Storylines: UFC 299

One solitary blemish stains the otherwise pristine resume of current Ultimate Fighting Championship bantamweight titleholder Sean O’Malley, and he intends to make the mixed martial arts universe forget about it.

The MMA Lab standout will defend his undisputed championship for the first time when he faces Marlon Vera—the only man to ever defat him—in the UFC 299 headliner on Saturday at the Kaseya Center in Miami. O’Malley, 29, enters the Octagon on a six-fight unbeaten streak, having gone 5-0 with one no contest since his ill-fated 2020 encounter with “Chito” resulted in a technical knockout loss. He last fought at UFC 292, where he punched out Aljamain Sterling in the second round of their Aug. 19 confrontation to become the eighth bantamweight champion in UFC history. Vera, meanwhile, has won five of his past six bouts, a contentious split decision defeat to Cory Sandhagen the only misstep. The 31-year-old Colin Oyama protégé owns a stellar 15-7 record in the UFC, with other notable victories over Pedro Munhoz, Dominick Cruz, Rob Font and Frankie Edgar. Durable on a historic scale, Vera has never been finished in his 32-fight career.

The O’Malley-Vera rematch and its resulting fallout for the bantamweight division is but one storyline to watch at UFC 299. Here are four more:

Movers and Shakers

Benoit St. Denis fancies himself an elite lightweight, and opportunity now knocks louder than ever. The former French Special Forces soldier will put his five-fight winning streak on the line against American Top Team ace Dustin Poirier in the three-round co-main event at 155 pounds. St. Denis, 28, has finished all five of his opponents during his current tear. The judo black belt last suited up on Nov. 11, when he cut down Matt Frevola with a head kick just 91 seconds into their UFC 295 clash. Porier figures to be his toughest test to date. The 35-year-old Lafayette, Louisiana, native’s lengthy and distinguished track record speaks for itself, highlighted by wins over Conor McGregor (twice), Max Holloway (twice), Michael Chandler, Justin Gaethje and Eddie Alvarez. However, Poirier finds himself on the rebound after a head kick knockout loss to Gaethje in the second round of their UFC 291 rematch in July. Will St. Denis use Poirier as his steppingstone into the Top 10?

The Serpent and the Pain-Bow

Few organizational debuts in recent memory have resulted in much intrigue as the one that awaits longtime Bellator MMA lynchpin Michael Page. “Venom” steps inside the Octagon for the first time when he confronts Kevin Holland in a hotly anticipated welterweight showcase. Page moved to 21-2 in his most recent outing—a 26-second technical knockout that saw him rupture Goiti Yamauchi’s patella tendon with a leg kick at Bellator 292 a little less than a year ago. The flashy 36-year-old London Shootfighters product boasts 16 finishes among his 21 professional victories, 13 of the first-round variety. On the other side of the equation, Holland brings a wealth of experience and charisma of his own to the proverbial dance. With that said, the Dana White’s Contender Series graduate has run hot and cold since his breakthrough 2020 campaign. Holland, 31, holds quality wins over Michael Chiesa, Santiago Ponzinibbio, Tim Means and former Strikeforce champion Ronaldo Souza. He has been knocked out only once—by Stephen Thompson—in 36 career bouts. Does Page of the goods necessary to make a dazzling first impression?

Aussie Open to Interpretation

No one yet knows where exactly to put the ceiling for Jack Della Maddalena. The popular Australian gets another litmus test in the welterweight division when he toes the line against Gilbert Burns in a high-stakes attraction at 170 pounds. Della Maddalena, 27, has rattled off 16 consecutive victories, though back-to-back split decisions over Bassil Hafez and the aforementioned Holland have cooled some of the hype surrounding him. Nevertheless, the ex-Eternal MMA champion has not tasted defeat in almost eight years. First-round finishes of Ramazan Emeev, Danny Roberts and former Ring of Combat titleholder Randy Brown anchor his impressive bio. Burns, meanwhile, has hovered near the top of the weight class for years. The 37-year-old Brazilian jiu-jitsu black belt and Kill Cliff Fight Club representative shows no real signs of slowing down, having won nine of his past 12 fights. Burns now looks to bounce back following a five-round unanimous decision defeat to Belal Muhammad at UFC 288 on May 6. Can Della Maddalena clear this hurdle with more room to spare?

Men on the Brink

Some hail Jailton Almeida as a champion in waiting—a distinction his latest adversary once held. Primed to make his move on the divisional elite, the 32-year-old Brazilian locks horns with Curtis Blaydes in a compelling three-round heavyweight feature. Almeida has pieced together a remarkable 15-fight winning streak that spans more than 2,200 days. He last strapped on the gloves on Nov. 4, when he took a unanimous decision from Derrick Lewis in their 25-minute scrap atop UFC Fight Night 231. In his way stands the monstrous Blaydes, an Elevation Fight Team export who has gained a reputation for stubbing his toe at the most inopportune times. Losses to Lewis, Francis Ngannou (twice) and Sergei Pavlovich have kept him from ever procuring an elusive title shot. Even so, Blaydes’ potent combination of persistent takedowns, suffocating top control and ferocious ground-and-pound make him a difficult out for anyone. How does Almeida navigate those challenges?

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Johan Ghazali