Marlon Vera and Sean O’Malley still have a bitter rivalry stemming from their non-stop back-and-forth bickering before and after their fight at UFC 252 in Aug. 2020, which saw “Chito” defeat “Suga” via first-round technical knockout (TKO).

Despite their past issues, Vera has never downplayed O’Malley’s skills. In fact, “Chito” has made sure to give “Suga” his props — fighting-wise — and says despite what many believe he feels O’Malley has proven time and again that he is the real deal.

“For all the people that say he sucks and he’s all talk, I never thought that,” Vera said on a recent appearance on The MMA Hour (via MMA Fighting). “I always said before, the guy can fight, the guy is talented, the guy has tools. I think he’s the only one actually surprised that he can prove himself to everybody because I actually think he can fight. I think he has power in his hands. He’s kind of a snake, but so are the rest of the division, and so are the rest of the top 15. At that level, anybody can hang with anybody.”

O’Malley continued his winning way by defeating Petr Yan last Saturday (Oct. 22, 2022) at UFC 280 (highlights), putting him at the front of the line to challenge Aljamain Sterling for the UFC bantamweight title. And while there still may be some naysayers who feel O’Malley shouldn’t be next, Vera says otherwise.

“As a fight fan, anybody who beat the No. 1 contender should fight for the belt, right? That’s obvious,” Vera said. “O’Malley, it doesn’t matter what ranking he is, he beat No. 1, he should fight for the belt. But, the whole everybody thinks that was a gifted decision, everybody thinks he got a pass on that one, that can probably hurt what the UFC will do with him.

“It’s the same thing that happened with the Song Yadong fight. I got robbed, they gave me the O’Malley fight, then they gave me the [Jose] Aldo fight. I advanced after a loss. So O’Malley got the decision gifted, maybe they do the same thing, they probably hold him a little bit, make somebody else do it. But we’ll see. Again, that’s up Dana and the UFC. We’ll see what they want to do.”

Henry Cejudo has continued to throw his name in the hat and has teased a return to action for some time now, but nothing has actually been done on that front. Even UFC president, Dana White, is unsure if the former “champ-champ” is in the USADA testing pool.

For now, O’Malley is sitting pretty as the frontrunner to face “Funkmaster” — who stopped T.J. Dillashaw in Abu Dhabi to retain his strap — perhaps in early 2023. As for Vera, he is on his own path to locking down his first-ever UFC title fight after winning four straight, including a knockout win over Dominick Cruz.