Sean O’Malley retains bantamweight belt with unanimous decision over Marlon Vera in UFC 299

Sean O'Malley celebrates after retaining his UFC bantamweight title against Marlon Vera at the UFC 299 mixed martial arts event, early Sunday, March 10, 2024, in Miami. (AP Photo/Wilfredo Lee)

Sean O’Malley celebrates after retaining his UFC bantamweight title against Marlon Vera at the UFC 299 mixed martial arts event, early Sunday, March 10, 2024, in Miami. (AP Photo/Wilfredo Lee)

MIAMI (AP) — Sean O’Malley emphatically defended his bantamweight belt Saturday night, unanimously outpointing Marlon “Chito” Vera in UFC 299.

In a fight that he controlled from the opening round, O’Malley (18-1) outclassed Vera with his quickness, precision striking and footwork.

The champion threw 344 punches, landing more than 50% of them. He was the more active fighter throughout, hurting Vera (23-9-1) with shots to the body, knees to the face, and countering nearly every one of Vera’s connections with one of his own.

It was O’Malley’s first defense of his bantamweight title after stopping former champion Aljamain Sterling 51 seconds into the second round at UFC 292 last August.

UFC CEO Dana White called the performance a “clinic” by O’Malley, who is fast becoming one of the biggest stars in the sport. White added that the card was the fourth-highest grossing UFC event ever, with a gate of $14.14 million.

“He’s on his way,” White said of O’Malley, who some believe has star power of Conor McGregor. “He’s the biggest star ever in bantamweight history. You can say that right now.”

Vera handed O’Malley the only defeat of his career nearly four years ago by landing a leg kick that caused O’Malley’s right foot to go numb in the first round of UFC 252.

O’Malley has often downplayed that loss — the kick shut down the peroneal nerve in his lower leg, causing temporary loss of feeling — and vowed to dominate in the rematch.

“That one feels good getting that one back,” O’Malley said. “I’m guessing we can all agree that I’m undefeated still.”

He added that he wants to fight featherweight champion Ilia Topuria next.

“Dana,” he said, “Give me a jet to Spain, baby.”

Immediately after the five-round fight, O’Malley sat down on the canvas after Vera hurt him late with a shot to the body — one that could have been much more significant if it was landed earlier in the match.

“I tried to stay toe to toe with him and catch him,” said Vera, the Ecuadorian fighter who received a massive amount of cheers from the fans at Kaseya Center.. “At the end of the fifth round I landed a nice body that hurt him, but I ran out of time.”

Former interim lightweight champion Dustin Poirier knocked out up-and-comer Benoit Saint Denis with a right hand in the second round of their lightweight match. Saint Denis had hurt Poirier with punches in the early round before the veteran dropped him with a right hook at 2:52 in the second round. The victory moved Poirier into a tie for the fourth-most wins in UFC history with 22.

Jack Della Maddalena stretched his winning streak to 17 with the biggest victory of his career. He stopped Gilbert Burns in the third round of their bout with a crushing knee to the head, moments after it appeared Burns had secured a fight-clinching takedown. Della Maddalena followed the knee with a series of elbows on the ground for a TKO victory at 3:43 in the final round of the 170-pound fight.

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