Sean O’Malley’s next opponent: UFC champion set for Merab Dvalishvili showdown

Hunter Haas
Sean O'Malley

Sean O’Malley is fresh off an impressive championship defense at UFC 299, but he is already calling his shot for the next match against a rising bantamweight contender.

‘Suga Sean’ rose to prominence as a striking specialist on Dana White’s Contender Series. The youngster quickly gained the attention of UFC fans with his tendency to finish fights in exciting fashion.

He rattled off five consecutive wins to open his UFC career, but an untimely injury against Chito Vera led to the rising star’s first MMA loss ever.

After healing up, O’Malley got back to his winning ways with four more knockout victories, including a second-round stoppage vs Aljamain Sterling to win the bantamweight championship at UFC 292.

As fate would have it, the new champion made his first title defense against a familiar face — Chito Vera. He avenged the lone loss on his resume with a unanimous decision victory at UFC 299.

O’Malley, however, came away with another injury — this time to his foot — which required some time away from the octagon to heal. But he promised to return as swiftly as possible.

The 29-year-old is currently without a scheduled fight, but he’s not lacking in terms of potential opponents. With speculation running wild, let’s zero in on four prospective fights that the bantamweight champion should consider.

Sean O’Malley vs Ilia Topuria in Spain?

Immediately after defeating Vera at UFC 299, Sean O’Malley called out Ilia Topuria, the reigning featherweight champion of the world.

O’Malley even told Dana White that he would be willing to travel to Topuria’s home country of Spain for the first card in the nation’s history.

The matchup is exciting on the surface for one reason. Both O’Malley and Topuria live and die by the sword — so to speak. Neither one is shy to stand in the center of the octagon and trade blows.

While the prospect of a champion vs champion match will be hard to deny, it remains unlikely that White will make this fight, as Topuria hasn’t even defended his featherweight strap, and O’Malley only has one title defense himself.

But, if the two take care of business in their respective divisions, expect O’Malley and Topuria to be on a collision course with one another. Until then, it remains a dream match for fans.

A potential super-fight with Conor McGregor

Ahead of Conor McGregor’s return to the combat sports world in June, it’s impossible to ignore the potential record-breaking gate if he headlines a PPV card against Sean O’Malley.

In the early days of his promising MMA career, O’Malley frequently drew comparisons to McGregor. From their patented knockout power to their unorthodox punching angles, these claims had merit.

Now, O’Malley, 29, is entering the prime of his UFC career, while it’s unclear what type of fighting condition McGregor is in after spending nearly three years away from the octagon.

‘Mystic Mac’ is still the prize-money draw in the UFC, and ‘Suga Sean’ is on the way to becoming this era’s McGregor — in popularity and fighting style.

A battle of generations would be an easy sell for MMA fans. But this fight is on hold until McGregor finishes his June date with Michael Chandler.

The road to Max Holloway

Max Holloway is coming off a last-second knockout of Justin Gaethje at UFC 300. And the new BMF champion already has his sights set on his next opponent.

Holloway mentioned Topuria and McGregor as the most likely options, but fans shouldn’t rule out O’Malley vs Holloway with the BMF title on the line.

Although unlikely to be O’Malley’s immediate next opponent, the idea is one that White and the UFC will undoubtedly entertain.

Like the McGregor and Topuria matchups, the two fighting styles of O’Malley and Holloway would result in another fight-of-the-night contender.

Holloway welcomes all challengers, but it might be a bit early in O’Malley’s career to make such a drastic jump in weight — assuming the BMF bout would be at 155 pounds.

What about boxing star Ryan Garcia?

On the May 16 episode of BS w/ Jake Paul, O’Malley called into the show to confront the guest of the day, Ryan Garcia. The two traded insults through the phone, but both men spoke of their desire to fight each other.

Garcia told the bantamweight champion that he’s already spoken with Dana White to get approval on an MMA match in the future. O’Malley loved the idea, but he wants to square off in the boxing ring as well.

’Suga Sean’ is busy preparing for his upcoming UFC title defense, but after that, given the money that boxing crossovers bring in, it wouldn’t be a surprise to see O’Malley vs Garcia actually happen.

Merab Dvalishvili should be O’Malley’s next opponent

The most likely option for O’Malley’s next opponent is Merab Dvalishvili. He’s been angling for a match for several years now, and the two have a history outside of the octagon.

Following O’Malley’s fantastic performance at UFC 299, Dvalishvili tried to congratulate ‘Suga Sean’ in the tunnel. But the champion shrugged it off and just kept walking.

The two have engaged in verbal jabs with each other ever since, with Dvalishvili even producing hilarious social media skits that poke fun at the reigning bantamweight champion.

O’Malley announced in late March that Dvalishvili would be his next fight, although fans still await official confirmation from Dana White. “Merab’s next. Your wish is granted,” he said on his Timbo Sugar Show podcast.

Given how early Topuria is into his reign, how big of a question McGregor is going forward, and how long Holloway will be on the shelf — Dvalishvili is clearly the most straightforward fight to make.

Unlike the triumvirate of fighters previously mentioned in this article, Dvalishvili wins first and foremost as a wrestler. It’s something O’Malley has rarely had to deal with in past fights.

Dvalishvili would present the most formidable foe O’Malley has fought to date. It will require the bantamweight champ to put in a camp dedicated to defending an onslaught of takedown attempts and ground attacks.

Sean O’Malley’s career MMA record

Sean O’Malley holds an 18-1-1 record in his MMA career. He sports a sparkling 11-1-1 record in the UFC, including seven knockouts since joining the promotion.

The lone loss came against Chito Vera, while his UFC 276 appearance against Pedro Munhoz resulted in a no-contest after an accidental eye-poke by O’Malley.

Those are the only blemishes on his MMA record to this point. He avenged the Vera loss by retaining the UFC Bantamweight Championship in a five-round rematch.

O’Malley still doesn’t have a venue or date for his next fight, but the expectation is that he will appear again in 2024 — with rumors of being the headliner at The Las Vegas Sphere for UFC 306 in September.

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About The Author

Hunter Haas is the Senior Sports Writer at Dexerto. Over the last two years he has worked as a writer and editor for FanSided at NFLMocks. He also served as an editor at The Raider Ramble and The Blue Stable. Hunter is an expert in all things MMA, WWE, and NFL. You can email him here: hunter.haas@dexerto.com