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How long can Sean O’Malley rule the bantamweight division?

Sean O'Malley UFC

(Bob DeChiara-USA TODAY Sports)

Sean O'Malley UFC
(Bob DeChiara-USA TODAY Sports)

How long can Sean O’Malley rule the bantamweight division?

At UFC 292, Sean O’Malley shook up the UFC bantamweight division and the entire MMA world. ‘Suga’ landed a perfect countershot to knock out Aljamain Sterling and take the UFC bantamweight title. Is this the start of the O’Malley era or will his title reign be short-lived? Let’s discuss.

The top contenders

The UFC bantamweight division is not short on elite contenders. In his UFC 292 octagon interview, O’Malley called for a rematch against Marlon Vera in December. In all likelihood, that will likely be the direction the UFC goes. Outside of Vera, Merab Dvalishvili and Cory Sandhagen have both earned title opportunities.

Out of the top three contenders, Dvalishvili would likely be O’Malley’s toughest matchup. Dvalishvili, a training partner of Sterling, is an outstanding grappler in his own right. On top of that, he has one of the best gas tanks in the UFC and can aggressively wrestle for five rounds. That said, at UFC 292, O’Malley and his head coach Tim Welch crafted and executed an outstanding anti-wrestling game plan. It is not within reason to imagine that O’Malley could use his length and counterstriking to beat Dvalishvili.

With that in mind, Dvalishvili does not matter if O’Malley cannot get past Vera. That matchup is much more favorable, however. Yes, Vera defeated O’Malley in the past, but in a striking battle, it is difficult to pick against O’Malley.

Sandhagen, who is currently sidelined with a torn tricep, is an interesting matchup for O’Malley. Sandhagen is the only striker in the division with comparable length. In addition, he has begun to commit to wrestling and has rounded out his skill set. The only issue is that Sandhagen will be out will an injury so that fight will have to come down the line.

A few other potential opponents

The UFC bantamweight division has a laundry list of top contenders. It would not be a shock to see Henry Cejudo, Petr Yan, Song Yadong, or Umar Nurmagomedov work their way to a title shot. Sterling seems to have cold feet on his move to featherweight and could attempt to get a rematch as well.

I will not go as deep into these matchups as the previous contenders. The simple reason for that is that there are a lot of unpredictable things that could happen between now and O’Malley’s fourth title defense.

It is worth noting that none of these matchups are easy fights. Cejudo is a legend and Olympic gold medalist, Yan arguably beat him in their first fight, Yadong has looked outstanding, and Nurmagomedov is an elite rising prospect with sensational skills.

The verdict

O’Malley is currently in an outstanding position. If O’Malley can put together a winning streak against the murders row of 135 lbs., he will quickly establish a sensational resume. In terms of skills, O’Malley is capable of beating them all. This puts him in a great position to make a run at the UFC record for consecutive bantamweight title defense, which sits at three. If he can get to five title defenses, he would tie Dominick Cruz for the most bantamweight title defenses in WEC and UFC history.

The issue with O’Malley is that he is working against history. The bantamweight division is historically hard to rule. At the end of the day, I believe O’Malley’s title reign will be determined by a potential fight with Dvalishvili. If he wins, he can string together a large number. If he can’t he will stall around one or two.

***

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