While there’s no competing with the hype of the UFC 252 main event, the “Sugar” Sean O’Malley (12-0) and Marlon “Chito” Vera (15-6-1) bout is shaping up to be a real show, as well.
Both fighters have had impressive fights earlier this summer. O’Malley earned his second knockout of the year in May against veteran Adam Wineland. Vera lost his fight in May, but he made it to a decision against the dominant, young Song Yadong.
The buzz behind this fight is largely generated by the polarizing O’Malley. His attitude, his hair, his perfect record – there’s a lot of things to love or hate. O’Malley looms quite a few inches over the average Bantamweight fighter, and he has the reach to match it.
There’s no question that his striking game is going to come front and center, as he uses it to keep Vera at bay. It has been a consistent strategy for O’Malley. He wears his opponents down until the significant strikes start landing. In the last few fights, that hasn’t taken long, at all. But Vera could prove to be a new kind of opponent for O’Malley.
Vera’s recent loss to Yadong needs to be taken with a grain of salt. The loss came after a 5-win streak, and at the hands of a man who is ascending rapidly in the Bantamweight division. This bout is between two young, impressive fighters who could be legitimate contenders down the line.
On paper, Vera is slightly more diverse. O’Malley’s ground game has gone mostly untested in the past, whereas Vera has finished quite a few fights on the ground. On the one hand, O’Malley may look to continue taking advantage of his size, and on the other he’s spoken about wanting to show the BJJ skills he’s working on. There’s no doubt Vera will be looking to at least try to secure some takedowns.
So what’s at stake for these two? They are fighting on the fringe of Bantamweight ranked positions. O’Malley is in (the top 15), Vera is out, but that could change in an instant. O’Malley is looking to defend a perfect title, and Vera is trying to prove he’s more than just a gatekeeper to Bantamweight relevance.
Vegas has O’Malley and his range at a significant favorite (-280) to Vera (+220). I think O’Malley keeps the streak alive, but not enough to put money on it. Vera’s odds are looking good considering how truly dangerous he is in the octagon.