After a week off, the UFC gets back to action with a showdown of top lightweights in Austin, Tex. Fourth-ranked Beneil Dariush looks to bounce back after a first-round TKO loss to former champion Charles Oliveira and restart his push to a shot at the title as he takes on eighth-ranked Arman Tsarukyan.
Tsarukyan has won back-to-back fights since dropping a closely contested fight against Mateusz Gamrot by unanimous decision back in Jun. 2022. With a win over Dariush he will prove that he is ready to take on current champion Islam Makhachev in a rematch of Tsarukyan’s UFC debut. Dariush is not only looking to earn himself a shot at gold, but, at 34 years old, he is looking to make a statement that he is not ready to turn over the reins to the next generation of contenders at 155 pounds.
The lightweight division will also be showcased in the co-main event as all-action stars Jalin Turner and Bobby Green square off in a three-round contest. Turner is looking to stop a two-fight skid where he has come up short by decision in both outings, while Green looks to make it three in a row in the win column after submitting Tony Ferguson and shocking Grant Dawson with a knockout win in under a minute when the pair met less than two months ago.
Also on the main card is a bantamweight showdown as longtime contender Rob Font takes on former flyweight champion Deiveson Figueiredo. Figueiredo has been teasing the move up to bantamweight for a few years, and, after the second loss in his tetralogy against Brandon Moreno, the former champion officially decided that making 125 pounds was too difficult. Now he moves up to 135 pounds where he will look to make a run at becoming a two-division champion.
UFC Fight Night: Dariush vs. Tsarukyan airs live in its entirety on ESPN+ starting at 4 p.m. ET. The main card also airs on ESPN starting at 7 p.m. ET. Combat Press writers Dan Kuhl and Matt Petela preview the action in this week’s edition of Toe-to-Toe.
Beneil Dariush and Arman Tsarukyan both have title aspirations in their future; which man closes out 2023 with a win?
Kuhl: The match-up of Beneil Dariush and Arman Tsarukyan should be one of those lights-out, top-15 bouts that is well deserving of a main event slot. Dariush is a longtime UFC vet, who made his promotional debut almost a decade ago, but he is still only 34 years old and has five performance bonuses. Tsarukyan has only been under the UFC banner for about four and a half years, but is also only 27 years old, so he is on a similar timeline as Dariush.
The Iranian-born Dariush is a Southpaw with a three-inch height advantage, and the Georgian-born Armenian-Russian Tsarukyan fights Orthodox while both have an identical reach. On paper their striking stats are nearly identical, and in grappling, Tsarukyan hits more takedowns, but Dariush is 80-percent on takedown defense, and he is also a multiple-time IBJJF No-Gi World Champion at the colored belt levels. In the UFC, Dariush holds five submission wins to Tsarukyan’s zero. So, what makes this fight so exciting?
Dariush sits at No. 4 in the super-stacked UFC lightweight division, while Tsarukyan sits at No. 8. In October, divisional king Islam Makhachev was supposed to rematch top-ranked Charles Oliveira, but the Brazilian had to drop out on short notice, and featherweight champ Alexander Volkanovski took a second crack at the 155-pound belt. Meanwhile, No. 2 Justin Gaethje is coming off a knockout win over No. 3 Dustin Poirier in July, so the top of the division is in a bit of a logjam. Needless to say, the winner of Dariush-Tsarukyan is, at a minimum, fighting to be in the next title eliminator bout. However, depending on what happens between Makhachev, Oliveira, Gaethje, illnesses, and injuries, the winner of this weekend’s headliner could potentially have a long shot at the next title challenge. Therein lies the problem. This fight is one of the most difficult to predict of the year.
The bookies currently have Tsarukyan as a -278 favorite, but that almost seems like a trap. He is fairly short for a lightweight at five-feet-seven-inches tall, although he is also incredibly fast. Dariush is larger, and he has a lot more experience at the highest level. After Dariush lost to Alexander Hernandez in Mar. 2018, he went on a five-year, eight fight winning streak, where he finished half of those opponents. His last fight was in Jun. 2023, when he lost by TKO to top-ranked Oliveira. Tsarukyan has not fought the same volume of high-level talent as Dariush has faced, but he is still 7-2 in the UFC, with three TKO finishes, and his only losses are to current champ Makhachev and Mateusz Gamrot, the latter of which was beaten by Dariush in his next fight. That is the outcome that drives my predictions here.
