times that fight. And then Ilia goes out there and knocks out Volk, the greatest featherweight of all-time in Round 2 in a beautiful performance, and I’m calling him out, and I’m getting s*** from the MMA fans, saying, ‘Oh, you’re ducking Merab.’

“I’m trying to call out a fight that I feel is exciting, that’s like holy s***. But I got a lot of pushback on it. I don’t know if people actually want me to fight Merab as much as they just hate the confidence that I have that I would go out there and knock out Ilia. But I decided, I’ve said what I needed to say, I’ve sent my message to Ilia. If Merab is next, Merab is next. I can get Ilia whenever, whenever the time comes. I haven’t talked to the UFC because obviously there’s nothing to talk about. I’ve got Chito Vera, March 9. That’s what’s next. That’s what I need to focus on.”

While O’Malley, 29, and his coach Tim Welch have both campaigned for a potential superfight between the bantamweight champ and Topuria, that interest has thus far been unrequited. Topuria threw cold water over the idea ahead of UFC 298, telling MMA Fighting that O’Malley still has “a lot to prove” at 135 pounds and predicting that Vera will beat O’Malley again at UFC 299 after previously winning via first-round knockout in 2020.

In addition, UFC CEO Dana White anointed Dvalishvili as the next No. 1 bantamweight contender at UFC 298’s post-fight press conference after the Georgian winning machine moved into a tie for the longest win streak in the history of the UFC bantamweight division.

But O’Malley is not deterred.

“I’ve said what I need to say to those guys. And really, what it comes down to is, I go out there and put on the performance that I say I’m going to put on against Chito — a beautiful, masterful performance — and I call out whoever I want on that mic, I think I can get what fight I want,” O’Malley said. “But I’ve got to go out there and do what I do.”

O’Malley and Dvalishvili have traded shots at one another from afar since Dvalishvili stole O’Malley’s jacket this past May during an in-cage faceoff with Sterling. O’Malley on Monday conceded that he was “a little bit” surprised by the ease with which Dvalishvili outclassed Cejudo, though less so after certain whispers reached him about Cejudo’s preparation.

“I was hearing rumors up to fight day that, ‘Hey, Henry didn’t have a great camp, Henry hurt his groin, Henry didn’t get as good of sparring and training as much as he wanted to,’ so with that being said, you can’t go into a fight not 100 percent against Merab,” O’Malley said. “Merab is a machine, he has a 10-fight win streak. He’s f****** good.”

Ultimately, O’Malley knows the entire debate is moot if he fails to exact his revenge against Vera at UFC 299, so he’s not counting his chickens before they’re hatched.

But whether it’s Dvalishvili waiting for him afterward or Topuria or someone else entirely, O’Malley likes his chances to continue his hot streak, even if others don’t.

“There’s Merab, there’s Cory [Sandhagen], there’s Ilia. Those all have potential for next,” O’Malley said. “Again, I’m — boom — laser focused, dialed into March 9. Whatever happens after that, I’m very confident in. Merab is very beatable. Henry about knocked him out, Marlon Moraes about knocked him out. Merab’s got a crazy good gas tank, he’s got good wrestling, and he’s a dangerous opponent. When I think of a scary opponent, like what makes me [shiver], that’s Ilia. Ilia gives me that [feeling of], ‘He could put your f****** lights out and change your life.’

“That’s a scary opponent. Merab is a dangerous opponent, he’s just got that good cardio and he could eventually put your lights out after you gas out, but he’s not like [a finisher]. He didn’t finish Henry. So we’ll see. I like big, big fights. Merab, I’m not saying that wouldn’t be up there, but what it comes down to is, what do the people really, truly want to see? If they want to see Merab, that’s what’s next. But again, I hate even talking about that, I’ve got Chito in front of me.”

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