Sean O’Malley reveals potential dates for Merab Dvalishvili title fight

Sean O’Malley hopes to learn the date of his next title defense by the end of June.

After soundly defeating Marlon “Chito” Vera at UFC 299, the reigning bantamweight champion immediately shifted gears toward the future, initially proposing a showdown with featherweight champion Ilia Topuria. O’Malley’s win came just weeks after Topuria knocked out Alexander Volkanovski to win his title and O’Malley felt it was good timing to test the waters at 145 pounds.

That idea was rejected by both the UFC and the fans so O’Malley happily shifted gears back Merab Dvalishvili, the No. 1 contender at 135 pounds. Dvalishvili is currently riding a remarkable 10-fight win streak in the division, including victories over former champions Henry Cejudo and Petr Yan.

Now O’Malley is just waiting on the UFC to officially book the fight and give him a date.

“It’s going to happen. It’s going to happen this year,” O’Malley told MMA Fighting. “I don’t have a date for your guys, unfortunately. UFC told me at the end of the month, they’ll have a date for me. I’m guessing, I’m hoping for the Sphere still. I’ve been pushing for that for a while but if not the Sphere, December in Vegas. Either one, I do think it will be in Vegas. It’s one of those two dates.”

UFC 306 goes down Sept. 14 from Sphere in Las Vegas on a card that may end up as one of the most expensive productions in the history of the promotion. The $2.3 billion arena features 580,000 square feet of LED screens and was primarily set up for concerts and films, but UFC CEO Dana White insisted that he could put on a memorable live sporting event there.

So White is investing a lot of money to make sure UFC 306 goes down as a night to remember, especially considering the UFC’s owners at TKO Group Holdings have been assured this is a “one and done” event.

Meanwhile, the year-end UFC card in December doesn’t have a date yet, though it’s typically set up some time in the middle of the month with the show almost always happening in Las Vegas.

The timing makes sense given the current schedule with UFC 304 in Manchester, England, in July, UFC 305 in Perth, Australia, in August, UFC 307 expected to take place in Abu Dhabi in October, and UFC 308 likely taking place at Madison Square Garden in New York in November (the numbered events are subject to change). UFC heavyweight champion Jon Jones has already announced his intention to clash with Stipe Miocic at the November card, so it seems highly unlikely O’Malley would join him as a co-main event.

Ideally, O’Malley prefers to compete in September, but he’ll roll with the punches if the UFC decides on December instead.

“Of course, I’d rather fight September [rather] than December,” O’Malley said. “But whatever UFC says, I’m ready to go.”

As far as the matchup itself, O’Malley never strays far from the gym even when he doesn’t have a fight date on the calendar. so technically he’s already preparing for Dvalishvili.

He’ll ramp up his schedule once the UFC gives him an exact date, but the technical preparation to deal with the Georgian grappler has already started.

“We’ve been training specifically for Merab since the Chito fight,” O’Malley said. “That’s next and I’m training hard right now, prepared for whatever. We’re 14 weeks out from the Sphere so I’m not training, not full camp but if that’s the date, I’ll get right into camp. But I won’t know until the end of June.”

While O’Malley remains as confident as ever that he’ll dispatch Dvalishvili just as he has many other opponents during his career, he understands the threat he’s facing. Dvalishvili built his reputation around dominant wrestling and conditioning that allows him to push the pace for every single second during a five-round fight.

Those are skills that have to be respected, although O’Malley still considers Dvalishvili’s friend and teammate Aljamain Sterling to arguably be the most difficult puzzle he’s had to solve in the UFC.

“He’s up there. He’s definitely up there,” O’Malley said when ranking Dvalishvili among his opponents. “I think Aljo was the toughest to fight in the division for me. But 100 percent, Merab is up there.

“He’s very dangerous. He’s got a good gas tank. He’s hard to finish. That’s a very dangerous combination. We’ll have to wait and see.”

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