Sean O’Malley’s coach discusses chances in Ilia Topuria superfight: ‘Sean wants big fights, like McGregor had’

Sean O’Malley doesn’t plan on leaving the bantamweight division anytime soon, but that doesn’t mean he’s ruling out a trip to featherweight to challenge for Ilia Topuria’s gold.

O’Malley puts his UFC bantamweight title on the line against Marlon Vera this Saturday in the main event of UFC 299 in Miami, and his longtime jiu-jitsu coach Augusto Mendes told MMA Fighting’s Trocação Franca podcast that “Sugar” is dead serious about gaining an extra 10 pounds to face Topuria. The Spanish star recently knocked out 145-pound king Alexander Volkanovski to win the UFC featherweight title.

“I think he has the body structure to fight at featherweight, he’s very tall,” Mendes said. “If he has time to do some work and build up muscle mass and get stronger to fight at featherweight, I’m sure he’s a tough fight for anyone up there.”

Merab Dvalishvili is likely next for the bantamweight belt after defeating Henry Cejudo in February, so booking Topuria vs. O’Malley depends on other factors as well.

“We know the UFC is a business, it’s money,” Mendes said. “They’ll go wherever there’s money. If it’s Merab or Topuria, I believe [O’Malley] is a good matchup against either. I think [Topuria] is a good fight. I think Topuria would be tougher than Merab because it’s a boxer, he’s very calm. He’s shown that against Volkanovski. He’s patient, and like Sean, he has punching power. Sean wants big fights, like [Conor] McGregor had. He didn’t defend his belt after he beat [Jose] Aldo, he [moved up to lightweight] and the money was there, and he performed. I don’t know what the UFC will decide when it’s Sean’s turn.”

“[O’Malley] told me we don’t want to abandon the division yet,” Mendes added, “but he doesn’t want to miss an opportunity either. If there’s a chance for the [featherweight] belt, he’ll go for it.”

O’Malley must first get past “Chito” at UFC 299 to keep both fights alive with Dvalishvili and Topuria. Mendes looks back at their first clash in 2020 to analyze what went wrong when O’Malley injured his ankle early in the fight, then was finished via TKO moments later.

“That fight doesn’t reflect much on what Sean can do and how much he was evolving,” Mendes said. “He lost. It happened, but we believe he would have found a way to win by knockout if there was no injury. He was controlling the action, ‘Chito’ was countering more, waiting. He had the credit of landing the kick, of course, but we don’t see that often. I believe Sean could have done more in that fight and won if he had been more patient, but we’re talking about a fight that happened years ago.

“He’s way better now than he was back then, and we believe Vera is too despite the setbacks and losses in his career. He won his last fight, but it wasn’t that convincing. What made him fight for the belt was his history with Sean, that’s what’s selling this. And we wanted this fight as well to prove what happened was kind of an accident. Let’s see who’s right now.

“[O’Malley is] planning on going there and dominating, knocking him out. We respect Marlon Vera a lot and know his potential. We don’t think it’s an easy fight. We took this camp very seriously and we know it’s a tough fight.”