Alexander Volkanovski tips ‘underrated’ Sean O’Malley to defend belt, while Henry Cejudo forecasts STOPPAGE for Marlon ‘Chito’ Vera… fighters predict UFC 299 main event

Sean O’Malley goes toe-to-toe with Marlon ‘Chito’ Vera in the main event of UFC 299 on Saturday night with the bantamweight title on the line.

Vera is the only man to have handed the American a defeat in his professional career, a loss O’Malley discounts as a fluke.

The bookies have the champion as a comfortable 5/2 favourite and he is growing in confidence all the time, particularly after impressively dispatching Aljamain Sterling.

But how do other top fighters see the main event going down in Miami?

Interestingly, opinion is divided among fellow bantamweights, with former champion Henry Cejudo saying: ‘I’m sorry Sean but I still don’t think you’ll get past. I still think you’re a clown and… yeah, I lost. I’ll take it, but I think you’re about to lose.

Sean O'Malley (left) takes on Marlon 'Chito' Vera (right) in the main event of UFC 299

Sean O’Malley (left) takes on Marlon ‘Chito’ Vera (right) in the main event of UFC 299

Henry Cejudo is tipping the underdog to upset O'Malley in Miami this Saturday night

Henry Cejudo is tipping the underdog to upset O’Malley in Miami this Saturday night

‘I believe if Chito sticks to the game plan, kicks your f***ing leg. He runs you down for five rounds and just stalks you and catches you looking at the clock.

‘I do believe that Chito Vera is not only going to beat Sean O’Malley but he’s actually going stop him. I’m going Chito Vera via stoppage maybe within the fourth or fifth round. I think for that reason it could be an easy fight for the one and only Marlon ‘Chito’ Vera.’

While Corey Sandhagen agreed that O’Malley can be brittle, adding: ‘I know O’Malley has broken hands in fights and his leg in fights. From what I hear he’s injured a lot of the time.

‘I know if you’re going to fight someone as intense as Chito, who is a very durable guy who does hit very, very hard it’s not going to be an easy task to take that guy out or win in any fashion if you’re not that durable.

‘He’s very talented but won’t keep up on a hard fight.’

However, Sterling, the man who lost his belt to O’Malley, predicts that a slow start could cost the Ecuadorian challenger.

He said: ‘Chito is one of the more dangerous guys, especially with those kicks. He’s not the best puncher but with those kicks he’s deadly.

Vera won the first fight between the pair but O'Malley is the heavy betting favourite

Vera won the first fight between the pair but O’Malley is the heavy betting favourite

Robert Whittaker talked up the accuracy and power of O'Malley's striking

Robert Whittaker talked up the accuracy and power of O’Malley’s striking

‘He starts too slow where he’s given up one or two rounds. So it could be that O’Malley just needs to skate to one more round to a decision. I think O’Malley is going to get the job done.’

Robert Whittaker, meanwhile, was more circumspect and put forward the cases for both men to win.

‘O’Malley has an uncanny ability to find the KO point, finding his mark,’ the Australian former middleweight champion explained.

‘I don’t think it will be any different in this fight but I do think there will be a mental thing at play because I saw the face off and Chito looks mean, he’s a killer.

‘You can tell in his eyes that he’s looking at O’Malley thinking he already beat him once and will do it again.’

A number of fighters also made their predictions to James Lynch, with Paul Craig and Anthony Pettis among those to tip the champion to secure his first defence.

‘I’m an O’Malley fan because of the striking,’ Pettis said. ‘Obviously I saw how the first fight went down but I like O’Malley’s style and the way he goes from orthodox to southpaw so seamlessly and his confidence has got to be up.

While Craig added: ‘That’s a bit wild, that one. Chito just jumped the queue. I believe being champion brings a little bit of confidence and a bit more about you and that is probably going to O’Malley.

Neil Magny (right) thinks Vera has what it takes to beat O'Malley for a second time

Neil Magny (right) thinks Vera has what it takes to beat O’Malley for a second time

‘I thought in the fight against Sterling that Aljo would just take him down but I think O’Malley as a champion now will be a different animal, he already had confidence and now he’s got even more.’

Chase Hooper agreed: ‘I think O’Malley honestly. I like Chito but feel like he was losing that first fight until he got the drop leg on O’Malley, which I imagine is something O’Malley will be waiting for and same thing for Chito, he will be hunting that calf even more. O’Malley showed up even better against Aljo so I think he’s stepped up level wise.’

Neil Magny and Ben Askren both went for Vera to upset the odds, with Magny saying: ‘I think Chito might pull this off. The last fight was very close, it was unfortunate that Sean hurt his leg and we weren’t able to see how it would play out in it’s totality.’

Askren was far from confident in his pick but also sided with the underdog: ‘I did not think O’Malley was going to win against Sterling but he rose to the occasion. I guess I’ll go with Chito but not with a level of comfort.’

Some big name fighters previewed the main event on their own social pages, with Alexander Volkanovski breaking it down in depth.

The recently dethroned former featherweight champion told his YouTube channel: I know he’s already beaten O’Malley but O’Malley is high level.

Alexander Volkanovski thinks the striking skills of the champion will win the day

Alexander Volkanovski thinks the striking skills of the champion will win the day

‘I think he’s underrated, I know people think he’s good but I don’t think they understand how good he is, his shot selections, variety in his strikes, angles, distance management – all of that is very, very high level. He’s young, still in his prime and finding his prime.

‘He’s the champion, is he still putting in the hard yards? He’s already been a bit of a celebrity, had a bit of love and you’ve seen him evolve into being a champion but that champion lifestyle can change people.

He continued: ‘I was able to be the same person, that’s why I felt like I evolved so much, is that the case with O’Malley. I’m leaning towards O’Malley, I think his striking is going to be too much. I think Chito has to keep it standing, O’Malley is even dangerous on the ground.

‘I think he’s going to be hard to take down, I think Sean can even give him problems there. I think it’s going to be a stand up fight, which is exciting. I think it will be a finish for Sean O’Malley.’

British star Arnold Allen was of the same mind, saying on his YouTube channel: ‘I think O’Malley is going to defend the belt with a lot of volume kicking and stance switching. I don’t think it’ll be the most exciting fight.

The champion put his first defeat by Vera down to a 'fluke' after his leg was compromised

The champion put his first defeat by Vera down to a ‘fluke’ after his leg was compromised

‘Vera has to pressure, kick his leg again, high guard. Don’t walk into silly shots but be in his face and try to break him, not be in kicking range but I think O’Malley is going to win.’

And Israel Adesanya interestingly chose not to have a dog in the fight given his friendly relationship with both pugilists.

‘Chito it’s all about managing the distance, either it’s all the way out or all the way in, he has to out-feint Sean,’ he said on his YouTube channel.

‘It will be a battle of distance, trying to counter the counter striker. I’m not going to pick, I think they will sort it out themselves and again I love Chito as a person and O’Malley always shows me respect and it would be a disservice if I was to pick a winner. It’s not my fight, it’s theirs so you guys can roll the dice on that one.’

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