Beneil Dariush has never picked an easy fight and he’s not starting now.
The perennial lightweight contender fights Arman Tsarukyan in the UFC Austin main event, just six months after a disappointing knockout loss to Charles Oliveira. That loss snapped an eight-fight win streak for Dariush and seemingly knocked him out of title contention for good, but he can breathe new life into his championship hopes if he can halt the Tsarukyan hype train on Saturday.
Still just 27, Tsarukyan has lived up to the hype and then some, thoroughly outclassing most of his UFC competition. His only losses since joining the promotion came in his debut against future champion Islam Makhachev, and against Mateusz Gamrot in a hotly contested five-rounder that could have gone either way. A win over Dariush would be Tsarukyan’s biggest win by far.
There’s even more lightweight stakes in the co-main event, which features a similar veteran vs. prospect matchup. Bobby Green was supposed to fight Dan Hooker, but a Hooker injury necessitated the involvement of short-notice replacement Jalin Turner. Can Green continue his unlikely rise up the ranks in his 48th pro fight, or has Turner made a wise decision by jumping on this risky opportunity?
In other main card action, Rob Font welcomes two-time flyweight champion Deiveson Figueiredo to the bantamweight division, Sean Brady welcomes Kelvin Gastelum (back) to the welterweight division, Clay Guida makes UFC appearance No. 36 when he fights Sean Brady, and middleweights Punahele Soriano and Dustin Stoltzfus open the show.
What: UFC Austin
Where: Moody Center in Austin, Texas
(Numbers in parentheses indicate standing in MMA Fighting Global Rankings)
Table of Contents
Beneil Dariush (4) vs. Arman Tsarukyan (10)
Given his diverse skill set and propensity for gutting out tough wins, Beneil Dariush feels like a logical foil to Arman Tsarukyan’s contender campaign. As talented as Tsarukyan is, one gets the sense that he’s still maybe a year or two away from his prime. The thing is, this version of Tsarukyan is already pretty damn good.
Tsarukyan isn’t the type to just blitz his opponents, so if this comes down to a war of attrition, I favor him based on his fitness, youth, and speed. When he’s still going 60 m.p.h. in the championship rounds, I’m fascinated to see if Dariush can keep up with him. It’s not like we haven’t seen Dariush reach down deep and raise hell in the later stages of a fight before. But you can only play that card so many times and I have to wonder if Dariush is reaching the end of his rope after battling top competition for so long.
I’m expecting a spirited 15 minutes of action that starts to turn in Tsarukyan’s favor near the end of the third round. From there, it’s the younger man who will take over en route to a finish via strikes in Round 4.
Jalin Turner (T13) vs. Bobby Green (T13)
It’s upset special time once again for Bobby Green!
Currently a slight underdog at +154 on Draft Kings, Green has more than enough tricks to send Jalin Turner to his third straight loss, especially when you take into account that Turner is taking this fight on less than 10 days’ notice and, honestly, doesn’t sound too jazzed about it. He also didn’t look great at the scale, needing two attempts to hit 156, and you know it was a miserable cut for the 6-foot-3 lightweight.
It’s not just the misgivings on Turner’s side that have me leaning towards Green. “King” is still one of the best boxers in the division and he has a great chin along with sharp defense. Turner likely has to put him away to get the win here, and I’m not confident he can land the big kibosh on the wily veteran. If he does manage to beat Green on the scorecards, that would actually impress me more than him scoring a quick finish.
I’d have favored Green to beat Hooker, and while this is a completely different matchup, I’m a believer in Green’s recent run of form. Yes, the man has fooled us before, but right now I’m just enjoying the ride. Green on points!
Deiveson Figueiredo (4, FLW) vs. Rob Font (10)
On a card with plenty of competitive matchups, this is the real wildcard for me.
