One month out from the biggest fight of his career, Beneil Dariush is looking to continue surging in the lightweight rankings. He will take on Edson Barboza March 11th in UFC Fortaleza in the co-main event of the evening.
The 9th ranked Dariush will look to enter lightweight elite when he faces his toughest challenge yet. The 5th ranked Barboza is coming off big wins over former champion Anthony Pettis and former title challenger Gilbert Melendez. For Dariush, drawing an opponent like Edson validates his worth in the talent stacked lightweight division.
“When they give me higher level opponents, that’s when I feel the most respected. For me it’s a good thing, it’s a great thing. I’m looking forward to it. I like that Edson Barboza is a really tough guy and I get to fight another tough guy. That’s pretty awesome.”
He will be fighting in hostile territory, something he’s done multiple times before when he took out Jim Miller in New Jersey and Carlos Diego Ferreira in Brazil. Although the crowd will be on Barboza’s side, Dariush has been one of the more active fighters on the roster making this an experience he’s more than capable of handling.
“This will be my third trip to Brazil and I guess I’m getting so much experience it’s becoming more normal,” Dariush explained. “I remember when I got the call to fight Jim Miller I was so nervous and excited but the more fights I have, the more normal it’s becoming. I’m just excited to go out there and do my job.”
Barboza, most notoriously known for his wheel kick knockout of Terry Etim, is one of the UFC’s most devastating strikers. Having shown much improved striking in his past few fights, Dariush feels comfortable to stand and trade with the Brazilian.
“He’s a dangerous striker with good kicks. I just have to fight the way I’ve been fighting. I’m going to look to go forward; I’m going to look to exchange with him. Takedowns obviously another thing, I think my ground game is much better than his so that would definitely be another option.”
Helping him prepare for his big fight is teammate Kelvin Gastelum who will headline UFC Fortaleza vs. Vitor Belfort. Training at Kings MMA, Dariush is not short of elite level training partners as he’s also enlisted the help of a few K1 guys.
“I have some good guys, K1 guys like Giga Chikadze who fights in Glory helping me prepare so everything is great,” Dariush said. “I’m sparring right now with Kelvin and he feels so sharp and he likes sparring with me because I’m southpaw like Vitor. I know I’m a little bit smaller but it’s all about timing so we’ve been training together a lot.”
Another training partner for Dariush was former lightweight champion Rafael dos Anjos who recently made the headlines for leaving Kings MMA. Dariush, who considers dos Anjos like a brother was upset to see him go but respects his decision.
“It sucks not to have him in the gym but at the same time I understand that he felt that it was time for him to move on,” Dariush explained. “I’m not going to be selfish and try to stop him so it’s tough to see him go but I understand and I wish him the best. Of course we’re still friends and brothers so everything’s good.”
“We train sometimes because we go to the same jiu-jitsu places so yeah we still get to train together. We go to this place in Northridge, Gracie Barra Northridge, that’s one of the places we train so I get to see him. It’s awesome to be in each other’s presence because it feels like fight mode because most of the time when we’re around each other we are fighting.”
Coming into this fight, Dariush has won 7 of his last 8 fights with the one slip up coming to Michael Chiesa. He was dominating the fight on the feet before a careless mistake that allowed Chiesa to climb on his back and get the rear naked choke. Distraught and disappointed, Dariush bounced back quickly, with a knockout over James Vick and a decision win over prospect Rashid Magomedov.
“It was a pretty tough loss,” Dariush said on the Chiesa loss. “If you look at me coming back, I fought 4 weeks after it because it was such a tough loss. It was frustrating and what I learnt from it was that you can’t lose focus in a fight. A lack of focus and a lack of intensity could lose you the fight. Chiesa did a great job so credit to him but if anything I take away, just be there for the fight a little bit more.”
Now his focus is shifted to Barboza, an opponent he definitely cannot afford to make any mistakes against. With the lightweight title situation a little unclear, Dariush could find himself a number one contender with a win in Fortaleza.
“I didn’t think really think about it too much,” Dariush said on fighting for the title. “I guess it could be but which title you know? (laughs). Is it the interim title? So I try not to over think these things. I’m really excited right now because I keep getting these tough fights. Rashid was awesome, James Vick was awesome and now I have Edson Barboza. I just want to continue to get these kinds of fights.”
“I don’t really want to think about the title too much. I don’t want to chase something that’s just a piece of metal and then miss all these good things in front of me. I just want to continue and focus on the good fights and continue what I’ve been doing.”
The Iranian born Assyrian Dariush has been asked multiple times about President Trump’s Muslim ban which includes Iran on the list. Although a US citizen, Dariush admits the ban concerns him quite a bit.
“I don’t really think so since I’m a US citizen but I can’t be sure until the future,” Dariush said on being personally affected. “I know right now the ban has been put on hold so it’s just a really strange situation. Does it worry me? Yeah it worries me but I don’t want to say something that in the end of the day won’t happen. I want to wait and see what happens with that. People were worried that I go to Brazil and won’t be able to come back but I told them that I’m a US citizen and it’s not an issue.”
With nothing to worry about momentarily, Dariush is focused on making a statement next month in Brazil. A win over the 5th ranked lightweight would place him in the top of the division and he is confident that he will put on another great performance.
“I think I’m going to get a finish. I’m going to pressure him and he’s going to give me something. Whether it be a submission or a knockout, that’s what I’m feeling this fight.”