Beneil Dariush vs. Arman Tsarukyan
Welcome to the Kentucky Derby of dark horses. This one is on some Seabiscuit vs. Secretariat type-ish. Beneil Dariush and Arman Tsarukyan are neck and neck and about to hit the home stretch of title contention. This is the first leg of the Dark Horse Triple Crown; the winner will likely catapult into a high-profile title eliminator in early 2024, and the loser will be put out to pasture like Mr. Hands. Before the Charles fight, Beneil Dariush was my official lightweight dark horse title contender, and Arman Tsarukyan has been in the running, maybe since his debut loss to Islam Makhachev. After that fight in 2019, I thought we’d see a rematch someday, and it would be for the belt. This one is 50 Shades of Banger and the late, great Coolio said it best: "We’ve been spendin’ most our lives, livin’ in a grappler’s paradise."
Don’t get it twisted like Deion’s toes; a TKO/KO one way or the other is still in the mix, but at the heart of this one is darkness and a grappling-style matchup. Arman Tsarukyan is elemental, the embodiment of wrestling’s holy trinity: power, strength, and speed. And Benny Dariush is limitless; he represents the abstract, the ethereal, a creative grappling free spirit. Tsarukyan represents strict adherence to technique and fundamentals, and Dariush represents the blurring and redefining of both. When it comes to pure grappling, these are the two biggest threats to the Iron Throne and the man who won the game of its ass groove, Islam Makhachev.
Tsarukyan sounds like a Street Fighter move, like a Hadouken and a Shoryuken combined. The Tsarukyan: Right + Down + Left + Punch. Tsarukyan! Tsarukyan! Arman is a human Wall–E, a compactor that crushes you into a tiny cube and then stacks you like junkyard jalopies in the vast dystopian wasteland that has become the world. Once Tsarukyan gets you to the mat, he treats you like a mafia hit, stuffing you inside a suitcase like a grotesque carry-on. Like he’s stuffing you inside the trunk of a Ford Tracer. That’s that Trunk Muzik. You can catch Arman Tsarukyan cruisin’ round town, bumpin’ a 1200-Watt Aiwa system with twin Joaquim Silvas thumpin’ in the back. Arman’s top control is depressing; you can see the hopelessness in the faces of the opponents he takes to the mat. Fook a pressure cooker; this guy likes to slow simmer you over a wood-burning stove, grinding on you for a round or so until he starts unloading heavy ground and pound with emphasis on elbows.
Averaging nearly four takedowns per fifteen minutes, Tsarukyan’s specialty is the power double. His level changes are instantaneous, and he can cover distance like a jab. Chain wrestling is the name of the game; Tsarukyan strings together takedown techniques like hand combinations. He turns doubles into singles, singles into doubles, doubles into underhooks, underhooks into trips, and it don’t stop the rock it to the bang-bang boogie, say up jump the boogie. All around, Arman’s wrestling/grappling is world-class, elite, all that shit. But what about his striking?
Good question. Arman has limited warranty striking. Like his wrestling, Tsarukyan is all power on the feet. He has a Benoit St. Denis ruthless right-round kick but stock hands. Tsarukyan tends to control exchanges on the feet with repeated round body kicks with occasional right overhands behind them to hide level changes. But although you have to respect his power, he’s mostly a flat-footed wrestler striker, minus the explosive distance-covering cross. He can get got on his feet, and nearly did in his last bout against Joaquim Silva, who had Arman in the passenger seat holding on to the "Oh, shit!" handles for dear life after landing a clean left hook. If this fight remains standing, I think Benny is the more versatile striker, and Arman will be at a slight disadvantage.
Beneil Dariush is MMA’s Jeff Goldblum. Jeff Goldblum when he was the fly. Don’t let the Salt and Peppa hair fool you; it isn’t a reflection of age but rather wisdom. The wisdom of the game Benny has gained since his UFC debut in 2014. Dariush is the guy who out grappled the guy who out grappled Arman Tsarukyan, Mateusz Gamrot. And while we’re hitchhiking down Memory Lane, never forget when Tony Ferguson didn’t tap to that armbar. Benny still has Tony’s arm and uses it as a back scratcher. He wears it like a lucky rabbit's foot. He makes wishes on it like a monkey’s paw. This Tony Ferguson prosthetic hand keeps crushing my hard taco! Benny "The Jet" Dariush is a Bruce and Damon Last Boy Scout; he’ll tie you in knots that get tighter the more you try to unravel them. I’ve seen this guy attack a kneebar and armbar simultaneously. He’ll use a standing crucifix to defend takedowns. Benny’s Jiu-Jitsu is just different. He has a knack for putting fighters in rare positions. While most are taught to color between the lines, Benny colors the whole damn page, table, and wall.
