Sean O’Malley eager for Marlon Vera ‘rewrite’ in first title defense at UFC 299

Back in August 2020, in the wake of the first professional loss of his promising mixed martial arts career, Sean O’Malley was in no mood for being humble in defeat.

“It sucks for me because I lost to someone who I look at as not very good,” O’Malley told listeners of his “The Timbo and Sugar Show” podcast days after Marlon Vera secured a first-round TKO victory at UFC 252. “I look at him, and I’m like, ‘He’s not that good.’ And I f–king lost to him.

UFC bantamweight champion Sean O’Malley will face Marlon Vera in a rematch on Saturday at UFC 299 in Miami. Zuffa LLC via Getty Images

“Let’s look at his career in five years, and let’s look at mine,” he went on to say. “I’m going to be f–king world champ, and he’s going to be a f–king journeyman.”

O’Malley was half right, in a shorter window of time.

Three years and three days later, he captured the UFC bantamweight title from Aljamain Sterling, ending his historic reign.

Skip ahead to this Saturday, when O’Malley (17-1, 13 finishes) will make his first title defense in the pay-per-view headliner of UFC 299, and it’s none other than Vera (23-8-1, 18 finishes) who’ll be standing in front of him in the octagon.

If Vera’s a journeyman, he’s a journeyman with a pretty darn impressive résumé since taking O’Malley’s zero.

“He knocked out Frankie Edgar, knocked out Dominick Cruz, beat Rob Font, lost a close fight to Jose Aldo,” O’Malley said during a recent video call with The Post, rattling off some of Vera’s most impressive feats in the interim that run counter to the current champ’s old pot shots. “He’s obviously skilled, very durable, very experienced, hungry. So, he’s a very, very dangerous opponent.”

As accomplished as Vera is, and as much as a whole host of men in the shark tank that is the 135-pound division qualify as worthy title challengers, his placement here comes less than a year after a clear loss to Cory Sandhagen, who like Vera went on to win again in the second half of 2023.

Sandhagen might seem like a more viable challenger in that context — and even then, Sterling or teammate Merab Dvalishvili would have made even more sense — but O’Malley says there’s a key reason this rematch will be his first fight as a UFC champion.

“It was up to me,” O’Malley said, “and here we are. I said this rematch should happen when the time is right. No better time than March 9.”

In their first meeting, O’Malley got the better of the early action with heavy leg kicks against Vera, who tends toward a lower-volume output.

But O’Malley sustained an ankle injury midway through the opening frame, the cause of which O’Malley and his team have disputed as the result of something that happened before the fight while many observers attribute it to damage done by a Vera calf kick shortly before O’Malley showed signs that he was compromised.

What’s not up for debate is the damage Vera inflicted to force the fight to end, as he landed a heavy elbow once the fight got to the floor that elicited the stoppage by the referee.

Undoubtedly, the lower-leg injury played a part in the official’s decision to halt the action, and O’Malley reached for it in clear pain once the fight was over.

O’Malley says time hasn’t offered him any changed perspective on the events of the first fight and was loath to revisit it with The Post, preferring to look toward his second crack at “Chito” in Miami.

“Same as I saw it before. He got lucky. It happened,” O’Malley said before cutting himself off to push the narrative forward. “I get a rewrite at UFC 299. There’s not a lot to, uh … yeah, I get to beat him up soon.”

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