Topps & UFC | UFC 299 Main Event

O’Malley vs. Vera in the Main Event

Date: Mar 8, 2024
Author: Andreas Hale
Topics: How To Collect, Marlon Vera, Sean O'Malley, UFC, UFC 299
Length: 872 Words
Reading Time: ~5 Minutes

When “Suga” Sean O’Malley and Marlon “Chito” Vera met back in August 2020, both the fighters and the world were in a different place. Vera and O’Malley fought in the co-main event of UFC 252, which took place inside the confines of the UFC Apex with no fans in attendance as COVID-19 had shut down public gatherings. As for the fighters, neither was ranked by the UFC in the 135-pound weight class heading into that fight. The then-unbeaten O’Malley was pegged as the future of the division and a potential breakout star, but with only five UFC fights, the future appeared to be a few years away. As for Vera, the Ecuadorian was considered stiff competition for O’Malley but was coming off of a loss to Song Yadong and had a solid, yet unspectacular run in the UFC to that point. 

UFC 299 Main Event

Sean O’Malley and Marlon Vera cards from the upcoming 2024 Topps Chrome UFC set.

Vera would surprisingly beat O’Malley by first-round stoppage after a nerve injury to the leg of “Suga” rendered him defenseless. It was an unfortunate ending and one that placed O’Malley on the sidelines for several months. 

Nearly four years have passed since their first fight and the two fighters collide again at UFC 299 with significantly higher stakes.

O’Malley shrugged off the loss to Vera and would go 4-0 with 1 No Contest before stopping Aljamain Sterling in the second round to claim the UFC bantamweight championship last August. “Suga” rocketed up the UFC rankings after three consecutive knockouts before stepping up against stiffer competition. An accidental eye poke ended his fight with Pedro Manhoz with a No Contest in July 2022, but that didn’t prevent the UFC from booking him for a fight against former champion Petr Yan just three months later. 

O’Malley stunned the MMA world by taking a narrow split decision at UFC 280, which set him up for an opportunity to challenge Sterling for the title at UFC 292. In a classic striker vs. grappler matchup, O’Malley landed a vicious counter right hand that put Sterling down in the second round. With victory in his sights, O’Malley pounced on the wounded warrior and landed follow-up strikes until the referee halted the fight. A new champion was crowned, and “The Suga Show” era was officially upon us. 

Boston, MA – August 20: Sean O’Malley rains hammer fists down en route to defeating Aljamain Sterling by TKO (strikes) at 0:51 of Round 2 for the bantamweight title in the UFC 292 main event at TD Garden. (Photo by Barry Chin/The Boston Globe via Getty Images)

Vera’s path to this title opportunity wasn’t quite as illustrious. 

Vera followed the victory over O’Malley with a decision loss to former champion Jose Aldo in his very next outing. But “Chito” reset and won four straight while scoring highlight-reel knockouts over future UFC Hall of Famers Dominick Cruz and Frankie Edgar. Just as it appeared that Vera was gaining momentum, he dropped a split decision to Cory Sandhagen and got back on the winning track with a somewhat uninspired performance against Pedro Munhoz.

While Vera’s last two performances may not have stood out as the kind of outings that would secure Vera a title shot, O’Malley decided to call the Ecuadorian out directly after beating Sterling after spending years failing to acknowledge his only loss on his record.  

And that’s what makes this fight so fascinating. 

O’Malley’s meteoric rise has been spectacular. However, the loss to Vera has clearly struck a nerve with the freshly minted champion. Stylistically, they are very different. O’Malley is a polished striker who uses his length to control distance and put his opponents on the end of his punches. He’s wildly creative, and his eccentric personality matches his colorful hairstyle. Although he’s only been in the UFC since 2017, O’Malley is already tied for first amongst active bantamweights with six knockouts. He also has nine first-round finishes in his MMA career, and 76% of his wins have come inside the distance. 

The only problem is that Vera has never been finished, and he has never been knocked down in a fight. 

The 31-year-old has managed to go 32 fights without suffering a knockout or a submission loss, and no opponent has been able to put him on the canvas with a strike. On the other side of that, Vera leads active bantamweights with 10 finishes. He’s tied with O’Malley with six knockouts and tied for second in submissions with four. All this while leading active bantamweights in total fight time inside the Octagon at three hours, 59 minutes and 51 seconds. He’s the true definition of durability. 

No, they aren’t the fighters they were when they met in 2020. They have evolved into their final form. And with a storied history between them, they’ll have the opportunity to prove whether the result of their first meeting was fact or fluke. 

Will “The Suga Show” continue, or is it the dawn of a new era in the bantamweight division? All questions will be answered in the main event of UFC 299.

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