Friday, April 19, 2024

UFC 299 results, takeaways: Sean O’Malley proves lone loss was a blip; pair of comeback knockouts steal show

Thanks to a pair of dramatic, comeback knockouts and a virtuoso striking performance in the main event, Saturday’s UFC 299 event from Miami lived up to its expectations as a loaded pay-per-view card with the potential for fireworks. 

Sean O’Malley made the first defense of his bantamweight title in the main event by dominating a tough-as-nails Marlon Vera in their rematch. But that was one of a number of storylines worth revisiting in the aftermath. 

Let’s take a closer look at the biggest takeaways from all of the action inside Kaseya Center in south Florida. 

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1. Sean O’Malley proved his lone pro defeat really was an aberration

Despite being criticized for the past four years for saying he’s still undefeated after being finished by Vera (and that he would defeat him “nine out of 10 times”), O’Malley showcased just how much he has grown since 2020. And when it comes to pure skill and technique, the gap between he and Vera was astonishingly wide. Outside of a flurry of punches that bloodied O’Malley’s nose in Round 4 and a single body punch in the closing seconds of Round 5, this was the upper bound limits of how great O’Malley truly is. A master at feinting and controlling distance, O’Malley relied on movement and pinpoint striking to bust Vera’s nose in Round 2 with a vicious jumping knee and beat him up throughout. For all of the questions that followed him up the rankings, O’Malley’s last three victories have solidified him as one of the best pound-for-pound fighters in the sport. 

2. Despite the creative post-fight callout, “The Suga Show” is spoken for

A master marketer, it wasn’t surprising that O’Malley used his interview inside the Octagon to make a public plea to UFC CEO Dana White for a superfight in Spain against newly crowned featherweight king Ilia Topuria. O’Malley, who received pay-per-view points in his contract for the first time against Vera, knows very well that a potential loss against Topuria wouldn’t be held against him because of the daring-to-be-great nature of moving up in weight. It would also be a blockbuster fight that would only continue to grow his global brand. But not only did White shoot down the idea at the post-fight press conference by saying he’s not keen on the matchup, O’Malley’s status as the champion of the sport’s deepest division affords him no time to linger. Merab Dvalishvili, who is riding a 10-fight win streak and is fresh off wins over a trio of former champions (Jose Aldo, Petr Yan, Henry Cejudo), is too deserving of the next shot to make him wait. In fact, now that his training partner and good friend Aljamain Sterling is no longer the champion after being finished by O’Malley last year, Dvalishvili can finally get his crack at the crown. And to prove how ready he is, the native of Georgia weighed in Friday as the back-up in case O’Malley or Vera missed weight despite having just fought in February.

3. Lesson learned (again): Never count out Dustin Poirier 

The living legend and former interim lightweight titleholder added yet another memorable notch to his surefire Hall-of-Fame belt by absorbing a beating from top prospect Benoit Saint Denis only to turn the tide dramatically for a second-round knockout win. Poirier wasn’t willing to sit on his celebrity name and reputation in hopes of re-entering the 155-pound title picture despite having been finished in two of his last three fights coming in. He wanted to earn it the hard way and was forced to do so in violent fashion as Saint Denis repeatedly walked him down with heavy strikes before threatening multiple chokes on the ground. But Poirier never gives up the fight and always remains dangerous under fire, which he proved by hurting BSD with counter shots before finishing him with a brutal right hook and a flush punch to knock him cold after the native of France was floored. While few would favor him in a fight with lightweight champion and pound-for-pound king Islam Makhachev, it’s not unfathomable for “The Diamond” to reach top contender status once more for that final chance at immortality as a champion.

4. Jack Della Maddalena went through hell and back for his biggest win

Down big on two of three scorecards and on his way to losing the third and final round, the Australian welterweight prospect was getting a grappling education from 37-year-old warrior Gilbert Burns. But one reversal on the ground set up a devastating knee to the face of Burns as he rose from the ground to set up a dramatic finish via ground-and-pound. After losing his first two pro fights, Della Maddalena has now won 17 straight and is a perfect 7-0 in the Octagon. He is also one of the most technically gifted boxers in the UFC from the standpoint of defense and technique. But part of proving your worth as a true title contender is doing exactly what Della Maddalena did by taking everything Burns had and still finding a way to secure victory from the depths of likely defeat. This was a breakthrough moment. 

5. Don’t call it a comeback, Petr Yan has been here for years

At 31, the former bantamweight champion was on the verge of exiting the title picture altogether after losing four of his last five, including three straight to the true elites of the division (Sterling, O’Malley, Dvalishvili). And after one round against young stud Song Yadong, Yan looked like his best days as a UFC fighter were already behind him. Yet, the native of Russia regrouped beautifully to surge past Yadong over the final two rounds by bloodying him with clean boxing and avoiding big counter shots with head movement. This was Yan getting his groove back and reminding the rest of the division just how good he still is.  

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