It's hard to say Beneil Dariush looked out of his depth when he strolled out for UFC Fight Night 35, mouthing the immortal falsetto of the King of Pop and informing the gathered Deep South crowd that yes, he did indeed want to rock with them... all night long.
And if the sultry sounds of Bruce Buffer couldn't coax a reaction out of Dariush's placid veneer -- a nervous smile? An anxious grimace? C'mon man, anything -- then perhaps this fight was over before it started, because a world where those famous Octagon Jitters don't apply to everyone isn't a fair world at all.
"I've always been a calm guy," Dariush says.
"I feel like a lot of people celebrate and they raise their hand and they shout. But they celebrate in relief, like that it's over. I'm fighting and I'm only going to be able to fight until, who knows, maybe until I'm in my late-30s. My celebration is the fight. Being inside that Octagon, those 15 minutes I get to go against my opponent, that's my celebration. That's my joy. After the fight, I'm happy, but the happiest I can possibly be is those 15 minutes."
If that's true, then it's too bad Dariush didn't need those 15 minutes. It's too bad he never needs those 15 minutes. Because really, Dariush's UFC debut went just like most of his other fights -- one big punch, some jiu-jitsu wizardry, then bam, let's take this puppy home early.
It didn't matter that Daruish wasn't supposed to win. Never mind that Charlie Brenneman spent over a year to get back to this point, only to end up stunned, incredulously shaking his head at the man who two minutes before had been an unknown rookie fighting in a Fight Pass curtain jerker; the same man who was now nonchalantly adjusting his shorts with nary a grin, like this was the least surprising outcome in the world.
"Patience and pressure. Those are God given things. That means only you can put that on yourself," Daruish says, reciting the words of Kings MMA head coach Rafael Cordeiro.
"I'm not going to go out there scared of anyone. Knowing that, I know I can go out there focused and just focus on what I want to do and not think about anything else. I don't believe anybody in the world can put pressure on me. The only person that can put pressure on me is myself."
Though such wise proverbs weren't always Daruish's style, it's true that he showed promise from the outset. An accomplished jiu-jitsu player, the Iranian began drilling on the mats at age 18. He won the Pan Ams and placed second at the Mundials as a blue belt, placed second at both as a purple belt, then placed top-3 at both as a brown belt -- all within a span of five years.
Eventually his coach came to him with an unexpected proposition.
"He's like, you want to do an MMA fight?" Daruish remembers the story like it was yesterday.
"He always knew I joined jiu-jitsu because I liked MMA. I was actually terrified when I said yes, but I said yes because I didn't want to sound scared.
"But I was so scared. And sure enough, a month later I had my first professional fight and I won a split decision. At that moment, I told myself I would never do another MMA fight. I was so disappointed in the performance and the way I went out there. I was so scared, I was so nervous. But at the same time, that was the same moment I realized that I was going to have to do this again.
"I'm the kind of guy," Daruish laughs, "If you beat me up and you're better than me -- guess what, I'm going to follow you around until I beat you. There's no way I was going to walk away with a performance that I wasn't happy about."
So Daruish took another fight, and another. He won each outing more decisively than the last, and slowly that initial displeasure began to melt into a strange brew of focus and unflappable self-confidence.
Finally, in 2012, just six years into his jiu-jitsu journey, Daruish received his black belt. It was the most unexpected of promotions, the culmination of gallons of sweat wrapped up in one end-of-class surprise, yet Daruish's mind was already made up.
Not long after, he hung up his gi and retired from competition jiu-jitsu for good. His reason: he'd rather be great at one thing, than merely good at two.
Two years later, the decision has paid off. Daruish, once a gym secret, has blossomed under the tutelage of Cordeiro, quickly taking to the various aspects of MMA, in particular his stand-up -- the bane of decorated jiu-jitsu players everywhere.
"My striking is, I would say just as good as my grappling," Daruish guesses. "But there's only one way to prove that, and that's to just keep fighting and keep getting these guys to test myself.
"Master Rafael Cordero, the mindset he gives us, you can train your whole life in something, but if your mindset isn't there, if you don't believe in it, it becomes really difficult to put it in practice. Everything I've been taught, I believe in. And that makes it easy for me to go out there and apply."
Just as Daruish once applied his left hand to the bullseye painted on Brenneman's jaw, he now hopes to do the same to Ramsey Nijem at UFC Fight Night 40.
The jump from curtain jerker all the way to main card is a rare one, and an undoubtedly bold opportunity to give a fighter fighting in his second UFC fight.
But, Daruish knows, it's also a chance to fast-track himself to where he already believes he belongs. And for the stoneface who refers to nerves as a myth and gave the ol' one-two to those pesky Octagon Jitters... well, suffice to say there isn't such a thing as too much, too soon.
"I'm a top guy," Daruish vows. "That's going to sound cocky right now, but I'll prove it. If I fight four times this year, I'll be 4-0 by the end of this year. If I fight three times, I'll be 3-0.
"I don't think about Fight Pass, TV, pay-per-view, any of that. Everything will be the result of me winning. That's the only way you should look at it. With our job, everything, and I mean everything, is the result of winning. I don't think about anything else. Because right now, my last day on Earth is April 11th."