All Things Assyrian
Inspired By Fellow Assyrians
Bookmark and Share

UFC lightweight Beneil Dariush trains at Kings MMA in Huntington Beach, CA., Monday September 25, 2017. Dariush will face Evan Dunham at UFC 216 in Las Vegas on October 7th. ( Hans Gutknecht/Los Angeles Daily News/SCNG)
As the sun tries to force its way through the panes at Kings MMA in Huntington Beach, Rafael Cordeiro is a loud blur.

Wearing the figurative hat of owner, mentor, drill sergeant and traffic cop, Cordeiro is always talking, always coaching.

"TWENTY SECONDS!" the legendary trainer bellows.

With one eye on the clock, Cordeiro is teaching the finer points of executing a takedown on this late September morning, mixing instruction with encouragement before straightening his posture.

"TEN SECONDS!" he yells above the grunts and sounds of flesh hitting mats.

Off to the side, Beneil Dariush focuses on his technique, honed to near-perfection for the past 10 years after discovering Brazilian jiu-jitsu at 18 -- absurdly late for someone of his tremendous skill.

"SWITCH!" Cordeiro shouts to the dozens strewn about the room, the black padded walls on the north side of the gym streaked in sweat.

The students, as Cordeiro refers to them even though they range from beginners to former UFC champions, alternate from offense to defense.

Dariush moves like someone attempting to conserve energy, slowly yet efficiently. Cordeiro sees the clock reset.


Dariush has been here tens of thousands of times before, drilling seemingly on instinct.

Every execution, however, has a distinct purpose.

And every day, there is pressure.

Even greater than the pressure to win is to deliver for his heritage, to represent a group that views him as a national hero, to repay the people -- his people -- that he feels are responsible for his UFC career.


As ring announcer and master of ceremonies, Bruce Buffer stands in the center of the Octagon, introducing a UFC fighter about to literally risk life and limb.

Mere minutes before fighting Evan Dunham at UFC 216 on Saturday night at T-Mobile Arena in Las Vegas, and for the 12th time in his career, Dariush will stand less than 15 feet away from Buffer.

And the 5-foot-11 black-haired 155-pounder will look like he just woke up from a nap.

The 12th-ranked lightweight compares it with an extreme version of yawning when excited, and confesses he's actually incredibly nervous.

"My body just shuts down on me. It just goes into whatever mode it is, it's like relax mode," the 28-year-old Yorba Linda resident said. "As I go on, it wakes up and it starts to come together. I've actually been trying to get a faster start lately, I've been trying to be more explosive and start quicker, don't be so relaxed in the first round."

Even though he's on the outside of the Octagon, his coach knows the image well.

"We don't know about inside, but outside it's the same face. It's awesome," Cordeiro said with a laugh. "It's comfortable to go inside the Octagon. He shows all the time he steps in there with his face. 'I did a great camp, so that's kind of the face where I'm so comfortable with what I did and my faith and God is going to do all good things in my life.'

"We know his faith can move mountains."

Born in Gol Tappeh in Hamadan, Iran, in 1989, Dariush is proud of his Assyrian heritage.

That's no easy task when you're a new kid from the Middle East living in Orange County after 9/11.

Dariush was never dissuaded.

"To a time, they referred to us as the Christians in the Middle East, which is perfectly fine with me," Dariush said. "If I'm going to have a title besides Assyrian, that's the truth. I am a Christian first, so it's perfectly OK."

Assyrians are a people without a country. Their land, which contained the Tigris and Euphrates rivers and once spanned into Syria, Turkey, Iran and Iraq, is no longer after their empire fell in 612 BC.

They were known for being conquerors and warriors. That wasn't Dariush as a teenager, though he admits he attended two high schools because he "had a bit of a temper."

Dariush (14-3) -- known as Benny -- dabbled in soccer. And he wrestled for about a month.

Then he discovered Brazilian jiu-jitsu.

And the pressure was on his opponents.


It took Dariush just five years to earn a black belt in Brazilian jiu-jitsu under Romulo Barral and Bruno "Mamute" Paulista. Along the way, he won world titles at the white, blue, purple and brown belt levels.

So, he figured in 2009, why not try MMA?

He fought four times for Respect In The Cage in Pomona, and part of the deal was selling tickets.

When Assyrians heard one of their own was fighting, they showed up, some from as far away as Modesto and San Jose. Promoters love fighters who can sell tickets and win fights.

By the end of 2013, Dariush was 6-0 and had signed with the UFC.

"If it weren't for their support, I wouldn't be getting fights. No fights, no UFC," he explained. "So, it was my Assyrian culture that allowed me to get there. I think God puts everything in the right place at the right time, and he allowed my people to back me, and now I want to back them."

Dariush saw how his people faced ethnic and religious persecution, first in the Iraq War in 2003 and again eight years later in the Syrian Civil War.

And he wants to make a difference.

"If I can change somebody who is in such a terrible situation, even for a moment, to give them joy, even a moment, it gives me great pleasure," he said. "So that's why I want to train harder, do better, and represent my people better."


Dariush and the 14th-ranked Dunham (18-6) aren't that much different. They are separated by only two spots in the UFC lightweight rankings. They're both veterans of the sport, aggressive and elite in Brazilian jiu-jitsu -- Dunham receiving his black belt from Robert Drysdale.

Fellow UFC lightweight Paul Felder, who will be making his Fox Sports studio analyst debut Saturday at UFC 216, gives the edge to Dariush.

"Man, he's a handful. He's a southpaw that's got good kicks," Felder said. "His jiu-jitsu is ... it's kinda disgusting and unfair."

Felder, Dariush and Dunham have one opponent in common: Edson Barboza.

Currently ranked No. 4 in the division, Barboza is the last man to defeat Dunham with a first-round knockout in 2014. Dunham, 35, has since won four in a row.

Barboza beat Felder via unanimous decision in a Fight of the Night in 2015.

And he was Dariush's last fight -- one Dariush was arguably winning in March until a flying knee from Barboza crumbled Dariush in the second round.

"It was an 8 1/2-minute fight, I felt I was winning for 8 minutes and 29 seconds of it. I lost a second and that's how I lost the fight," Dariush said. "I'm super frustrated, but it's one of those things where I prayed on it, I just took some time and I know God's going to replenish me and he's going to put me back stronger and I'm going to share that victory soon."

And he knows with whom he will share it.

Dariush used to joke with his girlfriend that she was dating a national treasure. She would laugh it off until she asked another Assyrian who confirmed it.

"And that's when I realized, 'Man, I need to act like it. I need to represent better and take care,'" Dariush said. "How they treat me, I want to treat them. And that's really important. How they show love for me, I want to show love for them."

No pressure.

Type your comment and click
or register to post a comment.
* required field
User ID*
enter user ID or e-mail to recover login credentials