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Never say Beneil Dariush isn’t up to the challenge.

The UFC lightweight is as widely respected for his in-cage talents as his easygoing personality, not to mention his willingness to take on anyone.

So after losing a No. 1 contender fight just six months ago, Dariush didn’t flinch when accepting a fight against a lower-ranked yet fast-rising 155-pounder like Arman Tsarukyan.

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“He’s young. He’s very talented, very skillful. And you know, he’s capable of becoming champion,” the fourth-ranked Dariush said. “And I know a lot of people would say you should avoid a guy like this, but I want to make sure I face them before I retire. Because I want to fight the best guys in the world. When I’m done fighting, I can say I fought the best guys. I didn’t skip nobody.”

Dariush looks to get back on the title track Saturday when he takes on the eighth-ranked Armenian sensation in the UFC on ESPN 52 main event in Moody Center in Austin, Texas.

The Placentia resident is aware of the risk though. A second consecutive loss, which has never happened in Dariush’s 14-year pro career, would all but dash his hopes of wearing UFC gold around his waist.

“In terms of status, this doesn’t get me anywhere. If I win this fight. I don’t think I’ll move anywhere in terms of rankings,” Dariush, 34, said. “But in reality, I didn’t come here for rankings. I came here to be the best fighter in the world against the best guys in the world. And I think he’s one of them.”

At UFC 289 in June with the promise of a title shot on the line, Dariush squared off against former champion Charles Oliveira. About a minute before the opening round was over, Oliveira snuck a leg kick over the southpaw’s left hand and cracked him on the temple. Dariush was wobbled and Oliveira began to pick him apart before Dariush went down, the fight ending with 50 seconds left in the round after several Oliveira hammerfists.

Dariush doesn’t mince words when assessing the defeat.

“I just, man, I didn’t perform. That was the worst performance I think I’ve ever had,” Dariush said. “And, you know, congratulations, Charles. I hate making excuses. But that’s the best I can give you. That was not a good performance. I didn’t do anything well.”

Instead of a back-to-the-drawing-board approach with Master Rafael Cordeiro at MMA Kings in Huntington Beach, Dariush (22-5-1) knew he had lost before and always rebounded.

He chose to see the opportunity as more of “a spiritual-mental thing” for him to overcome.

“I went back and I spent more time in prayer, meditation, and spent more time with my family and, you know, really do everything I’ve been doing (but) just do it better,” said Dariush, who is an Assyrian Christian. “So that’s how I would say I didn’t change much. I just continue to dig deeper into what I have.”

The loss ended an eight-fight winning streak for Dariush. One could argue the 27-year-old Tsarukyan, who offers elite grappling, is also riding an eight-fight streak save for a five-round, unanimous-decision loss to Mateusz Gamrot in June 2022 that many pundits saw in favor of Tsarukyan.

In what will be his first five-round fight, Dariush is a +245 underdog against Tsarukyan (20-3). With 42 victories between them and 15 of those coming via first-round finishes, this could be a barnburner from the get-go.

“I think fireworks for sure. There’s no way this fight is just, you know, a slow flight,” Dariush said. “He’s skilled everywhere. I’m skilled everywhere. It’s just gonna be a clash of styles.”

Tsarukyan already had some fireworks this week after approaching and getting into a shoving match Wednesday with fellow lightweight Bobby Green, who was in the middle of a phone interview with the Southern California News Group.

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