We’re three weekends away from UFC 292, set to take place at TD Garden in Boston, Massachusetts on Saturday, August 19.
With UFC 291 firmly in the rear-view mirror (highlighted by a stunning Round 2 kick to the head from Justin Gaethje to Dustin Poirier that secured the knockout victory) with hot takes and highlights aplenty shared all across the internet, it’s time to shift the focus to the next major MMA event, with the media hype tour starting to ramp up to full steam.
UFC 292 is headlined by a bantamweight matchup between Sean O’Malley (a name worthy of every dive bar in Boston, though he hails from Montana) and current division champion Aljamain Sterling.
Another fascinating bantamweight matchup will occur between Cody Garbrandt and Mario Bautista, a pair of fighters in their early 30s who could soon challenge for the division crown if Sterling decides to move up a class following his run of dominance.
Here’s a preview at how the two fighters compare to one another, as well as our prediction on who will come away victorious.
Right now, Bautista looks like a heavy favorite, listed as high as -340 to defeat Garbrandt in the two-way odds: Garbrandt is listed around +270: not impossible, by any means, but certainly not easy. One factor that gives Bautista a heavy advantage is his reach. He’s only an inch taller than Garbrandt (5-foot-9 vs 5-foot-8) but has a wingspan that is more than half a foot longer (72 inches compared to 65.5 inches).
Garbrandt is a heavy striker, with ten of his 13 professional victories coming via knockout. He has a proven track record, holding the bantamweight title for much of 2017, but he’s gone through a miserable 2-5 career slide since that point (now more than half a decade removed). The odds are against him to turn his luck around (at least in this matchup), but with a proven pedigree, it feels tough to count Garbrandt entirely out of it.
Bautista is a pretty balanced fighter (three KOs, five submissions and four decision wins across a 12-2 career record), with an excellent blend of power, grappling, and durability that makes him a tough draw.
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O’Malley stands 5-foot-11, an incredibly lanky build for his frame: the bantamweight division tops out at 135 pounds, so the Montanan doesn’t have a whole lot of meat on his bones. Sterling, on the other hand, stands 5-foot-7: O’Malley has the better part of a head up on the reigning champion.
When it comes to length, though, O’Malley only has a slight advantage over Sterling: his 72-inch reach won’t make that much of a difference compared to his opponent’s 71-inch wingspan, so the height battle comes out as a push. O’Malley can’t ward Sterling off by staying at his perimeter, Sterling won’t have to limit himself to body blows if he has the reach to hit O’Malley in the head.
Shifting the focus back to height, Sterling possesses a distinct advantage over O’Malley: assuming he weighs in at the same vicinity as his opponent, his compact frame gives him a lower center of gravity and allows him to pack a much harder punch.
That seems like a massive advantage, but it’s important to note that O’Malley has had a star-studded career. With 16 wins and just one loss (along with a no-contest when he accidentally poked his opposing fighter in the eye, making it impossible for him to continue), he’s proven himself nearly (though not quite) impossible to beat.
Sterling enters the match on a nine-game winning streak, a veritable wrecking ball (especially when you consider the size and build difference) compared to O’Malley.
Sterling is an excellent grappler as well, while O’Malley projects as a classic striker. Grappler versus striker, orthodox (Sterling) against a switch stance (O’Malley), youth (O’Malley is just 28 years old) versus experience (Sterling turned 34 last month), this fight provides plenty of intrigue when it comes to the matchups.
Despite his diminutive build, O’Malley isn’t lacking for power: 11 of his wins came via knockout, the other five split between a decision and four submissions.
He stacked wins (and knockouts) early in his career, though, before joining the UFC circuit: his winning percentage isn’t as gaudy when you cut it in half to represent his 8-1 record (five knockouts) at the top level of the sport.
On the other end of the ring, Sterling has a 23-3 record (15-3 in UFC), with his upper-level wins largely coming via decision. He received the Bantamweight champion belt in 2021, when he became the first fighter in UFC history to win a title via disqualification, as opponent Petr Yan was sent home packing in the fourth round following an intentional illegal knee. Sterling won the rematch, though, successfully defending (and solidifying) his title, and he defended it again with a knockout of T.J. Dillashaw in October.
O’Malley has had a longer layoff than Sterling (who took down Henry Cejudo in May, setting a UFC record with his third-straight Bantamweight title defense): the challenger last fought at UFC 280, the same bout where Sterling took out Dillashaw (O’Malley took down Yan via split decision), so it’ll be interesting to see if there’s any rust when they step in the octagon.
The Best of the Rest
Another bout to keep an eye on beyond the main card at UFC 292 is a women’s title match between a pair of international stars, reigning champion Zhang Weili of China and challenger Amanda Lemos from Brazil. Competing in the strawweight division, both fighters will top out at a maximum of 115 pounds, and both stand 5-foot-4.
Going down the rest of the line, we’ll see Marlon Vera take on Pedro Munhoz in another Bantamweight clash; Geoff Neal and Ian Machado Gary at Welterweight; three middleweight bouts (Chris Weidman vs Brad Tavares, Andre Petroski vs Gerald Meerschaert and Gregory Rodrigues vs Denis Tiuliulin). Rounding out the action are two more women’s matches between flyweights Karine Silva and Maryna Moroz and Andrea Lee and Natalia Silva.
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