More Sports


Helena’s Sean O’Malley seeks to avenge only pro loss at UFC 299

Sean O’Malley
Posted at 4:45 PM, Mar 08, 2024
and last updated 2024-03-08 20:03:23-05

GREAT FALLS — After Friday morning weigh-ins, the UFC 299 main event is official. Helena native Sean O’Malley will defend his UFC bantamweight title against Marlon “Chito” Vera on Saturday in Miami.

The past few days have seen press conferences, weigh-ins and surprises. But the time for talk will be over when the octagon door closes on Saturday night.

The lead-up to UFC 299 has been significantly different than the champ’s last outing in August at UFC 292 in Boston. He was a clear fan favorite there with “Sean O’Malley” chants breaking out periodically throughout the weekend.

But with a heavy Hispanic population in South Florida, Vera, from Ecuador, is the local fan favorite. During Thursday evening’s public press conference, chants of “Chito” often drowned out O’Malley when he spoke. But O’Malley still has a worldwide following and expects Saturday’s crowd to be neutral.

“I guess we’ll have to wait and find out,” O’Malley said at a Wednesday press conference. “I think it’ll be fairly even.”

O’Malley made a splash on social media earlier this week, when he debuted his pink fight kit. UFC champions typically wear black and gold trunks for title defenses, but O’Malley called in a favor with the UFC brass.

“I feel like it just makes sense. Pink shorts, Miami. The Sugar Show,” O’Malley said. “I did a crazy thing going out there, knocking out (former champ) Aljamain Sterling in Boston. And in return I asked, can I get some pink shorts? And they made it happen.”

As for the fight, it’ll be a rematch four years in the making. At UFC 252 in August of 2020, O’Malley suffered a hit to the nerve in the first round of his fight with Vera which compromised his mobility. Vera pounced when he realized O’Malley was hurt and secured a TKO victory.

It was the first and only professional loss of O’Malley’s career and it came due to a freak injury.

Four years later, they’re running it back. Both fighters are very different from their 2020 counterparts, and this time a belt is on the line.

“That fight never necessarily bothered me. Look where I'm at now. If that fight plays out a different way, maybe the next fight I fight somebody that I wasn't ready for and my career completely plays out different,” O’Malley said. “So I’m grateful for everything that's happened. My career has played out beautifully and the first fight never really bothered me. But I am excited to go out there and do what I was about to do in that first fight.”

Vera and O’Malley don’t like each other, that much is clear. The war of words and mutual disdain has played out on social media and in press conferences since well before the first fight. But there is certainly mutual respect for each other’s skills.

“This will be a way harder fight. He's definitely got better. He definitely matured more,” Vera said. “It's been almost four years and I'm not thinking because I beat him in the first round last fight that it’s going to happen like that again. The second fight, in my opinion, will be a brand new fight against a brand new opponent. I know we fought before but I like to see what's in front of me.”

O'Malley will have a contingent from Montana in attendance. His immediate family will be in Miami as will former coach Johnny Aho and former teammate Chris Smith. There are nerves in Suga’s circle, but mostly confidence..

“A little more nervous than I was for the Aljo fight,” Sean’s father, Dan O’Malley, told MTN Sports. “Chito is tough, super tough, durable. And the crowd's going to be a little bit different. Chito has a lot of fans, especially in that Miami area. So we'll see how Sean reacts to the crowd, see how he reacts to not being overwhelmingly the favorite.

It’s certainly not the first time O'Malley has faced adversity. And Montana fans have seen how that turned out — with his hand raised and a championship belt around his waist.

UFC 299 will be broadcast on ESPN Pay-Per-View Saturday night starting at 8 p.m. MST