Gamrot and Tsarukyan have very similar styles, but Gamrot has a frame and grappling background more similar to Dariush. Tsarukyan went the distance with Gamrot, and he lost by unanimous decision. Dariush fought Gamrot four months later, and beat the Polish fighter by unanimous decision. Dariush has the experience and age advantage on his size, and has already gotten a sniff at title contention in his last bout. I see this one going the distance, and Dariush pulling off a unanimous decision. He will stuff Tsarukyan’s takedown attempts, and keep him at distance, while picking him apart on the feet, en route to a victory.
Petela: First and foremost, Arman Tsarukyan should have gotten the win over Mateusz Gamrot. I hesitate to call it a robbery, because it was a very close fight, but after rewatching that fight 10 times, eight of the ten I scored for Tsarukyan 48-47. Since that loss, Tsarukyan has improved, and he is in the period of his career where his physical talents are beginning to peak, and he has enough experience to have a high fight IQ.
Call it a hunch, or maybe rose-colored glasses, because I went on record saying Tsarukyan would be a UFC champion before he signed with the organization, but I think he steamrolls Beneil Dariush in this one. Dariush is 34 years old, and, at lightweight, that’s on the backside of his prime. This loss will mark the beginning of the end of his run at the top of the lightweight division, while it marks Tsarukyan asserting himself as the premier fighter of this next wave of stellar lightweights.
Jalin Turner has lost two consecutive fights; can he change course and get back to his winning ways by defeating Bobby Green?
Petela: Yes. Jalin Turner will come away with a big win in the co-main event. Look at the last two fighters he has lost to – Dan Hooker and Mateusz Gamrot. Those guys are both elite fighters who still have title aspirations. Bobby Green is entertaining as hell, and he is talented no doubt, but he just isn’t on the same level as Hooker and Gamrot. Both of Turner’s losses came by split decision, and there is an argument to be made that Turner could have earned the nod in the Hooker fight.
This one is going to be batshit crazy from the opening bell. There will be trash talking and a high volume of strikes from the jump. Turner will make Green miss more often than he’s used to, frustrating him to the point that he gets a bit reckless. With Green out of position, Turner will land a crisp combination that gets Green wobbled, and then he will go in for the kill and score a first-round TKO victory.
Kuhl: Catch me a year ago, and I could not be in more agreement with my colleague. Bobby Green has a lot more miles on the chassis at 37 years old with a 47-fight pro career under his belt. He is likely on the downward slide toward retirement sooner rather than later.
Since joining the UFC after the Strikeforce acquisition over a decade ago, Green’s career has been on-again, off-again fairly consistently. Currently he is on-again with back-to-back wins, and he is sitting at No. 13 in the super-stacked lightweight division. He was supposed to face Dan Hooker, who I thought he had a great chance of actually beating, but in steps twelfth-ranked Jailin Turner.
Turner is only 28 years old, and, as previously mentioned, he is on a two-fight losing streak to nothing less than top talent. Matt does have a good point in that a different set of judges may have swung the Gamrot fight his way, but we digress. Turner’s best years are arguably ahead of him, and he will have a serious size advantage over Green. On paper, this one is likely to go Turner’s way, and I, too, predict it will, but don’t be surprised to see Green pull out a victory.
Green has an X-factor that cannot be overlooked. He was a +350 underdog to Grant Dawson and knocked the shit out of his opponent only 33 seconds into their fight. This was after putting Tony Ferguson to sleep with third-round choke, and both of those happened in the last four months. Green has a ton of momentum on his side, and while I think Turner’s size and youth will earn him a decision victory, Green has a good chance of pulling a rabbit out of his hat.
What one fighter’s UFC career is on the ropes at this event?
