Preview: UFC 299 ‘O’Malley vs. Vera 2’

O’Malley vs. Vera

Much has been made of the excellent stretch of numbered Ultimate Fighting Championship shows from February to April, and it is hard to disagree that UFC 299 on Saturday at the Kaseya Center in Miami is close to the best the promotion can offer. Sean O’Malley is back in action to defend his newly won bantamweight belt, and he has a tough test against Marlon Vera in the main event. There might be more deserving contenders than Vera, but this bout is still just as intriguing as it was in 2020, when “Chito” handed O’Malley his lone career loss. Beyond that, there is a distinct theme of old-guard contenders trying to stave off new blood in their respective divisions. Dustin Poirier takes on Benoit St. Denis in a potential five-round war at lightweight, Gilbert Burns looks to stop surging Australian welterweight Jack Della Maddalena and former bantamweight champion Petr Yan attempts to turn around a recent skid against Yadong Song. Add in the UFC debut of former Bellator MMA standout Michael Page in what figures to be an entertaining fight against Kevin Holland, and this is as good as it gets.

Now to the UFC 299 “O’Malley vs. Vera 2” preview:


UFC Bantamweight Championship

#8 P4P | Sean O’Malley (17-1, 9-1 UFC) vs. #5 BW | Marlon Vera (23-8-1, 15-7 UFC)

ODDS: O’Malley (-258), Vera (+210)

O’Malley has finally arrived as the UFC’s bantamweight champion, and while his run up the ladder has felt somewhat preordained, he has actually had to overcome a solid amount of adversity along the way. “Sugar” was one of the clear standouts of the first season of Dana White’s Contender Series back in 2017, possessing some natural charisma along with an electric striking style, but there was the initial worry that the UFC would rush O’Malley through the ranks. He was an immediately obvious promotional favorite who got some high card placement, suggesting the promotion was looking for some return on investment sooner rather than later. After a fun if inefficient win in his UFC debut against Terrion Ware, O’Malley eked out a win over Andre Soukhamthath and essentially became a forgotten man for two years. After recovering from a major foot injury suffered against Soukhamthath, O’Malley’s career was derailed due to the same drug testing issues that plagued Jon Jones. O’Malley eventually got cleared, after which it became apparent that he had put his time off to good use. He was now a much sharper power puncher, quickly dispatching Jose Quinonez and Eddie Wineland while looking every bit the future champion. A co-main event against Vera at UFC 252 doubled as a big test and potential breakout for O’Malley. Vera had established himself as one of the most durable fighters on the UFC roster, and this was the opportunity for O’Malley to prove himself able to survive a three-round war. It instead turned into another setback that did little to answer any questions. O’Malley suffered a leg injury thanks to one of Vera’s kicks and quickly found himself unable to effectively fight through the pain, getting stopped as a result. Upon O’Malley’s return, the UFC seemed to reset his prospect clock, giving him winnable showcase fights throughout 2021 in which he at least showed the ability to keep up a beating for multiple rounds. However, another move up in competition led to another unsatisfying conclusion, as O’Malley was matched with Pedro Munhoz. Both men looked tentative before their fight ended due to an accidental eye poke. Surprisingly, that was the moment the UFC decided to let O’Malley sink or swim, matching him with former champion Petr Yan in a fight where he was heavily favored. The American rose to the occasion in a close fight, staying engaged against one of the most terrifying forces in the division, landing with some power and walking away with the decision victory. That earned O’Malley top contender status, taking on Aljamain Sterling in a clear striker-versus-wrestler matchup. After a tentative first round, the striker took things this time around, with O’Malley blasting an aggressive Sterling with a sharp counter to announce himself as the 135-pound king. There are a number of interesting challenges for O’Malley as long as he holds onto the bantamweight belt, and Merab Dvalishvili or Cory Sandhagen figured to be the next to step up to the plate. Instead, the forces involved have settled on a rematch with Vera, who jumps the line but still makes for a fascinating fight.

Vera’s decade-long UFC career has been an impressive success story, since “Chito” would not have even made it to a second fight with the promotion in a more ruthless era. Ecuador’s entry on the first season of “The Ultimate Fighter Latin America” back in 2014, Vera was a sentimental favorite on the show, even if he did not figure to have more success in the UFC as a one-dimensional submission artist. Indeed, he dropped a clear decision to castmate Marco Beltran in his first post-reality show fight. Even so, the UFC bucked its usual custom and decided to keep Vera around despite the loss, and he quickly improved as a fighter, showing an effective striking game just a few fights later against Guangyou Ning. As he started facing better competition, Vera started to prove himself to be quite dangerous, if not consistent. Finishes of Brad Pickett and Brian Kelleher came out of nowhere, and Vera was able to accomplish little against more durable athletes like John Lineker and Douglas Silva de Andrade. Yet he was still able to feast on the vast majority of the bantamweight division, slowly improving until what turned out to be a breakout win against O’Malley in 2020. A third-round knockout of Frankie Edgar in 2021 seemingly completed Vera’s slow metamorphosis into the Yoel Romero of the bantamweight division. While Vera once needed to start off hot to find his groove in a fight, he eventually found comfort in the fact that he is seemingly indestructible, pivoting more and more into an approach built on landing single big moments of offense to win his fights. That was the case against Edgar—as Vera was clearly losing until he closed the show—but main event victories over Rob Font and Dominick Cruz drove the point home even further. The Cruz win was another clean knockout, but Vera managed to win an unquestioned decision over Font despite nearly being doubled in terms of output. A fight with Sandhagen proved to be where Vera’s approach finally hit its ceiling, owing to both the Elevation Fight Team rep’s size parity and wrestling advantage. Undeterred, “Chito” got back on the horse for another well-timed win against Munhoz in August. It came by the skin of his teeth, but it was enough to put Vera in position for this title rematch. While Vera is coming off two middling performances just as O’Malley seems to be cresting, this does figure to be a relatively even fight in practice, as the worry is that it might not rise above a simmer. Vera’s output is not quite as anemic as his reputation has started to suggest, but he is overly patient in picking his spots, while O’Malley has been at his best against shorter fighters willing to pressure and give him plenty to work with in terms of counters. If this stays as a range striking match with neither man being overly willing to lead, this really could cut either way. Vera’s powerful leg kicks wrecked O’Malley the first time around and still stand out as a clear potential weakness for the champ. With that said, O’Malley does have an excellent sense of range and the willingness to at least throw out enough volume to keep this fight from slowing to a crawl. It would be nice if O’Malley had a wrestling game, as he could effectively replicate Sandhagen’s game plan with even more firepower, but that does not figure to be a factor. O’Malley will likely have to deal with a challenge durable enough to be dangerous over 25 minutes. A title change would not be a shock, but Vera’s style is so low-percentage in nature, particularly at a championship level, that the titleholder has to get the benefit of the doubt here, even if it would be surprising if the win was truly definitive. The pick is O’Malley via decision.

Jump To »
O’Malley vs. Vera
St. Denis vs. Poirier
Holland vs. Page
Della Maddalena vs. Burns
Yan vs. Song
The Prelims


Subscribe to our Newsletter

* indicates required
Latest News


Does your anticipation level for UFC 303 match or exceed that of UFC 300?



Johan Ghazali