Reigning UFC bantamweight champion Aljamain Sterling is fresh off his UFC 280 pay-per-view (PPV) title defense against former division titleholder TJ Dillashaw but subsequently told his Twitter followers he’s targeting a June 2023 return.
Sean O’Malley doesn’t want to wait that long.
“Sugar” took over the No. 1 spot in the bantamweight rankings by defeating former 135-pound champion Petr Yan, also at UFC 280, and believes the promotion would be better served by booking a Marlon Vera rematch for the interim strap in March.
“I get it, Aljo cuts a lot of weight,” O’Malley said on his YouTube channel (transcribed by Danny Segura). “He’s probably already back up to 165, 170, he’s probably like, ‘I don’t want to cut weight again in the next couple of months, I want to enjoy it.’ He wants to wait eight months. I get it, I do, but say the No. 1 contender, ‘Suga’ Sean O’Malley is ready to go in March, and the next guy in line, in my opinion, should be ‘Chito’ Vera. He just beat Dominick Cruz, beat Frankie Edgar, beat some good guys. Why not have a little interim belt, and then the winner of the interim belt fight Aljo when he’s ready?”
O’Malley fought Vera at the UFC 252 PPV card back in summer 2020 and fell to “Chito” by way of first-round technical knockout. “Sugar” would later blame the loss on a wonky knee, leading to a protracted war of words between O’Malley and Vera.
“Chito” would later board the “Sugar” train and support an immediate title shot.
Matchmakers are unlikely to greenlight a substitute strap because the champion has a definitive timeline for return and could be compelled to make his comeback earlier than June if the promotion can make it worth his while, financially speaking.