Sean O’Malley: If Umar Nurmagomedov can become a star, that’s the fight I want

Sean O'Malley is open to fighting Umar Nurmagomedov – but once it’s a big fight.

Bantamweight champion O’Malley (17-1 MMA, 9-1 UFC) was criticized for electing Marlon Vera (21-8-1 MMA, 15-7 UFC) as his first title defense, which headlines Saturday’s UFC 299 (pay-per-view, ESPNews, ESPN+) event at Kaseya Center in Miami. O’Malley wants to avenge the lone loss of his career which came to Vera in August 2020.

O’Malley dismissed the notion he’s seeking easier challenges. He acknowledged Nurmagomedov (17-0 MMA, 5-0 UFC) is a stern test, but prefers to wait until he builds his star power more.

“People think I’m avoiding tough fights,” O’Malley told ESPN. “Umar is probably the toughest fight, and yeah, I’ve been bringing his name up – but it also has to make sense. Umar isn’t a star at all. There’s potential to be a star/star – superstar. I believe I’m a superstar. I believe ‘Chito’ (Vera) is a star. I believe Umar is a potential superstar, literally because he has the last name Nurmagomedov. I’ve never watched the dude fight. I’ve watched some highlights. He’s very skilled. He trains at a good gym. His last name is Nurmagomedov. He’s Russian. He has potential because of that.

“I lied – I think I’ve watched him fight some dude where I think he kneed him in the lips, so I’ve watched him fight once. I feel like just with the name and the skill of the UFC being able to promote certain people, and he comes from that gym – Khabib (Nurmagomedov), I think they train together; he’ll in his corner. O’Malley – Irish … it’s there. There’s something there. If he can become a star with that, that’s the fight I want, too. I don’t want just the easiest fight. I want the biggest fight, and if I have two options and one guy I think is a little bit better of a challenge, I’ll take that one.”

Nurmagomedov remained unbeaten when he outgrappled newcomer Bekzat Almakhan Saturday at UFC Fight Night 238. He called for his fight with Cory Sandhagen to be rebooked in hopes to earn a title shot.

For more on the card, visit MMA Junkie’s event hub for UFC 299.

Story originally appeared on MMA Junkie