It wasn’t long ago that Beneil Dariush was ranked as one of the top 15 lightweights in the world with an impressive 8-2 run to start his UFC career, including wins over Jim Miller, Michael Johnson and James Vick.
Unfortunately, the Iranian-born fighter fell on harder times in a series of consecutive fights where he suffered a pair of brutal knockouts to Evan Dunham and Alexander Hernandez.
It was after that latter defeat against Hernandez in 2018 that had Dariush seriously questioning if he wanted to continue fighting.
“As a fighter, if you don’t have the chin to take a punch — if you can’t take a punch and your chin doesn’t hold up — what’s the point?” Dariush said ahead of his return to action at UFC Fight Night in Wichita on March 9. “You can have all the skills in the world, if you get hit and you go down there’s no point in trying to fight. It’s not your place anymore. It’s not your home anymore.”
While he was contemplating the possible end of his career, Dariush decided to let his body heal before making any rash decisions.
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During that time off, he visited with his physician to diagnose a constant problem in his neck that transformed his training camps into a miserable experience as he was trying to gut through every practice while suffering through serious pain.
“We got the MRI and everything checked out and he said it was a lot worse than I thought it was,” Dariush revealed. “With that being said, ever since I started working on getting my neck healthier, I’ve been able to spar more, I’m not constantly in pain and with little things like that, you’d be amazed how much it helps.”
According to Dariush, he was diagnosed with a bulging disc as well as severe nerve damage, which was causing him so much pain that it prevented him from properly preparing for any of his upcoming fights.
It seems the nagging injury also explained why he struggled to take punches because every shot that landed flush sent reverberations through his entire body thanks to the damage in his neck.
So for the past year, the 29-year old lightweight contender has worked tirelessly to nurse his neck back to full health, which in turn allowed him to properly prepare for his fights.
The results of that hard work have already been witnessed after Dariush returned to action last November and earned a unanimous decision win over Thiago Moises.
“I’m back to normal finally,” Dariush said. “It’s a huge difference. As far as being able to train more because I’m not in any pain anymore but also the confidence because I know if I get hit, my body can handle it. My neck, my chin, I can absorb a punch better.
“That’s a huge deal when it comes to your confidence. When you’re more confident, you fight better.”
Dariush admits he was probably his own worst enemy before getting a doctor to diagnose the problems with his neck because he always thought the adrenaline from stepping inside the Octagon would protect him.
Fighters often talk about minor injuries that occur in training that suddenly disappear once the fighting actually starts. Dariush absolutely felt that same exact way but he was doing himself a disservice by not listening to his body.
“Sometimes for us it’s like as long as I get inside the Octagon everything’s going to be okay, but that’s not true,” Dariush said. “That was my mindset before. If I make it to the Octagon, I’m not going to feel anything. My neck’s not going to hurt, my back’s not going to hurt, I’m not going to have any problems but it doesn’t really work like that.
“You don’t have your best performance like that.”
Now that he’s returned to form with his last win, Dariush is anxious to begin that climb back up the top 15 rankings and his next test will take place this weekend in Wichita.
Dariush faces veteran lightweight Drew Dober, who comes into their fight after three straight wins and a 5-1 record over his past six fights.
Dober is a fierce competitor who has a pitbull-like mentality whenever he competes, as he constantly comes after his opponents and doesn’t slow down for 15 minutes.
That’s exactly why Dariush loves this matchup because he knows Dober will give him the opportunity to really showcase the best of what he’s learned going into this fight.
“He’s well-rounded. He’s got good punching power and his timing is not bad either. I just think I have much better tools than him,” Dariush said. “I think my striking is better than his and if we’re talking about the ground game, I think I have a huge advantage over him in the ground game.
“If this fight goes to the ground — and I believe it will — I think he’s going to be struggling. I think that’s where my finish comes from.”
Every win in the UFC is important, but Dariush knows this one holds particular significance following his last fight.
Getting back on track this past November was huge for his confidence after rehabilitating his neck injury, but beating Dober will send a message to the lightweight division that Dariush remains a constant threat to anybody in the top 15.
“I think [a win] sets me up for me to get another opponent from the top 10 or top 15. I think I’ve proven that I belong there and I would like another chance,” Dariush stated.
“If everything’s good and I show up on fight day, I don’t know if there’s anyone out there who can beat me.”