Beneil Dariush seems to be on the verge of achieving the ultimate goal in combat sports. Dariush is set to face former lightweight champion Charles Oliveira in thein what's expected to produce the No. 1 contender in the division. It's a far cry from where Dariush's career was just five years ago.
In March 2018, Dariush suffered a shocking 42-second KO loss to UFC newcomer Alexander Hernandez. The same Hernandez whose shaky UFC record now bounces between wins and losses. It punctuated a three-fight winless streak for Dariush -- his only one to date -- and his second brutal KO loss in 12 months.
"I think if you told a seasoned fan of MMA in 2018 that this guy is going to go on to put on this kind of record, they would tell you, 'Nah, I don't think so. I don't see it happening,'" Dariush told CBS Sports. "I'll be honest with you, I really believe God is in the business of rolling stones.
"What that means is basically bringing the dead back to life. My career was dead. It was over and nobody thought I was going to make it come back, including me. I'll be honest with you guys. I spent months in prayer. Should I keep fighting? I was on the verge of retiring. Little things here, little things there, I started to feel better. I said, 'I'm going to make one more attempt. If it doesn't work out, this is it.' So and now we're here."
Check out the full interview with Beneil Dariush below.
That rolling stone has formed into an avalanche. A ninth straight win for Dariush on Saturday would be the fourth-best winning streak in UFC lightweight history, behind only Tony Ferguson, Khabib Nurmagomedov and reigning champion Islam Makhachev.
Dariush is not your prototypical combat sports cash cow. A devout Christian and family man, Dariush believes his authenticity is an albatross delaying his overdue title shot. Dariush had a meeting with UFC president Dana White and matchmakers ahead of the Oliveira fight. Dariush was of the mind that his winning streak and the lightweight landscape made him the clear No. 1 contender. The UFC apparently disagreed.
"I think as an athlete they appreciate me and what I'm able to do. I think they get a little frustrated with me in terms of the entertainment aspect of it," Dariush said. "I don't get stuck in a lot of the drama. There's this cookie-cutter method that you could follow through to basically promote your fights and it's just not who I am, so I don't do it. I think that frustrates the UFC a little bit and my lack of a presence on social media. But I think besides that, actually we have a great relationship."
Dariush's soft-spoken nature and commitment to his faith may not resonate with the wider UFC audience, but his body of work inside the cage has quietly amassed a fanbase anxious to see him reach the pinnacle.
"Honestly, it's incredible. I have never had this much support," Dariush said. "When I have interviews or whatever, I've never had so many people sending me my own interview be like, 'Oh, I saw this.' I'm like, 'Oh, OK, well, thank you.'
"In terms of viewership, this is the peak of my career and it's not something I really focus on, but I notice it, obviously."
In a division loaded with killers -- including Oliveira, Dustin Poirier and Justin Gaethje -- Dariush is more confident than ever that he possesses the combination of skills necessary to trouble Makhachev. His conviction is even stronger after featherweight champion Alexander Volkanovski's impressive yet unsuccessful showing against the lightweight champ.
"Watching that fight, I really believe I can beat this guy," Dariush said. "I believe I have the skillset to beat him. I have the wrestling, I have the jiu-jitsu, I have the striking. Watching him fight Volkanovski and watching him struggle in a lot of situations where not only do I think I could do what Volkanovski did, but I can even do better. It gives me a lot of confidence.
"I'm going to beat him whatever the situation is. I think one of the things that most people fall into when they fight him is that they've lost the fight before it starts. They look at him as this giant and it's a wall they can't overcome, so they check out. The Volkanovski fight showed me that he's human and that a lot of the things I assumed would work against him do work."
One final challenge stands between Dariush and a promised title shot against Makhachev. Dariush faces the only other fighter in the division with his unique combination of submission skills and dynamic strikes. Oliveira -- who also entered 2018 at a career low -- is now a former lightweight champion with numerous UFC records to his name. The ability to endure has been crucial to Dariush's career revival. That same persistence is necessary to finally capturing that elusive title shot.
"The greatest challenge Charles presents is his offensive mindset," Dariush said. "I think for him, the greatest challenge I possess is my durability. What happens when you throw every one of your kicks and knees and elbows and punches and takedowns and it doesn't affect me? It doesn't it doesn't do what it needs to do. Are you going to be able to rinse and repeat, or are you going to start getting worn down and you're going to see me come alive? I think these are some issues he's going to have to deal with."