Beneil Dariush is focused on Charles Oliveira at UFC 289, but he always keeps a watchful eye on the rest of the lightweight division, especially with two marquee matchups expected to unfold before the end of 2023.
First is the highly anticipated rematch between Dustin Poirier and Justin Gaethje as they prepare to headline UFC 291 in July, with the winner being crowned the second ever “BMF” champion. The winner could also end up as a future title contender — and that gives Dariush a vested interest, considering he’s expected to earn a title shot if he gets past Oliveira on Saturday.
Dariush understands why Poirier should probably be favored to win since he previously finished Gaethje, but Dariush also believes circumstances are different this time around.
“I think if you’re practical, you go with Dustin Poirier because of the last fight,” Dariush told MMA Fighting. “I would say this — right now, I would say Justin Gaethje seems more hungry, more focused.
“Dustin Poirier, I think he’s made a lot of money, he’s done his thing. He seems a little bit more comfortable, and comfort’s the greatest enemy of progress. I think Dustin Poirier is a little too comfortable but I could be wrong. He could definitely show up and show me that I’m wrong.”
The comfort that Poirier enjoys these days largely comes from lucrative back-to-back fights against Conor McGregor, which likely served as the biggest paydays of his career.
Meanwhile, Gaethje has openly declared intentions to make one last title run after falling short in two previous bids at becoming the undisputed UFC lightweight champion — and that makes him a dangerous fighter in a high-risk, high-reward situation.
“I’m definitely leaning towards Justin Gaethje [winning],” Dariush said. “He’s made big improvements. He’s hungry. His last fight against [Rafael] Fiziev, he looked awesome. He looked fast, he looked smart and he didn’t make any mistakes.”
Poirier vs. Gaethje 2 definitely carries bigger stakes as far as Dariush’s own career is concerned, but another lightweight fight expected for later this year may end up as the most watched fight in 2023, when McGregor returns to action against Michael Chandler.
The matchup isn’t official yet, and it’s possible that McGregor and Chandler end up clashing as welterweights or maybe even middleweights, but both are veterans of 155 pounds.
As much as Dariush believes complacency might come back to haunt Poirier in July, he still expects McGregor to have a lot of advantages over Chandler even if he’s waking up on his Lamborghini yacht every day before going to practice.
“Stylistically, I think Chandler’s the best fight for Conor,” Dariush said. “Stylistically speaking, Chandler’s not too tall. He’s fast but he slows down pretty quickly after the first round, but so does Conor. So stylistically those things work out in Conor’s favor. He’s got the reach on him. He has great counters, and a guy like Chandler, who’s constantly going for attacks, you have more opportunities to counter him.
“It’s hard not to lean towards Conor when looking at Chandler’s style,” Dariush continued. “He’s so focused on excitement that he forgets to do what’s necessary in order to win. I am definitely leaning towards Conor on that one. It would be hard for me to see Chandler winning that unless he gets a knockout in the first round.”
If McGregor does somehow come up short, it would mark a third loss in a row and drop his overall record to 1-4 over his last five fights.
That may condemn a lot of fighters when it comes to title shots or headlining major events, but McGregor sits in a category all his own in regards to stardom in combat sports.
Dariush knows that even if McGregor does lose, the former two-division UFC champion will still find a way to spin the result into gold while building towards another big fight.
“Conor is always going to be Conor,” Dariush said. “You’re always going to able to sell pay-per-views when Conor is on the card. I think Conor will be fine because they’ll be like, ‘Oh, he just lost to another guy who’s world class, he’s been off for two-and-a-half years and if he just had a little bit more time, he could have won that fight.’ You know who’s great at spinning that stuff? Conor.
“In his own head, Conor is undefeated and undisputed. He talked about after losing to [Floyd] Mayweather, ‘If I only knew then what I know now, if we fought again, I would beat him.’ People believe it! Same thing with Poirier. He would say he was winning the round this last fight. I don’t think he was winning at any point, but that’s not in his head. I don’t think it’s do or die for Conor.”