Against Gamrot, Benny was just a step ahead in the scrambles; he’ll concede a takedown, attack the legs, and use leg/ankle locks to sweep. The inverted guard, mission control, butterflies; Dariush will flow between guards and make it hard to control him from the top. Arman’s game is top control, but I see him struggling to hold Benny down the same way Gamrot did. And Benny is more of a sub-threat because his arsenal is far more diverse. You saw a dumbed-down version of this last week with Chase Hooper vs. Jordan Leavitt. Hooper just flowed better and confused Leavitt. Dariush does the same thing.
But the difference in the fight could be on the feet. We often see two elite grapplers cancel each other out on the mat and have to resort to old-fashioned fisticuffs. Benny has the single best weapon of both stand-ups, his Andy Reid Punt, Pass, and kick overhand left. He also has a BSD left round kick to the body that trains the opponent’s hands to drop to defend. Benny’s punches just have a more natural curve than Tsaruykan’s stiff strikes. Dariush ducks and wings punches from unorthodox angles, and it’s really the arm angles that lend Dariush’s punches their power. But Benny is far from a defensive fighter. He lacks a professional striker’s cadence/bounce on the feet and is largely a puncher and kicker and not a kickboxer. Arman can catch Benny slippin’ on the feet if Benny gets reckless, as he tends to do when under fire.
The numbers: Tsarukyan is 20-3 with eight TKO/KOs and five subs, and Dariush is 22-5 with reversed methods of victory, five TKO/KOs, and eight subs. They average an identical 3.8 SLpM, but Dariush averages just under two takedowns per fifteen minutes to Tsarukyan’s nearly three and a half. Both fighters create enough damage to set a late finish into motion, but I think Dariush gives you a better chance on the feet. That left hand still claims Drakkar Klose as a dependent on its taxes. I never look at the odds before I make my picks, and I’m a little shook. I thought the odds would be reversed. Arman Tsarukyan is the (-285) favorite, and Dariush is the (+225) live-ass dog. Benny "The Butcher" has more ways to win this fight, and his creative flow on the mat will make it hard for Tsarukyan to ride out rounds in the top position.
Let’s go Brendan! Brendan Allen dominated Paul Craig last week, and that wasn’t surprising, but the way he did it was. He didn’t give a fook about Craig’s dangerous guard and dominated the fight with precise ground and pound. The main event-winning streak now sits at four, and I’m stumped on number five. My faith in Benny Dariush took a massive hit in the Oliveira fight. Benny was on his way to dominating the first round until he got overwhelmed against the cage. But there’s too much value to pass him up. Benny Dariush via decision. On wax.
Tsarukyan: TKO/KO (+130) Sub (+900) Dec (+200)
Dariush: TKO/KO (+700) Sub (+1100) Dec (+550)
Jalin Turner vs. King Green
Bobby Green Forever Disc 2: Jalin Turner. Enter The Bobby Green (36 Seconds). It seems but a month ago that Bobby Green shocked the world with a KO of Grant Dawson in under a minute and subsequently turned an Andy Jackson into generational wealth for ya boy. Once again, it’s time for King Green to ring The Bells of War. A win over Jalin Turner would place Green firmly in the top ten and on the precipice of bringing the UFC back to the MGM and a monumental main event against the elite in the division. "Yo! Up in the M.G.M., blazed up, psych! Bobby walked in, flashing the gem piece, aight!" Titles, fame; neither holds dominion over Bobby Digi’s psyche; he does it strictly for the C.R.E.A.M. Dollar, dollar bills ya’ll!
Grant Dawson should’ve known thirty seconds is too long to hot box with Green. Bobby’s hands are Liquid Swords, and he yields them by his waist, providing his striking with an element not found on the periodic table, surprise. Step-back crosses on his way out the pocket, forward/backward pivot hooks, and dart punches on his way out the back door; Bobby Digi can strike in any direction and is never out of position. There’s never a time when Bobby isn’t simultaneously offensive and defensive. Elusive and aggressive. Bobby, in the front, let your feet stomp. Bobby’s footwork is Dominick Cruz-esque with its own intricacies. Visionz; Bobby has prescience. He anticipates your next move and has a counter for it before you even throw it. It ain’t a mystery; Bobby is Chessboxing while his opponents are Checkersboxing. Bobby’s style is speed, precision, and angles over power. He works the count and waits for his pitch to tee off.
