Get all your news in one place.
100’s of premium titles.
One app.
Start reading
USA Today Sports Media Group
USA Today Sports Media Group
Dan Tom

UFC on ESPN 52 breakdown: Can underdog Beneil Dariush put away Arman Tsarukyan?

MMA Junkie analyst Dan Tom breaks down the UFC’s top bouts. Today, we look at the main event for UFC on ESPN 52.

UFC on ESPN 52 takes place Saturday at Moody Center in Austin, Texas. The main card airs on ESPN following prelims on ESPN+.

Beneil Dariush (22-5-1 MMA, 16-5-1 UFC)

Beneil Dariush

Staple info:

  • Height: 5’10” Age: 34 Weight: 155 lbs. Reach: 72″
  • Last fight: TKO loss to Charles Oliveira (June 10, 2023)
  • Camp: Kings MMA (California)
  • Stance/striking style: Southpaw/muay Thai
  • Risk management: Fair

Supplemental info:
+ Brazilian jiu-jitsu black belt
+ Muay Thai black belt
+ 5 KO victories
+ 8 submission wins
+ 7 first-round finishes
+ KO power
+ Aggressive pace and pressure
+ Accurate left hand
^ Coming forward and off the counter
+ Hard left Thai kicks
+ Competent takedown ability
^ Favors attempts from the fence
+ Superb top game
^ Positional awareness and passing
+ Excellent back-taker

Arman Tsarukyan (20-3 MMA, 7-2 UFC)

Arman Tsarukyan

Staple info:

  • Height: 5’7″ Age: 27 Weight: 155 lbs. Reach: 72.5″
  • Last fight: TKO win over Joaquim Silva (June 17, 2023)
  • Camp: American Top Team (Florida)
  • Stance/striking style: Orthodox/kickboxing
  • Risk management: Good

Supplemental info:
+ Regional MMA accolades
+ Master of Sport in MMA and wrestling
+ Pankration world title
+ 8 KO victories
+ 5 submission wins
+ 7 first-round finishes
+ KO Power
+ Aggressive pace and pressure
+ Diverse striking arsenal
^ Punctuates presence with kicks
+ Excellent wrestling
^ Defensively and offensively
+ Good transitional grappler
^ Rides and scrambles well
+/- 1-1 against UFC-level southpaws

Point of interest: Striking with a southpaw

Oct 22, 2022; Abu Dhabi, UAE; Beneil Dariush (red gloves) and Mateusz Gamrot (blue gloves) during UFC 280 at Etihad Arena. Mandatory Credit: Craig Kidwell-USA TODAY Sports

The main event on ESPN features an important lightweight bout between veteran southpaw Beneil Dariush and noted prospect Arman Tsarukyan.

Despite growing up wrestling and playing hockey, Tsarukyan displays a natural aptitude for the striking side of the sport.

The Armenian fighter has shown to strike well in combination, often punctuating his presence with hard kicks from his lead side. Tsarukyan also does a solid job of changing his levels, which helps make him a harder target to get a beat on.

However, when facing fighters in open-stance affairs, Tsarukyan tends to set up a lot more power shots traditionally from the rear.

Tsarukyan shows all the standard approaches when it comes to striking with southpaws, whether we’re talking about outside-foot awareness or a prodding lead hand. And when the Armenian fighter is feeling in stride, he’ll use his power from the rear to either get back to left-sided punctuations or set up safer penetration steps for offensive takedowns.

That said, Tsarukyan is not beyond dipping to a southpaw’s power side, so he’ll need to be on his best behavior against Dariush.

Coming into MMA as an accomplished grappler, Dariush has steadily rounded out his skills under the tutelage of Rafael Cordeiro. Initially more of a stick-and-move stylist, the Iranian has developed a taste for pressure-fighting, getting more and more comfortable moving forward.

Prodding with right-handed jabs to measure his target, Dariush usually favors unleashing left crosses or kicks to follow. Armed with a baseball bat for his left leg, Dariush keeps Thai kicks chambered, utilizing them at range or attaching them at the end of combinations.

