Despite riding a seven-fight win streak with four finishes along the way, the 33-year-old lightweight knew that the ankle injury that cost him a chance to face Makhachev in February would probably force him to earn one more win before he would become the No. 1 contender in the division.
Just days ahead of his return at UFC 280, Dariush then got the news that he was being leapfrogged again — this time by UFC featherweight champion Alexander Volkanovski, who was contracted to serve as the backup to the upcoming fight between Charles Oliveira and Islam Makhachev with plans for him to face the winner should he leave Abu Dhabi without competing.
“It still sucks,” Dariush said during UFC 280 media day. “Being backup, losing that positions sucks. Losing the title shot sucks. It’s all as crappy as it gets but I understand why they’re doing what they’re doing.”
The chance to promote a champion vs. champion fight in the aftermath of UFC 280 would do big business for the UFC while the usually soft-spoken Dariush confesses that he’s rarely the person earning promotional attention ahead of his fights.
That’s why Dariush is resigned to earning his title shot the old fashioned way through hard work and a resume that will eventually make him undeniable as the No. 1 contender in the division.
“My focus is not the same focus as the UFC,” Dariush said. “It’s not the same as [Dana White]. I understand Dana’s is basically profits and that’s what he’s supposed to do for his business. I have a different focus. My focus is I’ve been given a God given talent and I’m not wasting it. I’m not squandering it.
“I want to fight the best people in the world and I want to do it as often as I can. So if I can’t get the champion, I want another dog after this fight. I want to fight the best guys and it’s that simple.”
As upset as he might be about potentially being passed over for the next title shot, Dariush says the fact that he can’t get other top ranked lightweights to face him is far more disappointing.
Prior to getting matched up against Mateusz Gamrot on Saturday, Dariush expected a showdown with either Dustin Poirier or Michael Chandler — a pair of former title challengers who sit near him in the UFC rankings — yet they got matched up against each other rather than face the guy with one of the longest winning streaks in the division.
“It was frustrating,” Dariush said on The Fighter vs. The Writer. “For me the most frustrating part was trying to get an opponent when I came back. Trying to get matched up with [Dustin] Poirier, which I thought made the most sense, if I wasn’t going to get Islam. Because I asked for Islam first, for that fight to get rebooked.
“I couldn’t get that fight rebooked so then I said I’ll take Poirier. They said ‘not going to happen.’ Then Justin Gaethje had just fought so he wasn’t going to be available for a long time. So I said I’ll go with [Michael] Chandler and not an option either. Sitting there frustrated, just the way it goes.”
Dariush acknowledges that Poirier vs. Chandler, which takes place at UFC 281 in November, is a big matchup for the promotion. His problem with the matchup comes down to what gets sacrificed in the name of star power when he’s sitting there without an opponent.
“What frustrates me, you’re not just a superstar — you’re an athlete,” Dariush said. “An athlete wants to face the best competition he can. So why wouldn’t they want to face me? I’m on a seven-fight win streak. The fights I’ve had, when I beat Diego Ferreira, he was like six years unbeaten. I have a ton of finishes. I took out Tony [Ferguson] so why wouldn’t they want to face me?
“That’s more the frustrating part. The fact that my peers don’t mention my name. That’s been frustrating. If it’s all about business, OK then so be it, go be businessmen. I’ll just be sitting here and looking for my next meal.”
If Dariush takes solace in anything regarding his place in the lightweight division hierarchy it’s that he might be the most feared man in the rankings but it certainly appears nobody near the top of the weight class wants to see him standing across from them in the octagon.
“When was the last time you heard somebody say my name?” Dariush stated. “I don’t remember anybody in the top five ever saying my name. Maybe. I might be one of the most avoided but it’s not something I think about.”