Sean O’Malley headed into his UFC 252 bantamweight fight against Marlon Vera undefeated – and a heavy favorite of more than 3-1. But he suffered a leg injury in the fight, soon succumbed to a Vera TKO, and had to be wheeled from the cage on a stretcher.
So the question is, was Vera’s win a fluke because of the injury? Or had he put himself on a path to win the fight, regardless? After all, UFC analysts were touting him as a “live underdog” all week. MMA Junkie writers Mike Bohn, Simon Head and Danny Segura debate the outcome in this edition of Triple Take.
Mike Bohn: Only Sean O’Malley knows
There’s only one person who knows the truth about what happened inside that octagon on Saturday: Sean O’Malley.
Vera has claimed responsibility for landing the low kick that ultimately compromised O’Malley and set up the fight-ending ground shots. That’s absolutely within his right, and the footage definitely lines up to the benefit of his theory. However, Vera admitted he didn’t know in the moment exactly what happened, and only formed his opinion once he watched the replay of the fight.
O’Malley was the recipient of the injury and the loss, and he has yet to speak publicly about what happened. UFC reporter Megan Olivi said on the broadcast that it could have been an aggravation to the foot injury he sustained against Andre Soukhamthath at UFC 222 in March 2018, and that seems possible, as well.
None of that is to take away from “Chito.” Fighters often go into the octagon – knowingly or unknowingly – either injured or on the verge of their body betraying them. Sometimes all that’s needed is a little push. That may have been what happened here, but that’s the fight game.
We’ve seen time and time again how unpredictable MMA can be. Did anyone think this is how Vera vs. O’Malley would end? No. But that’s our sport. Vera went in there with the intent to hurt O’Malley and win. However the chips fell to get his hand raised is just part of the deal.
It was an unfortunate situation, but certainly not a fluke in the classic definition of the term.
Simon Head: Vera won, fair and square
Trying to call Vera’s win over O’Malley anything other than a legitimate victory is real “flat-earth” stuff. Of course it was legitimate. Sometimes people look for reasons why an outcome they didn’t expect came to pass. But in this case, there’s nothing to see. Vera won, fair and square.
O’Malley’s mid-fight injury may have looked unusual, but it’s important to note that it came during the course of the fight and there’s a very strong argument to suggest that it came as a direct result of Vera’s leg kicks and kick checks.
It means Vera’s win over O’Malley was every bit as legitimate as Chris Weidman’s second win over Anderson Silva at UFC 168, Frank Mir’s win over Tim Sylvia at UFC 48 and even Dustin Stoltzfus’ victory over Joe Pyfer this past week at Dana White’s Contender Series.
All those wins came by some sort of unfortunate or freak injury, but all of the injuries happened during the course of the fight, and all came as a direct result of the winner using a technique to combat his opponent.
Was O’Malley’s loss to Vera anticlimactic? Some may think so. But I guarantee “Chito” Vera isn’t one of them. He fought O’Malley, he hurt him, then he finished him. That’s MMA 101, and he should be given due credit for his win.
Danny Segura: It’s legit
“Chito” Vera’s win over O’Malley might’ve not been a wild knockout or a slick, high-level submission, but nonetheless it was a win.
The entire goal of competing in MMA is to cause enough damage to your opponent’s body so he’s unable to continue fighting. The distribution of the damage can come in many different ways since there are several facets to the game. It can be from head-kick knockouts, body strikes, bone- and ligament-compromising submissions or, like we’ve seen recently, leg kicks.
If you note around the three minutes into the fight, Vera landed a leg kick on O’Malley’s right knee. O’Malley immediately switched stances and began to have problems putting weight on his right leg. It’s well documented Vera uses a kick-heavy attack in his fights and it was ultimately that tool of his game that forced things to go south for O’Malley. It might not be the most convincing way to win a fight, but it’s certainly a way.
It’s also worth keeping in mind it was a competitive, even contest prior to the leg kick. This wasn’t a scenario in which Vera was on the verge of losing and then an injury happened. The injury came as a consequence of Vera’s attacks and it was done in a context in which the Ecuadorian was seeing a good level of success against O’Malley. Both of them had good moments.
I would have preferred a longer bout in which we got to see more of both competitors and have them test each other in many different departments. But this is MMA and these types of finishes will happen from time to time. Vera went in there and did his job and stopped O’Malley with heavy ground-and-pound in the first. That’s one more for the win column.