Sean O’Malley’s coach admits Merab Dvalishvili is ‘scary’ opponent: ‘There’s ways for us to lose’

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All signs continue to point toward Sean O’Malley vs. Merab Dvalishvili being the UFC’s next bantamweight title fight.

That’s according to O’Malley’s longtime coach, Tim Welch.

“I just feel like there’s a good chance he’s next,” Welch said on The MMA Hour. “Who else would there be? Cory Sandhagen? Probably a little too soon for Ilia Topuria. But it’s going to be up to the UFC, but there’s probably the highest chance that it’s going to be Merab next.

“I think it’s fair. We’ve got to get through this guy. He’s earned it, 10-fight win streak. Don’t want to make him keep fighting. Yeah, I think it’s fair.”

O’Malley, 29, made the first successful defense of his UFC bantamweight title earlier this month at UFC 299 with a five-round rout of Marlon Vera.

Dvalishvili, 33, moved into a tie for the longest win streak in UFC bantamweight history when he outclassed Henry Cejudo to pick up his 10th straight victory at UFC 298. Dvalishvili has also notched wins over Petr Yan, Jose Aldo, and Marlon Moraes over that run.

O’Malley initially called out UFC featherweight champion Ilia Topuria following his revenge win over Vera, however he pivoted in the days after UFC 299 and instead posted on social media that he wants Dvalishvili next. In that same message, O’Malley wrote that “2025 will be legendary” — a comment which drew frustration from both Dvalishvili and some fans who assumed that O’Malley intended to sideline himself for the rest of 2024.

Speaking on The MMA Hour, Welch clarified that the 2025 comment was actually just a bit of playful ribbing — “Just get the little guy flustered up a little bit more,” he said — and that O’Malley is actually targeting a return sometime between September to November this year. Welch also acknowledged that he is more nervous to face Dvalishvili than he was for Vera.

“Merab is just an animal,” Welch said. “Anyone who’s on a 10-fight win streak too, they have a certain sense of confidence to them, which is scary in itself, and his cardio is freakishly [good]. It’s so scary. His five-round cardio is so scary, but I know also he’s never faced anybody like Sean and it’s going to be a big cage, and I’m really excited. There’s definitely ways for us to win. There’s ways for us to lose the fight, too. If we show up not on that night — Sean shows up every time, but Merab is a problem. He really is. But there’s ways for us to win.”

That being said, Welch doesn’t believe Dvalishvili represents the toughest test in UFC bantamweight division. That test, he said, already occurred against the man from whom O’Malley stole the belt with a brutal second-round knockout: Aljamain Sterling.

“I think he was the biggest one,” Welch said. “He was just such a large guy, so lengthy, expert back-taker. He’s not really the type to get on top and really beat your ass. He’s going to pass your guard, he’s going to force you try to stand up — now he’s on your back for the rest of the round. Super strong, physical. I think Aljo was the most dangerous fight for us.

“Just the funkiness of Aljo and the length of him and what he’s good at. Merab’s up there though, Merab’s a huge problem. Like, he’s a scary, scary guy, and it’s perfect because it’s going to get Sean super excited for the fight and the challenge and just to shut everybody up again.”

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