Sean O’Malley walks back Ilia Topuria call out following fan backlash, says Merab Dvalishvili is next

Sean O'Malley

‘Sugar’ Sean O’Malley is pumping the brakes on his proposed superfight with newly minted featherweight world champion Ilia Topuria.

Following Topuria’s shocking second-round knockout of Alexander Volkanovski at UFC 298, O’Malley made it clear that a champion vs. champion clash with ‘El Matador’ sounded much more interesting than a match-up with the grapple-heavy Merab Dvalishvili.

“When I think of a scary opponent, like what makes me (shiver), that’s Ilia,” O’Malley told Ariel Helwani on a recent episode of The MMA Hour. “Ilia gives me that – he could put your f*cking lights out and change your life. That’s a scary opponent.”

Unfortunately for O’Malley, UFC fans did not agree. The reigning bantamweight champ was flooded with comments online, accusing him of ducking his division’s clear-cut No. 1 contender. As a result, O’Malley walked back his MMA Hour comments, declaring that Dvalishvili will be the next man up and his intentions of making an example out of ‘The Machine.’

“I wanted the Ilia fight, it excites me, but I also thought the fans would get excited about it,” O’Malley said on his YouTube channel. “I got a lot of pushback, saying ‘You’re ducking Merab, Merab is next.’ So, Merab’s next. Let’s do Merab. I’m telling you guys, I knock Merab out. Obviously, I gotta get through ‘Chito,’ but I’m telling you guys, when I fight Merab I’m knocking that dude out. He’s sloppy. I’m accurate. I’m too fast. I’m too sharp. I put Merab’s lights out — worse than Aljo” (h/t MMA Mania).

Sean O’Malley will have to get past ‘Chito’ Vera before dismantling ‘The machine’

Dvalishvili’s unanimous decision victory over former two-division titleholder Henry Cejudo at UFC 298 skyrocketed him to the top of the bantamweight division’s top 10 rankings. Sitting on a 10-fight win streak, there is no other fighter at 135 more deserving of a title opportunity.

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UFC CEO Dana White said as much while addressing reporters at the latest pay-per-view’s post-fight press event.

“He looked good tonight, man,” White said. “He did what he had (to do). In my opinion, you can’t take three years off in a combat sport. It’s never done well for anybody. Cejudo looked great in the first round. I thought he started to gas out in the second round. Merab just got stronger as the fight went on.”

Of course, before Sean O’Malley can turn his attention toward either Merab Dvalishvili or Ilia Topuria, he’ll have to get past his first bantamweight title challenger, Marlon ‘Chito’ Vera. The two will meet in the UFC 299 headliner on March 9 when the promotion returns to Miami.

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Vera is the only man to have beaten O’Malley inside the Octagon, scoring a first-round TKO against ‘Sugar’ in August 2020.