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O'Malley puts bantamweight belt on the line in rematch vs. Vera in UFC 299

Sean O'Malley Sean O'Malley - The Canadian Press

MIAMI (AP) — Nearly four years ago, Sean O'Malley was an undefeated rising star with several viral knockouts under his belt entering UFC 252. His opponent, Marlon “Chito” Vera, was a veteran in the sport by comparison, but hadn't yet broken out with a signature win.

With a leg kick that completely numbed O'Malley's right foot and sent him to the canvas, Vera scored a TKO victory in the first round of the bout, which remains the only loss on O'Malley's resume.

O'Malley (17-1) has said in the past that the loss doesn't exist in his mind. But this week, as he prepares to defend his bantamweight championship belt against the only fighter that has ever defeated him, O'Malley said he's actually grateful that it happened.

“Look where I’m at now,” O'Malley said. “That fight plays out a different way, I win that fight, maybe the next fight I fight somebody that I wasn’t ready for, and I lose. My career completely plays out different.”

Vera and O'Malley will meet for the second time in the main event of UFC 299 Saturday in Miami. Vera (23-8-1), has won five of his past six fights and will get his first shot at a UFC championship. It'll be O'Malley's first defense of his bantamweight title after stopping former champion Aljamain Sterling just 51 seconds into the second round at UFC 292 in August.

O'Malley, who has coined the nickname “Suga” among UFC fans, has risen to the top of his sport with his flashy knockouts and flashier style. Wearing his curly hair in a bright pink and blue afro and a bright green body-length jacket that appeared to be made of tinsel, O'Malley continued to downplay that 2020 result and expressed his confidence that the second installment will go differently.

“I'm very calm going into this fight," O'Malley said at Thursday's pre-fight news conference. "It's easy to be calm when you know you're going to knock someone (expletive) out.”

Oddsmakers expect O'Malley to deliver on that promise. FanDuel Sportsbook lists him as a favorite at minus-280. Vera is listed at plus-210.

That doesn't mean O'Malley will be a fan favorite.

As O’Malley spoke Thursday at Kaseya Center in Miami, the large contingent of Latin American fans in attendance broke out in chants of “Chito” in support of the Ecuadorian fighter Vera.

“This is a huge moment for my career,” Vera said, "and I know people in Ecuador realize how big this can be for history.”

The 31-year-old Vera has said that his plan is to replicate what gave him success in their first meeting by going for O'Malley's legs.

In the final minute of the first round in 2020, Vera landed a kick to O'Malley's right leg that shut down the peroneal nerve in his lower leg, causing him to temporarily lose feeling in that area. He went down, and Vera pounded him with elbows to win the fight.

Since then, the two have exchanged tense words publicly, as well as through Instagram direct messages.

“He's a weird guy," Vera said. "I try to stay away from it. The only thing I did was send him a picture of me back. I didn't even read what he said after. I get it. One of his main tools is to get in people's heads. Well, good luck with that.”

In a stacked card on Saturday night, former interim lightweight champion Dustin Poirier will take on surging contender Benoit Saint-Denis in the co-main event. Welterweight veteran Kevin Holland will face former Bellator MMA title contender Michael “Venom” Page in his UFC debut.

“I know we say this every year," UFC president Dana White said as he complimented the competition, "but this might be the baddest year ever in the history of the company."


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