Merab Dvalishvili explains how he’ll beat Sean O’Malley, Marlon Vera in potential title fights

Merab Dvalishvili should be the next man up to fight for the bantamweight title, and he has two potential opponents in waiting.

Behind one door is Sean O’Malley, who recently became champion with a second-round knockout of Dvalishvili’s close friend and teammate Aljamain Sterling at UFC 292; behind the other door is Marlon Vera, one of the division’s stoutest contenders and the only man to have beaten O’Malley. The two collide in the main event of UFC 299 in Miami next Saturday, with Dvalishvili expected to face the winner after defeating Henry Cejudo at UFC 298 to notch his 10th straight victory.

While Dvalishvili’s next fight is a long ways away from being signed, he was asked by Demetrious Johnson to break down how he’d fare against the UFC 299 headliners.

“I see [O’Malley] as a dangerous opponent because he has good footwork, he has knockout power, he has a very strong right hand, and he has good timing,” Dvalishvili said on the MIGHTYcast. “I see him as a dangerous fighter. Once he won on the Contender Series and I saw him in the UFC, I wanted to fight him because I want to challenge myself and I’m still looking that way.

“But how I see [the fight playing out], I think I should stay smart, just patient, keep striking and just wait for my time to shoot. If he defends, I let him go and then I’m going to shoot again, make him slow, make him tired, and eventually I will take him down.”

Dvalishvili has developed a reputation as one of the bantamweight division’s most fearsome grapplers, which on paper seems to make him the perfect foil for the more striking-minded O’Malley. That may be one reason why O’Malley recently entertained the possibility of challenging featherweight champion Ilia Topuria should he get past Vera, an idea that “Sugar” walked back when he received a negative reaction to passing on a Dvalishvili fight.

Should “Chito” defeat O’Malley, it’s unlikely that the company man would campaign for a specific opponent, so it may be a matchup that Dvalishvili will have to consider soon.

“I think ‘Chito’ is also a good fighter,” Dvalishvili said. “Very smart, he’s waiting in his pocket, he’s patient. He’s slow, but he’s sharp. Of course, he has a lot of experience in the UFC, he’s been in so many fights, won and lost. He’s dangerous, he has good kicks as well. But I don’t study him much, ‘Chito’ Vera, yet, but one thing is for sure, I will just train hard. What I learned is that you’ve got to just go step by step every fight. I’m focused on my next fight, next fight, next fight, that’s how I believe. I realized that a couple of years ago, just focus on the next fight.

“So if ‘Chito’ wins, I will just start studying him, but just keep doing my thing. It’s nothing personal, if I lose against them then OK, God bless you, no problem. It’s a fight.”

Dvalishvili has said on multiple occasions that he is so eager to return to action that he is willing to serve as a backup for the UFC 299 main event. It’s a stance that hasn’t changed with the card less than two weeks away.

Even if he’s not needed in that role, he hopes that whoever is champion at the end of next weekend is ready to fight him soon.

“Actually, I want to be back as soon as possible because my last fight, even though I was preparing hard and I was ready, I don’t know, somehow I didn’t feel like I was in a fight,” Dvalishvili said. “I don’t know. I feel like nothing happened and I’m just very hungry for a fight. I still want to compete, my body feels good.

“Usually, after weight cuts, you’re just hungry, crazy, you’re sore, next week you usually feel it and you don’t even want to go to the gym. Now, I feel like I missed it. Today I was at the gym, sparring, training, I love it. I enjoy it. I have motivation. I don’t feel like I just won the fight. Hopefully, the next fight will be soon.”