Photo by Jeff Bottari/Zuffa LLC
Long considered a top prospect at 135 pounds, O’Malley is slated to face Pedro Munhoz on July 2 at UFC 276 in a fight that could finally serve as his springboard into the UFC’s bantamweight top 10. An impressive performance would put O’Malley within striking distance of title contention, and the 27-year-old said Monday on The MMA Hour that it’d be stage one of an ideal two-stage plan that could vault him into a title bout by early next year.
The other stage of that plan? A long-discussed rematch with an old rival: “Chito” Vera.
“Two more finishes — early 2023, I’m fighting for the belt, whoever has it. I think after this fight, I go out there, I’ve got to finish Pedro — and I go out there, let’s say I finish Pedro, I get a top-5 guy, whoever that is. Depending on if ‘Chito’ gets a fight booked, I know that’s a fight that I want,” O’Malley said Monday on The MMA Hour.
“I don’t know if he’s going to get a fight booked. I’m assuming. He seemed like he wants to fight again. If he goes out there and wins, that could be another fight, maybe December time frame. We’ll see. I was kind of hoping Rob [Font] would win that fight, because I wanted to fight Rob, but he didn’t obviously. So yeah, I think Pedro, depending on if ‘Chito’ goes out there and beats someone in the top five, he probably can get a title shot. If he doesn’t end up getting a fight, I would like finish Pedro and get that fight, and we’ll see.”
Vera is expected to vault up the rankings after recently trouncing Font, who was MMA Fighting’s No. 6 ranked bantamweight in the world prior to their UFC Vegas 53 fight.
O’Malley and Vera collided previously in August 2020 at UFC 252, with Vera handing “Suga” the only loss of his career via a first-round TKO. Both men have since gone on to be successful — O’Malley rebounded to score a trio of UFC wins, as did Vera after a subsequent loss to Jose Aldo — and the two have continued sniping at one another from afar. O’Malley even adopted a tongue-in-cheek gimmick of having won their fight.
And now he’s ready to go again.
“In the past I said he’s got to earn a rematch, and I think he’s done that,” O’Malley said of Vera. “He went out there, lost to Jose Aldo, went out there and lost to Frankie Edgar and then beat him with, you know, he basically lost to Frankie. He lost 13 minutes of a fight.
“No, he did, he finished Frankie. With two more minutes in that fight, he loses that. But I will, I’ll say it, he knocked out Frankie. Then he went out there and he looked really good against Rob, he looked impressive against Rob, he looked like he definitely improved. I don’t know how he didn’t finish him — he dropped him about 13 times. So he’s definitely improved and he’s earned that rematch. People hate when I say that, but it’s true — he earned it.”
Vera is currently going big-game hunting for his own next step since the Font win. In a recent appearance on The MMA Hour, the Ecuador native called out a variety of contenders, including Aldo, Dominick Cruz, and Cory Sandhagen.
O’Malley, likewise, still has matters to attend with Munhoz. But if “Suga” takes care of business at UFC 276, he believes the Vera rematch will make a lot of sense.
“It’s a big fight, and that’s what I’ve been saying since that fight happened,” O’Malley said. “They’re like, ‘Oh, you want a rematch?’ I’m like, ‘No, I want him to do what he’s done, which is build his résumé.’ Go out there, lose to Aldo, almost lose to Frankie, and then beat Rob, so he’s earned it. And I’ve got to go out there and beat Pedro.
“This is kind of what I expected. Not expected — I didn’t know if he was going to be able to go and win these fights. But this is what I was imagining if we did get a rematch, that we were both going to keep winning and winning and winning and then get there.”