UFC 292 Fallout: Who will Sean O’Malley defend against first?

MMA: UFC 280-Yan vs O'Malley
Craig Kidwell-USA TODAY Sports

This past Saturday in the main event of UFC 292, the bantamweight title was on the line. “Sugar” Sean O’Malley (17-1, 1 NC) was looking to become bantamweight champion as he took on Aljamain Sterling (23-4) who was looking to successfully defend his title for the fourth time.

When analyzing this fight, the path to victory was pretty clear for both men. For O’Malley, he needed to keep the fight standing while Sterling needed to take the fight to the ground. Come to find out that O’Malley was dealing with an injury that prevented him from grappling the last six weeks of training camp which made his need to keep the fight standing even more dire.

In the first round, O’Malley was able to use his footwork and keep distance to keep the fight on the feet. However, he didn’t land any significant. Sterling got a clinch near the end of the round and landed a few shots which sealed the round for him. However, the fight wasn’t going to last much longer.

Just a little more than 30 seconds into the second round, Sterling lunged with a left. O’Malley slid out of the way and landed a huge counter right which floored Sterling. O’Malley pounced and then the fight was stopped. Sean O’Malley became the UFC bantamweight champion.

What’s next after UFC 292?

O’Malley just became an even bigger star than he already was which is hard to believe. While Sugar Sean was a big star, he needed a win like this to really validate himself amongst the hard core fans who still had a lot of doubts about just how good he was. To this point, his biggest win was a close split decision win over Petr Yan.

However, nobody can say anything now. He stopped Aljamain Sterling clean to become UFC champion. So, who will be the next challenger? In my opinion, there’s only two options. I really don’t think Sterling will be an option which opens the door for two fighters. Marlon “Chito” Vera and Merab Dvalishvili are the two names to watch.

Merab is the top contender in the division, but he is best friends with Aljamain Sterling. Because of that, he vowed to never fight for the title while Sterling was champion. With Sterling dropping the belt, it opens the door for Merab and there’s a storyline built in there.

The more lucrative option is likely Chito Vera. Vera and O’Malley fought once before with Vera picking up the TKO win. The rematch would be massive and would likely do bigger numbers for the promotion. Given the fact that O’Malley called for the Vera fight, my guess is that’s where the UFC goes.

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