The success of the UFC rests on a handful of major stars. This is not unique to MMA - after Michael Jordan's retirement, NBA viewership declined precipitously for years. Thus the UFC puts an intense focus on identifying and painfully nurturing the next GSP, Ronda Rousey, or Conor McGregor.
UFC bantamweight Sean O'Malley was 12-0 heading into his fight vs. Marlon "Chito" Vera at UFC 252 on Saturday night, having won a Fight of the Night in his two previous bouts, and winning a performance bonus in the one before that. O'Malley gave every sign of being the next big thing - brash personality, fan-friendly fighting and that undefinable but real It Factor.
But Vera stopped "Sugar" in Round 1.
O'Malley appeared to be struggling even to stand after somewhere around the mid-point of the Round, and some have dismissed what happened as a fluke. But that's disrespectful of Vera, who came to win, doubtless fought hurt to some extent himself, and won.
O'Malley suffered no broken bones. When the swelling has subsided, an MRI will be performed, to look for ligament or tendon damage.
In any case, the greats generally find ways to win, despite injury. Randy Couture got his arm broken vs. Gabe Gonzaga, took him down hard with some judicious head contact, and won. Jon Jones broke his toe to the point you could see bone vs. the ever game Chael Sonnen, and stopped him with an elbow later in Round 1. Demetrious Johnson broken his fibula checking a Miguel Torres low kick, and two rounds later was awarded a Unanimous Decision.
At the post-fight press conference, Vera explained that when it happened, he couldn't determine the cause of O'Malley's injury, but figured it out after watching a replay.
"Watching the video, I threw a hard calf kick and, after I threw a calf kick, his nerve just – s*** happens, the same way Chandler got with Primus, my boy Alex Perez beat Formiga," said Vera, as transcribed by MMA Junkie. "He kicked me really hard in the leg, but my shin is stronger than his.”
“When I landed the second elbow, he was making noises. He was out and then when Herb Dean got in the middle, you can see his head bounce back. I saw his corner saying ‘no that was too early,’ we made eye contact, and I said you know that s*** wasn’t early and the guy was pretty quiet all of a sudden. That guy was talking s*** while we were getting ready to walk to the cage.”
“I believe I’m a solid top 10. I’ve been making damage in the division. What happened in the last fight [Song Yadong] got me pretty upset, pretty angry and actually made me do what I did tonight. I wasn’t happy, I was pushing myself a little harder. I was being hard on myself. I wasn’t giving myself a vacation, more cheat days. I was like, ‘It’s time to dig deep,’ and that’s when I find myself even better, and I came to this fight with a mission.”Mission accomplished.
There was no fluke, it wasn't a bad stoppage. O'Malley lost and Vera won.