Kuhl: Cody Brundage badly needed a win in his last fight, as he was coming in on a three-fight losing streak with an overall UFC record of 2-4. Fortunately for him, he scored a first round knockout of Jacob Malkoun, but he is still only 3-4 in the promotion, as he faces 6-0m Zach Reese this weekend. Reese has won all of his pro fights by first-round finish with four knockouts and two submissions. His last fight was in October, when he scored an armbar only 74 seconds into his Contender Series bout. Coming in with a full head of steam, Reese would very well win this one, and, if so, Brundage could be on his way out.
Petela: What happens to Miesha Tate if she loses? Does the UFC keep her around because of her name? Or, do they cut ties with the former champion after losing five fights in her last six outings? I think she squeaks by Julia Avila and keeps her roster spot, but, if I’m wrong, this might be the last time we see “Cupcake” in the Octagon, whether she wants to retire or not.
Which fight is the sleeper match-up on this card?
Petela: Clay Guida vs. Joaquim Silva. Guida is going to be less than a week shy of his 42nd birthday when he steps in the cage this weekend and it will be his 62nd professional fight. Frankly, that’s insane. He’s alternated wins and losses over his last seven fights and, if he keeps that trend going, he will come away with a win. I not only expect Guida to leave with a victory, but I see this fight being just as hectic and entertaining to watch as nearly every single other Clay Guida fight with his tremendous output and seemingly perpetual motion.
Kuhl: The opening bout will be a ladies’ showdown between British Columbia’s Jamey-Lyn Horth and Venezuela’s Veronica Hardy. The former LFA flyweight champ Horth won her UFC debut last April with a decision win over Hailey Cowan. This brought her pro record to 6-0. Hardy made her UFC debut seven years ago, and she has only gone 2-4 since then. Hardy’s last fight added some spark to her career when she picked up an underdog win over Juliana Miller, but her back is still against the wall. Horth, on the other hand, has a ton of momentum behind her, and she has no intention of giving up her first defeat. This one should be an emotional battle with both ladies swinging for the fences.
Who takes home the “Performance of the Night” honors?
Kuhl: Regardless of how the fight goes, either one or both fighters in the evening’s headliner should walk away with a bonus. If the win is by finish, the victor will get the spoils. And, considering how Beneil Dariush and Arman Tsarukyan typically perform, plus the fact that both have a title shot in their sights, if this one goes the distance, both could walk away with some extra cash.
Petela: Rob Font. What a way to welcome Deiveson Figueiredo to the bantamweight division than to face Font? Font struggled in his last fight when he got outgrappled by Cory Sandhagen, but, with Figueiredo moving up from flyweight, he won’t be physically strong enough to keep Font on his back, and this one will turn into a technical slugfest. This one doesn’t go the distance and it will be Font scoring a knockout win and cashing in a bonus check.
Pair this card with…
Petela: As confusing as this might sound, the Old Fashioned cocktail is gaining in popularity among the newest generation of drinkers. With Tsarukyan, Turner, and Brady all fighting, and scoring wins, this weekend, the next generation of elite fighters has arrived, so pair this card with a nice Old Fashioned and enjoy the combination of rising stars.
Kuhl: Technically, alcohol for consumption is banned in Iran, so, even though Beneil Dariush is going to pull off a signature win, we have to pair this one with something else. How about some lamb or beef kebabs. This is a common Iranian dish that is easy to prepare, easy to eat, and super delicious. It won’t take too much time, as you consume this stacked Fight Night card.
Main Card (ESPN+, 7 p.m. ET)
LW: Beneil Dariush vs. Arman Tsarukyan
LW: Jalin Turner vs. Bobby Green
BW: Rob Font vs. Deiveson Figueiredo
WW: Sean Brady vs. Kelvin Gastelum
MW: Punahele Soriano vs. Dustin Stoltzfus
Preliminary Card (ESPN+, 4 p.m. ET)
LW: Clay Guida vs. Joaquim Silva
Women’s BW: Miesha Tate vs. Julia Avila
MW: Cody Brundage vs. Zach Reese
LW: Joe Solecki vs. Drakkar Klose
FW: Steve Garcia vs. Melquizael Costa
LHW: Ihor Potieria vs. Rodolfo Bellato
WW: Wellington Turman vs. Jared Gooden
Women’s FlyW: Jamey-Lyn Horth vs. Veronica Hardy
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