HUNTINGTON BEACH, Calif. – Beneil Dariush was taken aback when Michael Chandler was announced for a UFC lightweight title fight in just his second octagon appearance.
Following the recent announcement Khabib Nurmagomedov would be officially retiring and relinquishing the 155-pound belt, the promotion put a new direction for the division in motion with a vacant title bout between Chandler (22-5 MMA, 1-0 UFC) and Charles Oliveira (30-8 MMA, 18-8 UFC) at UFC 262.
Dariush, who is booked to fight Tony Ferguson on the same UFC 262 lineup on May 15 at Toyota Center in Houston, said he didn’t expect Chandler to be one side of the title fight – and quite honestly, was stunned to see him get the opportunity after logging just a single octagon appearance.
“I’m super surprised,” Dariush told MMA Junkie. “I was shocked. I’m like, ‘Really?’ I understand he’s been in the sport for a long time, so I’m not disrespecting his pedigree, but in the UFC you’ve had one fight with Dan Hooker. It just looked to me like Dan Hooker didn’t show up. I thought they would at least try to get him somebody else. I thought they were. They were trying to get him Justin (Gaethje) and now we’re here. So, (I’m) shocked.”
Although Dariush doesn’t view Chandler as the most deserving candidate for that title shot position, he said he can look at the positives of the situation. For him, it’s good to see some clarity and forward movement in the weight class, especially because UFC president Dana White was so reluctant to accept Nurmagomedov’s retirement.
The UFC lightweight belt hasn’t been defended more than once in calendar year since 2013, and it’s been a consistently slow burn in arguably the most stacked division in the sport. Dariush isn’t fond of putting Chandler in such a prominent spot in the post-Nurmagomedov era, but he’s able to put that aside and see the silver lining of it all.
“It’s been a struggle (with this division),” Dariush said. “But the cool thing is I’m not 20-something years old now. I’m a little more mature, and I can see things from everybody’s side. I get why Dana does what he does. Dana has people he has to answer to. It’s not like he can just do what he wants like he did before. The fighters are trying to do what’s best for themselves. The UFC is trying to do what’s best for themselves, and everybody is trying to meet somewhere in the middle. I think that’s where we’re at right now.
“We’re trying to see how we can get all the butts in the seats and have the highest-ranked guys fight for the title. I think we’re more focused on the butts in the seats right now than we are for the rankings, but I’m hoping things will change. With Khabib retiring, with this matchup being made for the title, I think it’s going to make things more clear – I hope.”
Dariush’s hope is to see himself fighting for that title sooner than later. He’s in the midst of a six-fight winning streak and can push it to seven in a marquee matchup with Ferguson at UFC 262.
As a realist who has seen many phases of the lightweight division, Dariush said he knows his title shot might not come even if he beats Ferguson from pillar to post. The winner of a Dustin Poirier vs. Conor McGregor trilogy bout would be right there, as is Gaethje, who holds a high ranking.
Dariush is certain that he’s not going to wait around and see what happens, though. He has no desire to cut corners and wants to continue proving his worth. He knows if he does that, the belt will eventually find its way around his waist.
“I want to go in there and I want to dominate so they can say, ‘Why isn’t this guy talked about for the title?’ Then they start talking about me for the title,” Dariush said. “I don’t know if I’m going to get a title shot off of this (fight with Ferguson). I would like to, don’t get me wrong, but I don’t know. Who else is out there that I can fight also? I’m looking at the rankings, and it’s not like people are coming off of wins in the top 10. I’m going to focus on Tony, and then I’m going to really look at who is next.
“I’m going to sit down with my coaches and my managers and spend some time in prayer. Whoever is next is next. I’m not trying to duck anybody. I’ve fought people behind me, I’ve fought people in front of me. If I have to fight someone behind me, we’ll do that.”
To see the full interview with Dariush, check out the video below.