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UFC 252: Marlon Vera and Bad Injury Put Sean O'Malley's 'Suga Show' on the Shelf

Kelsey McCarsonFeatured ColumnistAugust 16, 2020

Marlon Vera walks back to the locker room after a win against Brian Kelleher after their mixed martial arts bout at UFC on Fox 25, Saturday, July 22, 2017, in New York. Vera won via submission. (AP Photo/Steve Luciano)
Steve Luciano/Associated Press

Marlon Vera made sure the so-called "Suga Show" was over before it even started.

Vera, 27, scored a dramatic first-round stoppage over O'Malley in the co-main event of UFC 252 in Las Vegas on Saturday night.

O'Malley entered the Octagon at UFC Apex the star of the show in just about everyone's eyes, except Vera's.

But after a solid start, O'Malley appeared to suffer an injury to his right leg that aided the Ecuadorian in his quest to spoil the UFC's plans to turn O'Malley into its next star.

ESPN @espn

Chito Vera finished "Suga" Sean O'Malley in Round 1 😳 ▶️ https://t.co/tymR31MfXr https://t.co/Oa4yTcC3nv

That was the plan.

How else might one explain that it was only O'Malley's fifth UFC fight, yet the 25-year-old bantamweight contender was already competing in the co-main event of one of the most important cards of the year?

But it might not be the plan now.

Right before the bell tolled on O'Malley's 12-fight undefeated streak to begin his career, Vera screamed in excitement over finally getting his hands on the brash striker.

"Let's go!" he screamed, as he pointed toward his opponent when the two fighters were announced by Bruce Buffer.

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Vera had long been a contender in the 135-pound division, but he's never had the full force of the UFC's tremendous hype machine behind him in the same the way it was cranking over recent months for O'Malley.

Heck, Vera couldn't even count on getting a fair shake from judges sometimes.

Look no further than his disputed decision loss to Song Yadong in May.

But O'Malley?

MMA Junkie @MMAjunkie

Tough outcome for Sean O'Malley, who was taken off on a stretcher following his TKO loss to Marlon Vera. #UFC252 Twitter reaction: https://t.co/ZDmPp4AZdr https://t.co/g7IFKqxuiJ

Since he burst on to the scene during Dana White's Contender Series in 2017, O'Malley has seen just about every star align for him.

He must have impressed the UFC president, his peers and even hip-hop artist Snoop Dogg during his run on that show so much that O'Malley was given a UFC contract after his first-round knockout of Alfred Khashakyan and fast-tracked to UFC superstardom.

But it's one thing to be given the chance to become the UFC's next big thing. It's quite another to actually do it.

O'Malley was 4-0 in the UFC and 12-0 across all promotions heading into UFC 252. He entered having won two straight fights via first-round knockout.

Heck, ESPN even produced a video promo voiced by Stephen A. Smith that serenaded the fighter as a future king and compared the young prodigy to the likes of UFC stars Khabib Nurmagomedov and Ronda Rousey, the NBA's Luka Doncic and Russell Westbrook and reigning NFL MVP Lamar Jackson.

Because of that, as well as his penchant for standing out in a way that most people simply don't—something called authenticity—O'Malley had started drawing comparisons over recent months to Conor McGregor.

The fighter loved it. The UFC seemed to love it. Everything looked to be going the right way.

"Being compared to Conor, yeah, it's great," O'Malley told TMZ Sports two months ago. "It's like being compared to Jon Jones, Muhammad Ali, those guys. It's like, 'F--k yeah,' you can compare me!"

Again, it's one thing for a fighter to be compared to someone as accomplished as McGregor. It's another thing to keep checking all the important boxes that indicate one might be on the way to doing similar things.

Brash. Unflappable. Stylish. All those things matter, but not nearly as much as winning.

But Vera's indomitable toughness should not be missed in all the hubbub about how brilliant and shiny O'Malley's career could be.

Because O'Malley had everything going for him during the first few minutes of the fight, and it never kept Vera from staying on his beat.

O'Malley was precise and methodical in the early moments. He used his long legs to land heavy, hard kicks to his opponent's lead leg. He constantly switched stances and seemed to be throwing Vera off his trail with feints that historically would have led his opponent into countering opportunities.

But just about the time all that seemed so certain, Vera closed the gap.

Suddenly, O'Malley's kicks were getting checked.

Then, his feints started to fail him.

After that, he tripped over his own feet and suffered what seemed to be a self-inflicted injury, one that had consequences from which he couldn't escape and from which he might never fully recover.

UFC @ufc

"Something's wrong with O'Malley's leg." #UFC252 https://t.co/jgJ1zaFBpU

Once O'Malley was down on the canvas, that's when Vera jumped on top of him and pummeled the UFC's next big thing into oblivion with some of the hardest elbows ever witnessed in the weight class.

The referee stopped the fight there to save O'Malley from sustaining any more damage.

It's a shame he couldn't save the fighter's reputation from the same fate.

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