After building a six-fight win streak in arguably the UFC’s toughest division, Beneil Dariush just wanted a chance to prove himself by facing a top-ranked opponent.
He’ll finally get that opportunity on Saturday night when facing Tony Ferguson in the UFC 262 co-main event, and after waiting so long to earn a fight like this, the last thing Dariush wants to do is squander it.
That’s why he’s enjoying the moment and preparing himself to go up against one of the most savage lightweights in the history of the sport rather than letting anything else distract him.
“This is my mindset right now — I get to fight one of the scariest, one of the greatest lightweights of all time and I’m genuinely happy about it,” Dariush told MMA Fighting. “I can’t wait. Just thinking about the fight makes me smile. I’m going to go in there and it’s gonna be a war. I know it’s going to be. I think we’re going to see the best Tony. I’m super stoked on this fight. That’s all I’m thinking about. I’m not thinking about what’s after, people are like ‘do you think you’ll get a title shot?’ I’m like no, to be honest with you. I don’t think so. I think it’s going to take a while.
“I want to step in there and look at Tony and pretend this is my last day as a fighter. How will I finish my last day as a fighter. That’s the way I want to step in there.”
Now it might sound odd that Dariush is essentially conceding a possible title shot before its even offered but he’s a realist when it comes to the lay of the land in the lightweight division.
While Ferguson’s last opponent, Charles Oliveira, is fighting for the vacant title in the UFC 262 main event, Dariush is honest enough with himself to know where he sits in the hierarchy of the division. Looking at his fight with Ferguson but also knowing that Dustin Poirier will battle Conor McGregor in July with a lurking monster like Justin Gaethje still occupying a spot near the top of the rankings, Dariush knows he’ll still have more work to do after Saturday night.
“I don’t think this makes me No. 1 contender,” Dariush said. “I know it’s weird to say just because you have a seven-fight win streak but I just don’t think it’s going to make me No. 1 contender. I think Dustin will be ahead of me still. I think even if Conor wants it, even if he loses, he’ll be ahead of me. So if Dustin wins, I think he gets the title shot. If Conor wins, I think he gets the title shot. Justin Gaethje is still there.
“I’m not in a rush. I watched Max Holloway get 10 [wins] in a row before a title shot, so if that’s what it takes, that’s what it takes.”
Rather than get lost in the hunt for a title shot that may not come after UFC 262, Dariush prefers to just live in the moment with a fight he’s been pursuing ever since his win streak started.
He’s long considered Ferguson one of the two best lightweights in the sport alongside Khabib Nurmagomedov, who retired as UFC champion this past October. Now Dariush gets a chance to clash with an opponent in Ferguson, who seemingly enjoys leaving his fights covered in the blood of the person he just vanquished.
It requires a different kind of mentality to face someone like Ferguson, which is why Dariush is readying himself to leave the octagon looking like he just wrestled a barbed-wire fence for 15 minutes if that’s what it takes to earn the victory.
“Let me put it this way, the earliest memory I have of my dad, I think I got beat up by some kids and he looked at me and said, ‘hey, you get in a fight, you win. I don’t care if you have to pick up a rock or a stick, you win,” Dariush recalled. “That’s my earliest memory of my dad. Obviously terrible advice as a parent, I’m telling all the fathers right now, don’t say that to your kid. But the worst part about that is, I thought my dad was a genius at that time, I looked at my dad and said ‘oh my god, you’re right, I should have just done that, it would have solved all my problems!’
“There’s that part of me. I’m not so worried about the blood. I’m not so much worried about the cuts. I’m genuinely excited to step in there and just look to take his head off. Whatever it takes, wins. That’s what I’m looking for. I don’t care how my face looks after. I don’t care how my body looks after. I just care that I step in there and I get this done.”
During Ferguson’s rise to the top of the lightweight division, he had a few close calls after getting wobbled by Anthony Pettis during a wild exchange in their fight and nearly being finished in a late notice scrap with Lando Vannatta once upon a time as well. On both occasions, Ferguson found a way to weather the storm and then return fire with Pettis unable to continue past the second round and Vanatta getting choked out just minutes after he nearly pulled off the upset.
Dariush knows that Ferguson feasts on mistakes made by his opponents just when it looks like they’ve got him hurt but he also can’t ignore his own finishing instincts when that moment comes.
“If I want to finish this guy, when I smell blood, I have to be willing to risk everything and go after him,” Dariush said. “Because it seems to me whenever someone hurts him, he just turns into a better version of the wild man he already is.”
Never big on predictions, Dariush isn’t going to try to call his shot or make some crazy statement in order to get a few extra headlines during fight week.
Instead, he just wants to put on the performance of the lifetime and if that means Ferguson doesn’t survive to the final horn, then so be it.
“I’m not big on what my career will be or what my legacy will be,” Dariush explained. “I’m more hyped on the idea of it. Just being able to finish a guy like that, being able to put him away. He’s literally a zombie. You can’t get him out of there. With the exception of Justin, and I think if you let Tony he would have finished the fifth round no problem but with the exception of Justin, no one’s really done it.
“I’d like to be that guy. I’d like to be the guy that does it and I know it’s going to take something special.”