Sean O’Malley is the new UFC bantamweight champion, Aljamain Sterling is reconsidering a planned move to featherweight, Zhang Weili dominated and Ian Machado Garry is a rising star. So much happened at UFC 292 in Boston and that makes for exciting opportunities.
O’Malley completed his rise from “Contender Series” prospect to UFC champion with a second-round TKO of Sterling in the main event. O’Malley was one of UFC’s most marketable fighters and can now start to build his legacy as a superstar. O’Malley called out rival Marlon Vera on Saturday night, but there’s another challenger waiting in the wings to avenge Sterling.
Zhang looks like a nightmare to beat after a record-setting performance against Lemos. Garry completely immobilized veteran Neil Magny over three rounds. Vera also emerged victorious on Saturday and earned himself a call-out from the champ.
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With so many moving parts, let’s examine the best fights to make in the aftermath of UFC 292.
UFC bantamweight championship — Sean O’Malley vs. Merab Dvalishvili: There are three great fights you can make with O’Malley as champion: Dvalishvili, Vera and Cory Sandhagen. While Vera and Sandhagen are worthy opponents, they have their own issues to sort out first. Sandhagen requires six months of recovery after undergoing surgery for a fully torn tricep. Vera is the only person to beat O’Malley and was gifted a call-out by the new champ, but he is too far down the pecking order after a split decision loss to Sandhagen in March. The fight that needs to be made is between O’Malley and Dvalishvili. Sterling’s training partner will be foaming at the mouth to avenge his dear friend’s loss. His status as the No. 1 contender in UFC’s official rankings makes him the rightful challenger. Add the fact that Dvalishvili is still walking around with the red jacket he stole from O’Malley and there is a ton of ammunition to promote this epic clash.
Petr Yan vs. Marlon Vera: Put two of the UFC’s most violent bantamweights in the cage and let them do their thing. Both men are traditionally slow starters but hopefully, they cancel each other out. Yan is desperate for a bounce back after going from UFC champion to a three-fight losing streak. You could argue that Yan should take a larger step down in competition following his first career losing streak, but “Chito” barely scraped by Pedro Munhoz and still appears to be missing something at the championship level. Yan is fighting down the division as Vera will attempt to climb the rankings. You could alternatively book Vera vs. Henry Cejudo.
There’s no better view of THAT @SugaSeanMMA knockout 😮💨 #UFC292 pic.twitter.com/s9TmUEMjgt
— UFC (@ufc) August 20, 2023
Brian Ortega vs. Aljamain Sterling: Sterling may be spurred to stick around at bantamweight a little longer, but he’s been talking about a move to featherweight for so long that I’d like to see him forge ahead. At least for a test run. Ortega vs. Sterling would be a sick matchup. Sterling is right to be concerned with how much harder featherweights hit. Ortega can certainly crack but he doesn’t have nearly the accuracy that O’Malley possesses. The grappling exchanged between Ortega and Sterling could be wicked. It’ll also verify if Sterling is truly capable of making a run at 145 pounds.
Women’s strawweight division
Zhang Weili vs. Yan Xioanan: Take this fight to China, pronto. Many were surprised when UFC announced that Zhang would defend her title against Lemos. Yan appeared to be the most obvious top contender. Since then, Tatiana Suarez has emerged as another realistic challenge for Zhang. You could pair either woman against the champ or against each other in a title eliminator. But if Zhang wants to remain active then someone needs to step up to the plate. Zhang vs. Yan would mark the first time that two Chinese fighters would compete against each other for a UFC title. It’s historic, it makes sense competitively and it’s the fight we should see next. UFC president Dana White said during Saturday’s post-fight press conference that the promotion is “probably” heading to China soon with Zhang on the card.
Amanda Lemos vs. Tatiana Suarez: It’s very much a 1A, 1B situation with Yan and Suarez at the moment. Suarez is in a groove right now, but she only recently came back from injuries that shaved years off her career. She looked great against Andrade, but I’d like to see Suarez get one more rep before taking on a fighter the caliber of Zhang. Lemos just fought for a title and is a perfect final test for Suarez before she tries to make good on expectations as a future world champ.
Doesn’t get more dominant than that 👏 #UFC292 pic.twitter.com/vBk4AmKiVc
— UFC (@ufc) August 20, 2023
Stephen Thompson vs. Ian Machado Garry: The cocky young Irishman called out “Wonderboy” on Saturday night. Let’s give it to him. Thompson declined to fight Michel Pereira after the latter missed weight so he should be available for a fast turnaround. Garry appeared to take no damage against Magny so this fight could be made rather soon. Thompson proved that he can be a fun fighter when paired with the correct opponent. Welterweight has an influx of exciting new contenders such as Garry, Shavkat Rakhmonov, and Jack Della Maddalena. It’s best to avoid killing off future contenders by pitting them against each other. Thompson vs. Garry is a solid Fight Night headliner or pay-per-view main card addition. It’s got the right combination of styles, name value and star-building potential. Alternatively, you could rebook the Geoff Neal fight originally scheduled for UFC 292 but I’m not sure about his condition.