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What’s next for bantamweight champion ‘Sugar’ Sean O’Malley?

© Craig Kidwell-USA TODAY Sports

In a second round TKO with 51 seconds left, ‘Suga’ Sean O’Malley defeated Aljamain Sterling during the main event of UFC 292 on Saturday. At just 28 years old with a UFC record of 9-1, O’Malley won the bantamweight world title and sealed his name as the new face of the UFC.

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“It only takes one mistake against me,” O’Malley said. “I don’t even know if that was a mistake. I’m just that f—ing good.”

O’Malley, a Montana native who trains out of Phoenix’s MMA Lab, entered last nights bout as a +200 underdog according to Cesar’s SportsBook. Sterling entered last night on a nine-win streak and had not been defeated in six years. 

With a powerful right hand counter to knockout Sterling and claim his first ever title, O’Malley has proved the doubters wrong. Still reveling in success after last night’s win, what is up next for the young star? 

Marlon ‘Chito’ Vera

In his post-game interview with Joe Rogan, O’Malley called out Marlon “Chito” Vera. Vera is responsible for handing O’Malley his only loss during UFC 252 where he was defeated in the first round via TKO after he broke his foot. A loss that O’Malley doesn’t register, claiming that he is “mentally undefeated.” 

Vera has won four of his last five fights, two of them via TKO and holds a UFC record of 21-8. Vera is seen as an easy fight for O’Malley and would be a questionable first match as a champion.  

O’Malley has revenge and redemption on his mind, but his challenge may not be aimed at the right contender. 

Cory ‘Sandman’ Sandhagen

Cory Sandhagen has expressed his eagerness to face O’Malley and is well within his rights to do so. Holding a UFC record of 17-4, Sandhagen recently defeated Vera in March via split decision.

In a post-match interview, Sandhagen said that O’Malley wanting to fight Vera was “weak sauce.”

“You want to fight the guy that other people are beating,” Sandhagen said. “I don’t know, that kind of bothers me about the way that O’Malley thinks.”

Sandhagen has an impressive resume that includes six first-round defeats and seven knock-outs on top of three submissions. His recent terror through the UFC roster has earned him a shot at the title. 

Merab ‘The Machine’ Dvalishvili

Dvalishvili is No. 1 in the bantamweight rankings behind former champion Sterling and is currently on a nine-fight win streak. Coming off a win against No. 5 ranked Petr Yan in March, his hot streak is becoming hard to overlook. 

He holds a UFC record of 16-4 and is an endurance master. Three of Dvalishvili’s fights have been wins by knockouts and one by submission, the other 11 have all gone the distance. 

Dvalishvili is another fighter who believes Sandhagen deserves a title shot. 

“If Aljo moves up and he vacates the belt, I think I’m No. 1,” Dvalishvili said. “Cory’s coming from a winning streak… I think we should fight (for the) title.”

After Saturday’s fight, the belt is not vacant and O’Malley holds the title with no plans on letting it go. 

“This is just the beginning of the ‘Suga’ era,” O’Malley said. “I’m running this s— until 2035, baby.”

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Taylyn Hadley is a sports and general assignment reporter for Burn City Sports. You can follow her on X via @TAYLYNH11.

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