O’Malley was pushed to the top slot in the division’s rankings as the No. 1 ranked contender after achieving the most significant victory of his career at UFC 280 in October 2022 against Petr Yan via split decision. Since then, O’Malley has been notified by Dana White, the President of the UFC, that his next bout will be his first opportunity to fight for a title.
In the meanwhile, Sandhagen, a perennial top-ranked contender at 135 pounds, ended a losing streak of two fights when he defeated Song Yadong in September 2022 via a fourth-round doctor’s stoppage technical knockout victory.
“Last time I checked, O’Malley doesn’t have a contract [for a fight] yet,” Sandhagen said. “So, I go out and do really well against [Marlon] ‘Chito’ [Vera], I could see me and Sean fighting right afterward depending on what happens between [Aljamain] Sterling and [Henry] Cejudo. That’s the fight that I’ll be asking for.
“Sean fought a bunch of not the highest quality of opponents and then barely beat a guy in a three-round fight,” he continued. “I don’t really think that should get you a title shot. I’ve been in the top 5 for the last three years. I’ve gotten one title shot and it was a short-notice one. I think I’m more deserving than he is of the title shot.”
The main event of UFC Vegas 69 in February 2023 will feature Sandhagen in a fight against Vera, and it is almost inevitable that this fight will be a violent one. If one of the two leading contenders were to win, they would solidly position themselves alongside or, arguably, ahead of O’Malley (especially if he holds out for his shot).