UFC 289: A Critical Crossroad for Elite Contenders Oliveira and Dariush

Charles Oliveira and Beneil Dariush, UFC 289 ceremonial weigh-in
VANCOUVER, BRITISH COLUMBIA - JUNE 09: (L-R) Opponents Charles Oliveira of Brazil and Beneil Dariush of Iran face off during the UFC 289 ceremonial weigh-in at Rogers Arena on June 09, 2023 in Vancouver, British Columbia. (Photo by Jeff Bottari/Zuffa LLC via Getty Images)

At a time when the lightweight division is on fire, former champion Charles Oliveira and top contender Beneil Dariush will collide with title implications on the line at UFC 289.

The fact that Charles Oliveira has had his time in the spotlight is the reason he is in this position on Saturday.  The all-time submissions leader in UFC is a bonafide fan-favorite and his star power is certainly doing it’s part to carry the promotion’s return to Canada for the first time in several years.  The fact that his last appearance saw him outmatched against the reigning champion has done little to temper the fervor that fans have to see him perform under the bright lights once again.

But herein lies the risk for Oliveira.  In a game where fresh blood can drive ratings upward, there is more pressure to deliver as an established veteran.  A victory for “Do Bronx” would be another seminal one in a career that has seen him turn away the likes of Dustin Poirier, Michael Chandler, and Justin Gaethje.  A loss, however, will catapult his opponent to the upper-echelon of the division on the back of Oliveira’s respected stature in the division.  Furthermore, the Brazilian will be 0-2 in a division where there will be a new BMF champion soon and the sport’s biggest star in Conor McGregor is also expected to compete in the calendar year.  Would his chances to regain gold be over? Absolutely not.  But it would be an unenviable position to say the least.

Beneil Dariush is in a similar position, but there is more heartbreak on the line for him than for the former champion.  While Oliveira has enjoyed life as a title holder, Dariush has needed to march his way to title contention the long way.  His eight fight win-streak to reach this point has taken a little over five years and has seen him take on the likes of veterans and up-and-comers alike.  Highlighting his resume since 2018 are names such as Tony Ferguson, Drew Dober, Mateusz Gamrot, and Diego Ferreira.  In his most recent bout, Dariush also had to show he would not let himself be removed from his position as he held off the rising contender Gamrot.

But like Leon Edwards, Ronaldo “Jacare” Souza, Belal Muhammad, and others before him, Dariush’s run feels as if it now teeters with a great triumphant or devastating heartbreak.  While several contenders need less fights before reaching the summit, Dariush is in arguably the toughest fight possible before a chance to complete the journey in a title fight.  Should he reel off back-to-back victories to become a champion, it would be another great testament to the perseverance that is celebrated in the sport.  A loss, however, would be devastating after all the work to reach this point and only be close to the finish line.  While Dariush with a victory would be the most likely contender based on merit, he also deals with the same struggle as Oliveira in that a loss would bump him from the conversation as Poirier, Gaethje, Chandler, and McGregor all look to make their case in the coming months.

A victory for Dariush is expected to lock in a title shot against reigning champion Islam Makhachev in October, with the meeting between the two finally materializing after their bout in 2021 fell apart.  A victory for Oliveira could lead to a rematch for the title, but that would likely be dependent on the outcome of the fight between Dustin Poirier and Justin Gaethje in late July.  While the winner of that fight with the promotional push of being the new BMF champion would be a new and enticing fight for Makhachev, they would also have only two and a half months to make a turn around from what is expected to be a damage inducing bout.