Cue that "Duck Seazon." Looks like Dan Hooker caught the vapors, turned straight Snoop Dogg, and didn’t want any of the smoke. Aw, made you look, you a slave to a page in Bobby’s rhyme book. Jalin Turner is stepping in on ten days' notice, and although Hooker dogged out a victory in his last bout against Jalin Turner, I think Turner might be a tougher matchup for Bobby. Turner is all limbs and high volume, and he’s massive for the lightweight division. Turner is riding a two-fight losing streak, but I thought he beat Mateusz Gamrot two fights ago. Turner gave up four takedowns and six minutes of control time, but he made the most of the stand-up; he dominated every minute on the feet and had Gamrot hurt multiple times. Damage over control time, but it must have been the Eagles’ refs in the judging booth that night. I thought Dan Hooker might try to take down Bobby throughout the fight, but Turner offers no chance of this fight going to the mat unless... Bobby takes it there. For Heaven’s Sake, don’t sleep on Bobby’s wrestling. It has been nearly four years since Bobby Digi scored a takedown, but he averages over a takedown per fifteen minutes.
Jalin’s game plan will be to stay long and use volume and his long-range kicks to keep Bobby stuck in purgatory on the outside looking in. Bobby likes to square his stance and use left/right dart punches to set up angles, but the tradeoff is it makes Bobby a bigger target. Turner’s teeps and standing knees will be a problem for Bobby. Also, it takes a while to get used to Jalin’s range. You saw Hooker struggle with it in the first round and nearly got finished. Bobby will have to go straight Apocalypto and zig-zag his way through a field of Turner’s long harpoons whistling through the air to get inside and deal damage.
If you stand with Bobby for fifteen minutes, you run the risk of becoming Tearz tatted under one of his eyes. Victory: It’s Yourz, Bobby, if you can keep this fight standing and your feet moving. The power advantage will be heavily in Turner’s favor; Bobby can’t stand squarely in front and play chicken with Turner’s strikes, as he tends to do. Digi has to stay in motion and use volume to draw out big reactions for him to counter. Make Turner miss, and make Turner pay.
The numbers: Bobby Green averages six SLpM to Turner’s just under six. Bobby Digi is 31-14 with eleven TKO/KOs and noine subs and riding a two-fight dub streak. And Turner is 13-7 with noine TKO/KOs and four subs. Shame on a homie who try to run game on a homie. They sleeping on Bobby once again. Turner is the (-210) favorite, and Bobby is the (+175) live dog who shitted on ya lawn. It looks like Vegas agrees with me and sees Turner as a tougher matchup for Bobby than Hooker; I think Hooker was at (-180) favorite. Although I put my money where my mouth wasn’t for the Grant Dawson fight, I’ll never forgive myself for not putting Bobby on wax. I won’t make that mistake again. Check out Bobby’s Gravel Pit; it's an obscene time capsule dating back over a decade. There are mf’s wearing Affliction and Tap Out shirts down there in various levels of decomposition. Yo! Chop his head off, son! Bobby "King" Green via decision. On wax.
King: TKO/KO (+450) Sub (+1400) Dec (+400)
Turner: TKO/KO (+250) Sub (+350) Dec (+250)
Rob Font vs. Deiveson Figueiredo
After adopting Adrian Yanez for just a penny a day, Rob "Calligraphy" Font followed up the quintessential performance by turning back into Rob "Times New Roman" Font against Cory Sandhagen his last time out. He made Cory Sandhagen look like Khamzat Chimaev in that bish. Font couldn’t defend a single takedown, and if he had to get back to his feet to save his life...
"Ladies and gentlemen, this is not a day of mourning but one of celebration..."
Good news/Bad news: The good news is that Rob is fighting a Deiveson Figueiredo who will be making his bantamweight debut after competing at flyweight since his UFC debut in 2017 and should have a size advantage. The bad news is that Figgy has some takedowns of his own and can replicate Sandhagen's success. But this bowl’s to a crunchy little stand-up banger between Stripe from Gremlins and Rob "Flowing Medieval Script" Font.
GSP once defended his title in a rematch against Josh Koscheck using almost exclusively his jab. To the delight of everyone in the world, GSP battered Koshceck’s face with jabs for twenty-five minutes and left Kos looking like he ordered the Admiral’s Feast with a shellfish allergy. Rob Font has a GSP-like jab and can dominate fights with it alone. Font jabs are significant strikes. They are battering rams that slowly weaken defenses. If this were the 1500’s, they would use Rob Font’s jabs to storm castles. Font’s arms are like accordions that extend halfway across the cage. Font fights deceptively long, and his tight punches fit perfectly between guards.
