Beneil Dariush is one victory away from fighting for the UFC lightweight title.
Standing in his way is Charles Oliveira, whose success over the past three years in the division is rivaled by only that of current lightweight champion Islam Makhachev.
But Oliveira and Makhachev are not the only ones who have strung together unstoppable stretches. Despite being constantly overlooked, Dariush (22-4-1) has won seven fights in a row. If he defeats Oliveira (33–9, 1 NC) on Saturday at UFC 289, he will be at the front of the line to challenge Makhachev.
“For the first time, I was told that I’m getting the title shot if I win this fight,” says Dariush. “That’s the first time I’ve ever been told that. Otherwise, I’d be thinking about other fights—like what would happen to the winner of Dustin Poirier and Justin Garthje, or even Conor McGregor’s fight—but I’m not worried about any of that now. I know what I have to do.”
Following Dariush’s one-sided dismantling of Tony Ferguson in May 2021, he didn’t fight for 15 months. He spent time at home with family (“Being a father has made me even more disciplined,” says Dariush, “bringing joy to my life, and making me a better fighter, too”), and had to miss a bout against Makhachev due to an ankle injury. When he finally returned, his opponent was the red-hot Mateusz Gamrot, who had entered on a four-fight win streak.
Gamrot was the odds favorite in that bout, which infuriated Dariush.
“That bothered me,” says Dariush. “I understand why he was a big favorite. A lot of people think Arman Tsarukyan is a future champion, and Gamrot had just beaten him. So he looked like a world-beater, and then you look at me—I’m only 34, but I look like I’m 50. But I’m not worried about what people think. I know the gifts God has given me, and I’m focused on what I can do to sharpen those gifts before I step into battle.”
Dariush unleashed his full arsenal against Gamrot, winning the bout by unanimous decision on the same night that Makhachev defeated Oliveira for the lightweight belt. That loss ended an 11-fight win streak for Oliveira, who Dariush holds in especially high regard.
“Charles is absolutely amazing,” says Dariush, who was originally supposed to fight Oliveira in May, but the fight was postponed due to an Oliveira injury. “I think he’s one of the best fighters of all time. I learn so much watching him. He has overcome so many challenges. Look at the obstacles he overcame as champion.”
Respect aside, Dariush believes his skill set has surpassed Oliveira’s, both on the ground and standing.
“I don’t see Charles doing anything I can’t handle,” says Dariush. “Once we’re in the Octagon, people will see the difference. I’m not walking in with any fear. That’s the opposite of faith. I’m entering with the faith that I can overcome him.”
On the precipice of greatness, Dariush is hungry for a title shot. Given the opportunity, he believes his style and approach match up favorably against Makhachev’s.
“If I get the opportunity, I will overcome Islam,” says Dariush. “I truly believe that.”
The objective is clear for Dariush. He must beat Oliveira at UFC 289 to finally get a shot at the title.
“The mindset is simple: Either kill or die,” says Dariush. “You’re going to see every level of martial arts cultivated to the highest level. I’m looking to be victorious against one of the best in the world.”