As the UFC touches down in Austin for the second time in two years, the matchmakers have come up with another absolute gem of a main event. No. 4 ranked Beneil Dariush will take on No. 8 Arman Tsarykyan in a high stakes lightweight match that will have reverberations for the rest of the division well into 2024. As we count down to Saturday, here are some of the key numbers to keep in mind as we watch two of the best at 155 pounds.
It seems almost inconceivable that Saturday will be Beneil Dariush’s first main event. Had he not been forced out by an ankle injury, his first main event would have been versus the man who would go on to become champion, Islam Makhachev.
That was back in February 2022, and even then, it seemed like an overdue headliner for one of the UFC’s most successful lightweights.
Just a month shy of his ten-year anniversary in the promotion, Dariush owns third place all-time for lightweight wins with 16. If he can get his hand raised at Moody Center this Saturday, he’ll tie Cowboy Cerrone for second and, at 34 years old, will be in legitimate striking range of Jim Miller’s 22 wins that hold first place.
After an atypical 2017-2018 campaign that saw Dariush in a majority draw bookended by two knockout losses, “Benny” proceeded to put the pieces together and constructed an impressive seven-fight win streak that collected names like Drew Dober, Tony Ferguson and Mateusz Gamrot, among others.
That streak was snapped by former champion Charles Oliveira at UFC 289 last June, and Dariush will use this Austin showcase to prove he still belongs in the title contender conversation.
Achieving black belt status just five years after taking up the discipline in 2007, Dariush has used that weapon as one of the cornerstones of his 22-5-1 professional MMA résumé. With a UFC takedown ratio of 26:9, he boasts over an hour of top control time to date, good for the 6th most in division history.
He's also 6th all-time for lightweight submission attempts (12) with five of those ending the fight. His wrestling is also a problem for his opponents. He’s stuffed 38 of 47 takedown attempts for an 80.9% rating, 4th among lightweights.
But Dariush’s threats are not limited to grappling. Also a black belt in Muay Thai, Dariush has five KO/TKO finishes in those 22 wins, including one of only 10 spinning backfist knockouts in UFC history (vs Scott Holtzman in 2020).
American Top Team’s Arman Tsarukyan made his UFC debut with the unenviable task of taking on Islam Makhachev in 2019.
He would become part of Makhachev’s long-standing win streak, although he did prove he could hang with the future champion, lasting the full three rounds that night and taking home Fight of the Night honors. Since then, he’s won seven of his last eight and established himself as a permanent fixture in the top ten.
His pace and his cardio have usually been his keys to victory. When it comes to striking exchanges, he can lap his opponents pretty quickly. He had a +34 striking differential vs Matt Frevola, +57 vs Joaquim Silva and +58 vs Davi Ramos.
The strikes were too much for Joel Alvarez, who was stopped less than seven minutes into tangling with Tsarukyan. Across nine UFC fights to date, however, he’s gone wire to wire six times, including his 25-minute main event with Mateusz Gamrot.
Like his opponent, Tsarukyan can convincingly be described as “well-rounded” and has a powerful wrestling base to draw upon when the action hits the canvas.
In just nine UFC bouts, he already sits at seventh place for takedowns among active lightweights. He has 28 total to date, with ten coming against Frevola alone.
Factors To Watch
Both men have one opponent in common: Mateusz Gamrot. Despite being on the wrong side of takedowns and control time, Dariush won his meeting with Gamrot on the strength of a 45% significant strike rate and almost doubling the number of total strikes against his opponent. Tsarukyan dropped his contest with Gamrot (his only loss in his last eight bouts) who out-struck the Georgian and dominated control time. Tsarukyan did gain valuable main event experience, however, lasting the full 25 minutes. One other disparity of note in the two men’s numbers is average fight length. Dariush sits at 9:15 across his 28 pro fights, where Tsarukyan sits at nearly four minutes more with 13:37.
Meeting In The Middle
Dariush and Tsarukyan are almost dead even in the strikes landed per minute category (3.79 vs 3.82 respectively). Their accuracy is also almost statistically identical, 49.1% for Dariush versus 48% for Tsarukyan. When it comes to performance bonuses or Fight of the Night bonuses, both fighters have four. Striking defense, takedown accuracy and takedown defense are three more categories that are basically a coin toss and ensure, at least on paper, that this fight should be an extremely competitive one.