Though he didn’t actually compete at the event, Merab Dvalishvili provided one of the more memorable moments at UFC 288 earlier this month.
In the main event of the evening, Dvalishvili’s close friend and reigning bantamweight world champion, Aljamain Sterling, successfully defended his title against returning Olympic gold medalist Henry Cejudo. After the split decision in his favor was announced, ‘Funk Master’ was joined in the Octagon by the man he is expected to face next, Sean O’Malley. As things began to get heated between Sterling and O’Malley, ‘Sugar’ took off his jack which ended up in the hands of top-ranked bantamweight standout, Merab Dvalishvili. Moments later, hilarity ensued.
Speaking about the now-viral moment, Merab Dvalishvili told Ariel Helwani that he was initially in the Octagon to prevent anything from escalating between Sterling and O’Malley.
“I tried to get there [for the faceoff] quick, make sure I stay there, because [then I could] make sure [O’Malley] doesn’t do something stupid or his coach or somebody,” Merab Dvalishvili said on The MMA Hour. “I was there just in case, and when he started talking sh*t, I said, ‘Yo, yo, chill, chill.’ I was smiling, because ‘Aljo’ and him are going to fight, but I don’t want to be disrespectful to O’Malley, but I also I want to tell him, ‘This is Aljo’s moment. Yo, a little bit chill. Just be respectful for a champion.’ And he started taking [off his] jacket and I was there — and I can’t wait to grab his jacket.
“As soon as he takes it off — I help him actually to take off the hand and then I grab it — Al [Iaquinta] was next to me and then he told me, ‘Don’t give him it back.’ And then I’m like looking [around for] one second, I said, ‘I have an even better idea,’ and then I put it on. What’s he going to do?
“And soon as security break them a little bit,” Dvalishvili continued, “I just ran to the cage and I just celebrate the new jacket.”
Merab Dvalishvili was surprised to find that the jacket fit as well as it did considering his 5’6″ frame versus that of O’Malley who stands at 5’11” with a much lankier physique.
“Actually, I liked the jacket. Like I said, man, I don’t like Henry Cejudo’s team jacket. I like O’Malley’s jacket,” Merab Dvalishvili said. “I was scared if it was going to fit, because I have a lot of muscle. This guy is skinny. But because I guess he’s tall and he looks like a Christmas tree, it fit good on me.”
Merab Dvalishvili Wants a Piece of Sean O’Malley After Aljamain Sterling is Through With Him
What ensued would become a viral moment that had fans and fighters laughing inside the Prudential Center and all over social media. Even Sean O’Malley admitted to being amused by Dvalishvili’s antics, though it was clear that in the moment, he was not entertained.
“This Christmas tree, I don’t care [if he was upset],” Dvalishvili said. “Sometimes he’s funny, sometimes he’s a little boy. Sometimes I like him, sometimes I’m not sure, because come on, he should never disrespect the champion and he shouldn’t act like this, act like a little kid. So yeah, and then when I jumped back [in the cage] and I saw, yeah, he was pissed off.
“I was feeling bad for him because he was standing naked [so I gave it back]. He’s a skinny guy. I don’t want to get him sick and make an excuse Aljo’s fight or something like that.”
Merab Dvalishvili also suggested that a bout between himself and Sean O’Malley could be on the docket once his highly anticipated clash with ‘Funk Master’ is in the books.
“Let me tell you what, so let’s do this. O’Malley vs. Aljo. And Aljo will beat him, and then [O’Malley] can fight me,” Dvalishvili said. “Actually he DM’d me after I fought Petr Yan, he DM’d me, he texted me, ‘Hey, great fight. When the right time comes, I can’t wait to fight you.’
“That was nice of him, because I was chasing him all five years [of my UFC career] … and he never responded. And after Petr Yan’s fight, he did text me that I will fight him when the right time comes. And after Aljo beats him, that will be the right time” (h/t MMA Fighting)