Tony Ferguson vs. Beneil Dariush: A Head-to-Toe Breakdown
UFC 262 goes down Saturday in Houston, Texas. While the card's Michael Chandler vs. Charles Oliveira main event—which will crown a new lightweight champ—is generating the bulk of the pre-fight headlines, that's certainly not all the card has to offer. It also features a dynamite co-main event between longtime lightweight contenders Tony Ferguson and Beneil Dariush.
The two stars will enter the cage at UFC 262 at very different junctures of their careers. Ferguson, once considered the best lightweight alive not named Khabib Nurmagomedov, has lost his last two fights, first succumbing to strikes in a battle with Justin Gaethje, then losing a decision to the aforementioned Oliveira.
Dariush, on the other hand, will step into the Octagon with six consecutive wins behind him. Two of those wins have come by way of highlight-reel knockout, two have been slick submissions and two have been decisions.
Ahead of the fight, it's very difficult to predict whether Ferguson will get back on track or Dariush will keep his streak alive. That being said, a closer look at their respective games does provide some interesting insights.
Keep scrolling to see how the pair match up on paper.
Being involved in a stand-up fight with Tony Ferguson is a bit like being stuck in a blender: You're going to get hit with a lot of spinning stuff, and you're definitely going to bleed.
As wild as Ferguson is in the striking department, however, he's prone to taking some pretty bad risks. And while his ridiculous durability has typically kept him out of trouble in the high-risk situations he creates in the Octagon, that durability seems to be fading. He's been dropped in a handful of recent fights—such as his 2018 war with Anthony Pettis—and was stopped by punches in his 2020 slugfest with Justin Gaethje.
That's a troubling thought as he heads into this fight with Dariush, who is as patient and powerful as lightweight strikers come. The Iranian American tends to hang back until opportunities present themselves, landing just 4.0 significant strikes per minute. He will be more than content to wait for Ferguson to make mistakes, and he'll be ready to capitalize when that happens. If Ferguson is anything short of rock-solid in those instances, there's a good chance he'll hit the deck.
It seems difficult to suggest that Dariush, a guy with just five knockout wins, has a striking advantage over a man in Ferguson who has finished 14 fights with strikes, but here we are.
At this point, Ferguson's recklessness and diminishing durability are going to make him a hard sell against any decent striker—let alone somebody like Dariush.
Ferguson is a wrestler through and through, but he's going to have his hands full with Dariush.
While Ferguson has the better takedown accuracy rate of the two, completing shots at a 42 percent clip compared to Dariush's 32 percent, he actually completes fewer takedowns overall. On average, he lands 0.45 takedowns per 15-minute fight, while Dariush averages 2.03.
Interestingly, Dariush also has the better takedown defense rate of the two, denying shots at a fantastic 81 percent rate compared to Ferguson's 70. That's likely due in part to Ferguson's willingness—dare we say eagerness—to fight off his back, but it's still impressive.
While many of the stats suggest that Dariush is the superior wrestler of the two, however, Ferguson's experience in that department is more pertinent than any percentage. The man has been putting in work in the wrestling room since high school, and his enthusiasm for the sport has never waned.
That counts for something.
This keeps getting more and more difficult!
Ferguson and Dariush, both jiu-jitsu black belts, are lethal submission specialists. Both men would fairly be given an edge in this department against the majority of their lightweight peers. When matched up against each other, however, it's difficult to say who is superior.
In terms of stats, it's razor close.
Both men have finished eight fights by submission. Both men have lost just one fight by submission. They also attempt an almost-identical number of submissions per 15-minute fight: Ferguson tries 1.1 and Dariush goes for an even 1.0.
That being said, Dariush does boast a higher submission rate overall, winning 40 percent of his fights in this fashion compared to Ferguson's 32 percent sub rate. Dariush is also the more accomplished fighter in terms of submission grappling experience, winning no-gi world titles as a blue, purple and brown belt.
Just like the striking and wrestling departments, this one is a squeaker, but we're going to give the edge to Dariush.
Ferguson: Risk Management
Ferguson is 37 years old with 30 fights in the rear-view mirror. Many of those fights were skull-rattling wars, and based on some of his recent performances, there's reason to believe those wars are finally taking a toll. Not only does Ferguson seem less durable than he once was, but he also seems to be slower—maybe just a fraction slower, but in a sport as perilous as MMA, even fractional changes matter.
If Ferguson's durability and response times are indeed flagging, it would be unwise of him to be his normal, risk-tolerant self. Doing so will only get him into trouble.
There may come a time for risk-taking, but he can't afford to do so as brazenly as he once did.
Dariush: Stay Calm
Tony Ferguson has a habit of coaxing his opponents into frenetic brawls—both on the feet and on the mat.
While Dariush could conceivablyt from a slugfest—especially if Ferguson is indeed becoming fragile—he'd probably be wiser to stay calm and allow his opponent to start making mistakes.
If he can capitalize on those mistakes, the door to a stoppage win will open. It worked for Justin Gaethje, and it could work for him, too.
This fight is a bettor's nightmare.
On paper, Ferguson and Dariush are evenly matched, and the bout itself is rife with variables that simply can't be quantified.
That being said, the more likely outcome feels like a Dariush victory. He should be able to land the better shots on the feet, and he should be equipped to match and perhaps even surpass Ferguson on the mat.
Ferguson's residual toughness might keep him in the fight for the allotted 15 minutes—even at 50 percent of his former durability, he's still sturdier than a brick wall—but one way or the other, Dariush should emerge the victor.
Prediction: Dariush by unanimous decision
Statistics courtesy of UFCStats.com.