But Rob’s specialties are volume and making fights ugly. He changed the tide against Adrian Yanes by using the collar tie to deliver Nolan Ryan uppercuts in the pocket. He Robin Ventura’d Yanez. It looked like a pops duffing out his kid in public. MF’s were pretending to look the other way. Font beat the ñ of Yanez's name. But Yanez did have Font on skates at one point, something that tends to happen to Font every time he steps in the cage. Font takes a ton of damage, and IDK if he can take 135-pound Figgy bombs.
Figueiredo reminds me of the boss gremlin, Stripe. He’s an absolute heathen and a two-time Champion. This will be the first time Figgy has fought someone other than Brandon Moreno since 2020, the year of the toilet paper famine. In those four bouts, Figueiredo went 1-2-1. But he always had issues making weight, and moving up to bantamweight was becoming more certain with every weight cut. Figueiredo always reminds me of a tiny Chuck Liddell; Figgy carries his hands menacingly at chest level and throws long, looping hooks and overhands at three-quarters angles. The natural curve to his punches makes his hands guard busters; they land around defenses and catch you when you think you are safe. His major malfunction is the same as Rob Font’s; he lacks defense and relies on his chin too much. Also, Figgy breaks. Rob Font doesn’t. If you show Figgy an exit, he’ll call for an usher, and I ain’t talkin’ "U got it, u got it bad..."
This could turn into a battle of chins and whose can withstand the most bombs. The big question is Figgy’s chin. Can it take shots at this weight class? Rob Font hits a lot harder than Brandon Moreno. Font is the higher volume striker, averaging over five and a half SLpM to Figgy’s just over three. Font can steal rounds with his volume, which is his trademark. Figueiredo will have to steal them with big shots that visibly hurt or drop Font. As was the case in the Font vs. Chito fight. Font is 20-7 for his career with noine TKO/KOs and four subs. And Figgy is 21-3 with noine TKO/KOs and eight subs. Both guys are finishing threats. Figgy has only been finished by TKO/KO once, but I don’t know if he has faced someone with Font’s power. Font will be the (-175) favorite, and Figueiredo will be the (+150) live dog. Deiveson will have to take more risks and commit to more combinations, but he has the power to finish Font even though Font has never been finished by TKO/KO. But I gotta go with the proven bantamweight. Rob Font via TKO, round three. On wax.
Font: TKO/KO (+275) Sub (+1600) Dec (+175)
Figueiredo: TKO/KO (+450) Sub (+550) Dec (+400)
Sean Brady vs. Kelvin Gastelum
This card is a fookin’ banger. Compared to last week’s, this is UFC 300. Sean Brady; he’s an M-80. You little like that Kim Lady. He’s buzzin’; Dirty Dozen, naughty rotten rhymer. Sean Brady is back with his Crash Bandicoot mask full-back tatt. He will go from a tough matchup against Belal Muhammad in his last fight to the return of welterweight Kelvin Gastelum, an equally tough matchup. The return to 170 is long overdue for Gastelum. It’s the weight class in which he used his wrestling to win the Ultimate Fighter and beat the man who Dana called the next Anderson Silva, Uriah Hall, in the finals. Both fighters have wrestling bases, but this will likely be a stand-up banger from beginning to end.
Sean Brady needs to go full Wayne Brady on that ass. He needs to get back on his bully shit, "Give me your sandwich, Dave." First and foremost, Brady is a wrestler built like a Street Shark. The fook you know about that!? He reminds me of a Chad Mendez who rolled around in the Turtle Ooze. Brady’s hands have gotten consistently better; he looked as good as ever in the first round against Belal. But Belal’s pressure was too much in the second. Brady needs his wrestling. When he’s reduced to being just a boxer, he’s not nearly as dangerous. He has stupid power, but he lacks the flow of a true striker. He’s too rigid and preprogrammed. He’s too pixelated. He has the original PlayStation graphics striking. But when he can add the element of takedown threat to his game, his striking graphics become a PlayStation 3. If he is forced to stand and trade with Gastelum for fifteen minutes, Brady will eventually succumb to Gastelum’s speed.
