Stars of Two Kinds in O’Malley vs. Vera 2

Sean O'Malley and Chito Vera, UFC 299
MIAMI, FLORIDA - MARCH 08: (L-R) Opponents Sean O'Malley and Marlon Vera of Ecuador face off during the UFC 299 ceremonial weigh-in at Kaseya Center on March 08, 2024 in Miami, Florida. (Photo by Chris Unger/Zuffa LLC via Getty Images)

UFC 299 will see two of the promotion’s most exciting stars collide as Sean O’Malley seeks revenge against Marlon “Chito” Vera.

Sean O’Malley is very much the star of tomorrow.  “Suga” has performed as exceptionally as one could hope for as a prospect turned champion, turning in lights out performances and all of it culminating with a beautiful title winning effort over a well established veteran.  It’s a promoter’s dream: a young star becoming a face of the company and both brands benefitting as a result for a happy partnership.  Since becoming the breakout star of Dana White’s Contender Series in season one, O’Malley has become a force of nature all his own on social media to become the kind of next generation celebrity the UFC has looked to get behind in the 2020’s.

He is not lacking for motivators going into his first title defense.  To begin, he has a chance to avenge the only loss of his career and rewrite the story of a match that is remembered for the injury incurred rather than the skill displayed.  Beyond that, a surging contender eager to etch his own place in history in Merab Dvalishvili waits in the wings, with contenders like Corey Sandhagen and Umar Nurmagomedov coming up behind him to complete the title picture.  If he can hold onto gold after facing such a murderer’s row, however, then it would likely be time to discuss his ceiling as a potential mainstream crossover star.

Marlon “Chito” Vera has seen what life could be like on the other side of championship gold.  A commentator for the Spanish UFC broadcast, he’s seen the life-changing reception to his co-worker at the desk in Brandon Moreno after winning the title.  Further, Vera commands vast attention in his native Ecuador in his appearances back home since breaking through as a contender.  Notably, that attention back home has carried over into Miami this week as the vast amount of media from his home country and the Spanish-speaking media there for him in general necessitated a first of it’s kind double media day appearance to accommodate reporters of both languages.

A fan-favorite whose following has stood by him even in his setbacks, Vera’s laissez-faire approach to the attention is arguably his best weapon.  In an era where politics are bigger in combat sports than ever, “Chito” is a breath of fresh air behind a “have gloves, will travel” attitude about taking on all-comers in pursuit of winning the belt.  Headlining one of the most stacked events in nearly a decade, excitement will be at a fever pitch by the time he and O’Malley make their way to the Octagon.  There would be plenty to be nervous about knowing you’re up against a popular young champion and the big Latin American crowd in Miami is watching to see if you can bring another belt to South America.  But if you were to name the fighters best equipped for such a moment, Vera would be on the short list.

Regardless of how the fight plays out, it would be difficult to imagine any scenario other than Merab Dvalishvili fighting for the belt next. “The Machine” rides a ten fight win-streak and most recently throttled former two-division champion Henry Cejudo in February to slam the gauntlet at the feet of Saturday’s winner.  With Umar Nurmagomedov returning to action recently with a dominant victory, and Cory Sandhagen expected to return in the near future, it would appear the bantamweight division is heating up to have one of its best years ever.