It shouldn’t be all that difficult to picture how Figueiredo will fare at 135 pounds, given that he always seemed to enter the octagon with at least a few pounds on his past flyweight counterparts. He’s still packing plenty of punch, still a danger to finish on the feet and on the ground, and his speed will be even more of an asset at bantamweight. He’s going to give plenty of fighters in the division problems.
Is Rob Font one of those fighters? The nine-year UFC vet has performed well when pundits have counted him out, but he’s also consistently fallen short against the best in the division. We don’t know where Figueiredo stands to rank at 135 just yet, so his performance against Font will answer a lot of questions. Font will force Figueiredo to navigate his dangerous jab and make him work for takedowns if the more explosive Figueiredo chooses to go that route.
I’m fully aware that Figueiredo might be too small to become a two-division champion, but skill-for-skill I still like him to knock off a few ranked fighters before he calls it a career. Font falls in that range for me.
Figueiredo by submission.
Kelvin Gastelum vs. Sean Brady (8)
Kelvin Gastelum! At 170 on the dot! In the year 2023???
I’ve always been a believer that Gastelum would have fought for a title at some point if he could get his cuts right at welterweight (and also a believer that he’d never be able to actually do that), so count me among those excited to see if this fresh start is real. Size matters in this business and no one can argue that Gastelum wasn’t fighting uphill in some key middleweight matchups.
When Gastelum gets going, it’s easy to see why he was such an exciting prospect coming out of The Ultimate Fighter all those years ago. Cardio has always been one of his major advantages and he’s refined his striking to become a legit standup threat. He looked like a world beater at times at 185 pounds, there’s no reason he can’t be again at 170.
All that said, it’s probably too early to give up on Sean Brady even if his last two outings have fallen short of lofty expectations. I consider him someone who will be a player in this division for years to come, but it’s also fair to say that it might get a little worse before it gets better.
Look at this as a learning experience for Brady, who is just starting to be matched up with marquee opponents. I’ve got Gastelum taking a decision win in a Fight of the Night candidate.
Clay Guida vs. Joaquim Silva
I’m fine with the UFC continuing to trot Clay Guida out there as long as they can find suitable matchups and Joaquim Silva fits the bill nicely. Perfectly above average in all areas, Silva has the makings of an opponent that Guida can outwit and outpace for portions of the fight, while rarely stringing together any meaningful offense.
Have I sold you on this one yet?
It’s just a weird fight, man. Guida is in that late Jason Kidd-phase of his career where he looks almost exactly like he did 10 years ago, but he’s not quite the same guy. His takedowns don’t have the same pop. His movement isn’t as elusive as it once was. Worst of all, his chin is in the condition you’d expect it to be after more than 60 pro fights. Even with all that, he has a chance against Silva.
“Netto BJJ” really isn’t one to push the pace and while it would be nice to see him actually, uh, do some BJJ and exploit some of the holes in Guida’s submission defense, he’s not exactly known for forcing the action to the ground. If anything, we’ll likely see him utilize his solid Muay Thai to pick Guida apart for three rounds.
I’m not sure I can confidently pick Guida to win any more fights even though he’s actually maintained a .500 record over his past six fights somehow. Silva won’t overwhelm him, but he’ll do enough to open up Guida’s defenses and land a finishing strike in the second or third round.
Punahele Soriano vs. Dustin Stoltzfus
Punahele Soriano keeps things simple in the cage. He keeps his hands high, he closes distance, and he waits for openings to throw hammers. On paper, that’s exactly the right strategy if you’re fighting Dustin Stoltzfus.
It’s possible that Stoltzfus takes advantage of Soriano’s straight-line movement and fires off a steady diet of takedowns to stifle Soriano, but it often feels like he’s just not putting out enough strikes to keep an aggressive opponent off of him. Soriano also has good takedown defense, which limits Stoltzfus’ options.
Even if Soriano is taken down a time or two, he’ll work his way back to his feet and eventually force Stoltzfus to trade with him. In that scenario, I don’t see Stoltzfus lasting too long.
Soriano by knockout.