I always said Gastelum was the rare case of a fighter too undisciplined to cut weight. Hit that E-40: "I Stand By That!" Gastelum had a hard time making weight because he liked to indulge, not because he was some kind of scale bully. But that’s old shit. Gastelum was five minutes away from winning the middleweight belt when he fought Izzy in the best middleweight title fight ever-ever. Gastelum left a piece of himself in the cage that night, and even though he went on to win some fights, he’s never been the same since. Gastelum’s biggest weapon was always his speed. He’s built like a Biggest Loser Roy "Big Country" Nelson, but he’s fast as fook boooooooy! Gastelum uses his hand speed to get inside on opponents with massive reach advantages like Izzy. He made a living off getting inside on bigger fighters. It starts with his Manny Pacquiao left hand; he can cover a lot of distance with his power hand, then get off quick two to three-punch combos in the pocket.
Gastelum will be the more swaggy fighter on the feet. He has a Dancing with the Stars bouncy cadence like he’s half-assed dancing Salsa or doing the Cha-Cha. But he uses the bouncy, almost Karate-like cadence to leap into the pocket with punches. Kelvin puts combos together better than Brady, and overall, he’s just a better striker than Brady. I think Gastelum could also bring back his wrestling and try to put Brady on his back foot, hesitant to engage out of fear of level changes. Surprisingly, Sean Brady averages over four SLpM to Gastelum’s just over three and a half. Brady is more of an offbeat one-punch striker, while Gastelum throws more combos intermittently.
This fight is pretty much a Vegas pick ‘em with Gastelum returning (-105) and Brady returning (-115). The fighter who can implement his wrestling will have the edge, but I think Gastelum’s speed makes him a slightly better finishing threat. Also, Brady’s technique/posture tends to wane as the fight progresses. His technique rocks those glass slippers, and his hands turn into Dillion Danis's around the halfway mark. Give me Kelvin Gastelum via decision. And put that ish on wax.
Gastelum: TKO/KO (+275) Sub (+1400) Dec (+275)
Brady: TKO/KO (+275) Sub (+1400) Dec (+275)
Punahele Soriano vs. Dustin Stoltzfus
This is Jessica Andrade vs. Mackenzie Dern, the men’s version. Kron Gracie, Ronda Rousey, Mackenzie Dern, and Dustin Stoltzfus: The UFC’s Mount Rushmore of wack strikers. Stoltzpus, I mean, fus, is 1-4 in the UFC, and I’m sure I lost a bet somewhere when I said the Abusupiyan punt to the face would be the last time we saw ol’ Stoltzy. But here we are, and there is Punahele Soriano, a man with Mega Man cannons for hands. Punahele got Kopylov and pasted his last time out. His homies still think he got KO’d by Chase Hooper. This is a 100% bona fide wrestler vs. striker matchup. As bad as Stoltzfus’ striking is, Punahele’s takedown defense is.
Punahele Soriano is the Gus Fring strikers final boss. He’s all left-hand everything. I don’t blame him; his left hand was used to implode Tower Seven. When he lands it, opponents collapse at freefall speeds within their own footprint. His left hand is a Gettysburg mortar that leaves the battlefield littered with parts and pieces but never any wholes. He turns you into a fraction of yourself, numerator and denominator type-ish. And he flips you like reciprocals with the right hook. The 2-3 (cross-hook) is Puna’s special move, and he’s good at setting it up with body shots. Puna digs the body like Mafia enforcers dig graves. But absolutely none of this matters if Puna can’t stay on his feet. This fight is simple for him: Stay on the feet and win by KO. Or get takedown and lose to Dustin Stoltzfus.
Stoltzfus is a wrestler, and painfully so. He put all his hit points into wrestling and none into striking. In a Bills tailgate parking lot Tough Man Contest, Stoltzy would be the sixteenth seed. He’d be in the play-in round. His striking is sixteen-bit; it needs some motion capture, the little green leotard (not derogatory) with little silver bells taped on it, and all that. Maybe it’s because his parents are Amish and didn’t believe in hitting. Cue that Weird Al "Amish Paradise!" I’ve been waiting for that for a long time, homies.
Stoltzfus didn’t score a takedown in three of the four L’s he has in the UFC. He did score four takedowns against Gerald’s Game Meerschaert but got submitted in the third round. Puna is the (-285) favorite, and Stoltzfus is the (+225) flea-ridden dog. There is definitely a chance that Stoltzy can get this fight to the mat consistently and ride out top position to a decision dub or late sub. But all-or-nothing wrestlers/grapplers have been taking L’s to the face a lot lately. Punahele Soriano via TKO, round two. Bust out the gingerbread Yankee candles and put that ish on wax.
Soriano: TKO/KO (-105) Sub (+650) Dec (+300)
Stoltzfus: TKO/KO (+1400) Sub (+100) Dec (+450)
Put 'em on wax homies! Happy Fight Night!