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UFC 299: Sean O'Malley batters Marlon Vera for first bantamweight title defense

MIAMI, FLORIDA - MARCH 09: (L-R) Sean O'Malley knees Marlon Vera of Ecuador in the UFC bantamweight championship fight during the UFC 299 event at Kaseya Center on March 09, 2024 in Miami, Florida. (Photo by Chris Unger/Zuffa LLC via Getty Images)
Sean O'Malley looked more than impressive at UFC 299. (Photo by Chris Unger/Zuffa LLC via Getty Images) (Chris Unger via Getty Images)

Sean O'Malley avenged the only loss of his MMA career to notch his first UFC bantamweight title defense.

The 29-year-old dominated challenger Marlon Vera from the first to the fifth round at UFC 299 on Saturday, walking away with a unanimous shutout decision win (50-45, 50-45, 50-44) at the Kaseya Center in Miami.

None of the rounds were particularly close, save for the fourth round. O'Malley is one of the most vicious and tactical strikers in the UFC and Vera just couldn't find an opening for the first three rounds. The damage on his face steadily built up and there was little doubt about the result barring a miracle finish in the championship rounds.

The hardest shot came on a knee to Vera's face in the second round. O'Malley said he felt something break there after the match.

"I felt something in his face break," O'Malley said. "I don't know if it was his nose, his cheek or maybe I'm just feeling s***, but I felt like something snapped."

Vera had more life in the fourth round and had O'Malley in danger at times, but nothing came of it. At the very least, Vera showed an impressive chin, but there are few rewards for that unless paired with something else.

Vera didn't really have much else, at least until the final seconds of the fight when a body shot caught O'Malley so hard he needed a few moments before the decision was declared.

"That was a nice shot. That was a nice shot," O'Malley said, without elaborating.

Ending aside, it was as strong a start to O'Malley's reign as he could have reasonably hoped for. O'Malley's record now sits at 18-1 (1 no-contest), with the sole loss coming to Vera at UFC 252 in 2020, where the veteran surprised him with a first-round TKO win. There were no surprises Saturday.

It was that win which basically got Vera the first shot at O'Malley's title, and O'Malley was happy to even the score. He even tried to argue the win makes him undefeated again, which is not how it works.

"Chito's as tough as they get," O'Malley said. "That one feels good, getting that one back. I'm guessing we can all agree that I'm undefeated still."

Sean O'Malley wants Ilia Topuria for next UFC fight

As far as where O'Malley goes from here, there is one obvious option. Merab Dvalishvili has won 10 straight fights, with recent wins over former champs Petr Yan and Henry Cejudo, and was in attendance for UFC 299. Giving someone else a shot at O'Malley would be an astounding decision.

O'Malley said he wanted someone else, specifically the recently minted featherweight champion Ilia Topuria.

"Dana, get me a jet to Spain, baby. I'm coming for Ilia Topuria," O'Malley said. "Ilia excites me. Going up a weight class excites me. But honestly, I'm here for whatever. If you want me to knock out Merab, I'll do that too. Ilia's an exciting fight for the people."