UFC bantamweight contender Sean O’Malley has made his picks for the champions in each division by the end of 2023.
As the new year gets underway, O’Malley has put himself in a good position to complete his mission to reach the mountaintop in the coming months. Following his victory over former champion Petr Yan last October at UFC 280, “Sugar” now sits at #1 on the 135-pound ladder.
And although it appears that the returning Henry Cejudo will be the challenger to the reign of Aljamain Sterling, O’Malley appears happy to wait for an opportunity against the victor late in the year.
As well as backing himself to dethrone whoever rules over his division during this calendar year, O’Malley expects a number of others to join him in the new champs’ club come the end of 2023.
O’Malley Predicts 5 New Champs By The End Of The Year
During a recent podcast episode, O’Malley went through each division in the UFC, naming who he expects to be holding the gold this time next year.
“Sugar” started in the lightest men’s weight class, which is set to see reigning champion Deiveson Figueiredo and Brandon Moreno collide for the fourth time with the belt on the line later this month.
But despite those two names remaining at the forefront of the division, O’Malley predicted the rise of a different contender in Alexandre Pantoja, who’s won three straight since a 2020 loss to Askar Askarov.
“Flyweight? I’ll say Pantoja. He’s been on a tear lately,” O’Malley said.
The Montana native then turned to his own division. While he unsurprisingly picked himself, he did make sure to jibe at former opponent Pedro Munhoz first, relating to their no contest last summer.
“Bantamweight, Pedro Munhoz. He’s gonna come back from that eye poke and just go on a tear,” O’Malley joked. “I’ll probably be ’35 champ by the end of 2023.”
10 pounds up, O’Malley assessed the featherweight title picture. While champion Alexander Volkanovski prepares to challenge for the lightweight belt next month, contenders Yair Rodriguez and Josh Emmett will compete for interim status.
Despite noting his belief that bantamweight champ Sterling has what it takes to make a champ-champ push, O’Malley backed Volkanovski to retain the title throughout 2023.
“Featherweight, I think Alexander — ah, f*ck. Even if he loses to Islam (Makhachev), I guess he’ll still be ’45-pound champ. I don’t really see anyone beating him at ’45, but I do see him going up and just staying at ’55,” O’Malley said. “But I guess he doesn’t stay at ’55 if he doesn’t win, which means he’ll go back to ’45, be champ there… Or, Aljo moves up and fights the winner of Yair versus Emmett. I can see Aljo beating those… He could be champ… I’m gonna say Alex, still.”
Next was a quick and common prediction for the lightweight throne before a lengthier analysis of the situation at welterweight.
After questioning Khamzat Chimaev’s ability to make the weight, O’Malley had a similarly dismissive attitude towards champion Leon Edwards’ chances of defending the title. Eventually, “Sugar” settled on a second reign for Kamaru Usman.
“Lightweight, Islam (Makhachev). Welterweight, I don’t think (Chimaev). I don’t think he makes 170. I think he’s too massive. Belal (Muhammad) is a dark horse, dude… Who’s fighting Leon next? Whoever wins that is gonna be champ at the end of the year… I think Kamaru comes back and regains the championship by the end of 2023.”
O’Malley predicted similar things at middleweight. While he pointed to newcomer Bo Nickal as a possible fast-riser in the division, the 28-year-old expects former titleholder Israel Adesanya to finally pull one back on Alex Pereira if they meet again in 2023.
“Middleweight, Israel versus Alex Pereira, I guess… Izzy comes back and wins… I think Bo Nickal 2024, maybe,” O’Malley remarked. “I’mma say Izzy, for fun.”
A new champion at light heavyweight, meanwhile, is guaranteed given the title remains vacant. As well as predicting a victory for Jamahal Hill over Glover Teixeira later this month, O’Malley is backing “Sweet Dreams” to keep the strap in his possession for the remainder of the year.
“Light heavyweight, no one’s champ. I’m gonna say Jamahal Hill.”
With that, O’Malley concluded his new-champ predictions. While Francis Ngannou’s UFC status is up in the air, “Sugar” was hesitant to bet against “The Predator.”
“Heavyweight, f*ck, what’s Francis doing… Ciryl Gane’s so good… Sergei (Pavlovich)… Curtis Blaydes,” O’Malley noted. “It’s hard to look at this guy and say, ‘He’s not gonna be champion.’ I’m gonna say Francis. That guy scares me.”
It was the same story in the women’s divisions, with O’Malley backing the extension of strawweight champ Zhang Weili, flyweight queen Valentina Shevchenko, and bantamweight titleholder Amanda Nunes’ reigns.
“Women’s strawweight, I think Weili. Women’s flyweight, I’m gonna have to just stay with Valentina. Women’s bantamweight, I think Amanda Nunes,” O’Malley concluded.
Do you agree with Sean O’Malley’s picks?
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