Beneil Dariush had been on the precipice of title contention in the UFC lightweight division before, only to have injuries limit his ability to train and lead to negative results inside the Octagon.
Between March 11, 2017, and March 3, 2018, Dariush competed three times, sandwiching a majority draw opposite Evan Dunham between knockout losses to Edson Barboza and Alexander Hernandez. The latter defeat took only 42 seconds and knocked him out of the Top 15, leaving many to wonder if the former rising star would ever recapture the form that produced eight wins in his first 10 UFC appearances.
Behind the scenes, the Orange County product was dealing with a lingering neck injury that made training nearly impossible. Facing the best fighters in the world, in one of the deepest, most competitive divisions in the sport, is difficult enough at full strength, and when you can’t prepare the way you need to in order to be successful, it’s not surprising when success eludes you.
Fast forward four years, and Dariush was once again on the brink of challenging for championship gold.
Beneil Dariush vs Mateusz Gamrot Preview | UFC 280
Unlock MORE of your inner combat sports fan with UFC Fight Pass! Fighting is what we live for. And no one brings you MORE live fights, new shows, and events across multiple combat sports from around the world. With a never-ending supply of fighting in every discipline, there’s always something new to watch. Leave it to the world’s authority in MMA to bring you the Ultimate 24/7 platform for MORE combat sports, UFC Fight Pass!
Beneil Dariush vs Mateusz Gamrot Preview | UFC 280
After dealing with his neck issues and re-shaping the way he looked at his career, competing, and chasing championship gold, the Kings MMA representative began stringing together victories. When his winning streak reached seven, he was paired off with fellow ascending contender Islam Makhachev in a bout that very well could have determined the next No. 1 contender in the lightweight division.
And then Dariush got injured and his opportunity was delayed.
“This one was different because in the past, my injuries, they got in the way of me fighting, they stopped my training, and it put me in a different kind of position,” explained Dariush, who returns to action on Saturday at UFC 280 in a pivotal battle between lightweight contenders against Mateusz Gamrot. “With this broken leg, it took me six weeks to get back to training, which was awesome.
"I think I was walking in three weeks and back to training in six weeks; obviously nothing crazy, but I was back, at least.
“It’s different, too, because with the last injury, I couldn’t get going,” added Dariush, referring to his previous neck issues. “I had a loss, a draw, and a loss; I was two years without a win. Right now, we’re still on a six or seven-fight winning streak.
“And then I’ve got my daughter, who is the most awesome person ever. She keeps me happy. It’s definitely different. I’m in a different place.”
For the record, Dariush is on a seven-fight winning streak, a run that includes three straight Performance of the Night bonuses, a Fight of the Night award for his split decision win over Diego Ferreira, and a dominant victory over Tony Ferguson at UFC 262.
Despite missing out on the opportunity to face Islam Makhachev, who faces Charles Oliveira for the vacant lightweight title this weekend in the UFC 280 main event, in February, Dariush is in incredible spirits as he prepares to face Gamrot.
It’s a far cry from where he might have been under similar circumstances just a few years ago, but faith, wisdom, and fatherhood have helped the 33-year-old contender maintain a different, healthier perspective on the trials he’s faced, and the position he’s still in heading to Abu Dhabi.
“Bro, it’s honestly — it would have been the worst thing in the world, just because of the way my mind is, if it wasn’t for my family,” he said, laughing in that familiar “you have no idea how different things could have been” way that we all know. “If it wasn’t for my daughter, who is just amazing — getting to see her grow up right now has been so good, so if it wasn’t for that? Bro, I would have lost it.
“I was really looking forward to that Islam fight,” he said, most certainly shaking his head in disappointment on the other end of the phone, even though I couldn’t see him doing so. “I really wanted to just kind of show the world.
“I really enjoy fighting, so I was really, really looking forward to that. It was the best I ever looked. It was the best shape I was ever in, and it didn’t happen, which broke my heart.”
He paused, reflecting on the disappointment.
“Now we’re back! Now we’re back and I’m excited to get back in there!”
While this weekend’s fight with Gamrot certainly isn’t the fight he was hoping for once he was cleared to return, Dariush also knows that he has a tremendous opportunity in front of him this weekend.
A two-division champion under the KSW banner before shifting to the UFC, Gamrot enters on a four-fight winning streak, having followed stoppage wins over Scott Holtzman, Jeremy Stephens, and Ferreira with a unanimous decision victory over Arman Tsarukyan towards the end of June in one of the best fights of the year thus far.
He’s a dangerous and well-rounded opponent, and with a victory, not only would Dariush extend his winning streak to eight, but he would have the opportunity to call next in the center of the Octagon, just before Oliveira and Makhachev battle for the vacant title.
“There is nobody else that deserves this more than me, and I think everybody knows that,” he said when asked about being next in line for a championship opportunity should he earn a victory on Saturday night. “On paper, everybody knows that, and no one is going to argue it.
“I think guys will try to sneak in there, but that’s okay — they can try; I don’t think it’s going to work.”
Usually somewhat low-key — perhaps even mild-mannered — there was a greater confidence and excitement to Dariush’s voice as we spoke, almost a sense of urgency, as if the weekend couldn’t get here quick enough.
Which makes sense given that he’s been out of action since May 2021, is brimming with confidence, and chomping at the bit to show everyone what he’s believed for quite some time: that when he’s healthy, he’s the best lightweight in the world.
“If I’m as good as I think I am, everybody is food, basically; it’s really that simple,” he said, explaining his mindset. “I just have to see who my next meal is. I’m never too worried about what’s coming next. That’s my mindset: whoever is next, is next, and they’re just food.
“(Gamrot) is a stud! He’s very good all-around and he’s experienced, so I’ve got to dig deep. I’ve got to push this guy, and I’m looking forward to that. He’s got some great wins in the UFC, great wins outside of the UFC, so an opportunity to fight a guy like this — I don’t know how many opportunities I’m going to get like this.”
He’s had a couple opportunities like this in the past — one resulted in a nasty knockout loss to Barboza, and the other was scuttled in February when he was injured — and those experiences remind Dariush not to take fights like this for granted, and validates all the hard work he’s put in throughout his career.
“For me, it just validates all the hard work I’ve put in and where God has brought me,” he said, reflecting on his journey. “It reminds me of who I am and what I’m supposed to do; it’s really that simple.
“I’ve been given a talent — a God-given talent — and to see it be fruitful, it’s very satisfying; I think that’s the best way to put it. It’s like knowing all the work you did was for a good reason and you weren’t just wasting your time. There is a lot to that — and just thinking about it right now is taking me back down memory lane.”
He paused again, taking in the memories.
“I’ve been given a God-given talent and I don’t want to waste it,” he said, continuing his previous thought. “But to be honest with you, dude — I just love fighting.”
Dariush chased his words with a laugh, aware that his honest admission sounded somewhat out of character for a Brazilian jiu jitsu black belt with graying temples, a warm smile, and a gentle demeanor.
“My favorite thing about fighting is breaking people’s will,” he added. “I want to get back in there and that’s what I want to do.
“Right now, I’m just excited to fight.”
UFC 280: Oliveira vs Makhachev took place live from Etihad Arena in Abu Dhabi on October 22, 2022. See the Final Results, Official Scorecards and Who Won Bonuses - and relive the action on UFC Fight Pass!