Dariush has also gotten a lot better at working front kicks and knee change-ups into his kicking repertoire, finding some surprising success with the latter.

Point of interest: Winning the wrestling

Arman Tsarukyan def. Joaquim Silva, UFC on ESPN 46

Given the quiet crux of each fighter’s games, winning the wrestling will be paramount Saturday.

Tsarukyan, who is the more noted offensive grappler of the two, is not shy when it comes to mixing in takedowns. Whether he’s corralling opposition along the cage with strikes or looking to catch and counter kicks, Tsarukyan appears hard-wired to change phases.

Still, taking down Dariush is a lot more difficult than some might imagine.

Aside from sporting an impressive takedown defense rate of 80 percent, Dariush quietly has carried some underrated wrestling skills since he stepped onto the UFC scene. Even when taken down, Dariush is quick to transition to attacks that don’t allow his opponent to settle in and, in fact, often can lead to reversals of fortune.

Dariush also has a decent takedown game against the fence, but getting Tsarukyan down is no picnic.

Defensively, Tsarukyan shows a solid sense for sniffing out shots in the open, demonstrating quick hips and down-blocking grips in his defensive process.

From a scrambling perspective, Tsarukyan displays good positional awareness and never seems too busy to sneak in cheeky shots in transition and off of the breaks. That said, Tsarukyan will have to be extra careful if he gets taken down by the likes of Dariush considering his propensity to turtle to his base in scrambles.

Although Tsarukyan is diligent about fighting hands and knows how to use the fence, Dariush is a dexterous submission grappler who only needs small openings to find the back.

Thankfully for Tsarukyan, the Armenian appears to have other options like butterfly guard variations that he can work from to create space (which should serve him well opposite a pressure-passer who looks for legs).

Point of interest: Odds and opinions

Oct 22, 2022; Abu Dhabi, UAE; Beneil Dariush (red gloves) before his fight against Mateusz Gamrot (blue gloves) during UFC 280 at Etihad Arena. Mandatory Credit: Craig Kidwell-USA TODAY Sports

Despite the oddsmakers opening the Iranian fighter as a slight favorite, public money has come in on the Armenian prospect, listing Tsarukyan -290 and Dariush +215 via FanDuel.

Considering that I’ve long hailed Tsarukyan as a dark horse in this division (before he even fought Islam Makhachev, mind you), I can’t say that seeing a line swing like this surprises me.

Aside from the potent prejudice that MMA gamblers have toward older fighters, Tsarukyan is an attractive product given his clear athletic edge and potential skills ceiling. Should the 27-year-old talent fight smart and avoid the early pitfalls that Dariush presents, then his chances for success should only amplify as this fight gets out of the second round.

However, outside of output and athleticism, I’m not sure how many edges I can concretely give Tsarukyan.

Sure, Tsarukyan is obviously the more impressive wrestler and I’m sure that his submission grappling has only improved since working with people like Gleison Tibau or Marcos da Matta – but when have we ever seen Dariush controlled for long instances (in any position, really)?

I mean, Dariush has practically fought everyone at 155 pounds and – outside of a weird opportunistic submission loss to Michael Chiesa – you’ve essentially had to knock this dude dead to stop him.

Whereas Tsarukyan, despite arguably being on an 8-fight winning streak, has shown a propensity to dip right into the power side of southpaws due to his wrestle-boxing propensities. Couple that with the back exposure that Tsarukyan allows for when scrambling or spinning, and I can’t help but take a flier on the old dog in Dariush to show why he was originally favored to win.

Whether it’s from a counter cross or from a knee, I see Dariush knocking out Tsarukyan before round 3.

Prediction: Dariush inside the distance

For more on the card, visit MMA Junkie’s event hub for UFC on ESPN 52.

Sign up to read this article
Read news from 100’s of titles, curated specifically for you.
Already a member? Sign in here
Related Stories
Top stories on inkl right now
One subscription that gives you access to news from hundreds of sites
Already a member? Sign in here
Our Picks
Fourteen days free
Download the app
One app. One membership.
100+ trusted global sources.