Tsarukyan KOs Dariush 64 seconds into UFC Austin main event
Arman Tsarukyan sent a message to the entire lightweight division Saturday night: He's coming for the title.
The rising contender passed the biggest test of his career with flying colors, knocking out division staple Beneil Dariush at the 1:04 mark of the first round in the UFC Austin main event.
"For sure, I was expecting a knockout," Tsarukyan said in his postfight interview. "I told you guys, I don't want to win by decision or whatever."
In one of the first significant sequences of the fight, Tsarukyan missed a knee up the middle but then dropped Dariush with a vicious right hook. Tsarukyan landed three heavy punches on the ground, forcing referee Mark Smith to wave off the fight.
A highlight-reel knockout over Dariush was the kind of performance Tsarukyan needed to get over the hump and be considered a title contender at 155 pounds. Dariush was ranked No. 4 and Tsarukyan No. 8 ahead of Saturday's main event.
Tsarukyan called for a title shot against UFC lightweight champion Islam Makhachev. However, Makhachev is expected to defend his belt against former champion Charles Oliveira sometime in 2024. Tsarukyan vowed to become champion regardless and said at the postfight press conference that he's interested in a matchup with former interim champ Justin Gaethje if a title fight isn't next.
"I'm a top-five fighter," Tsarukyan said. "No. 3 or No. 4. Next fight is gonna be for the title. If not, it doesn't matter. I'm going to be the champion. Trust me, guys."
Makhachev beat Tsarukyan in the latter's UFC debut in 2019 while both were young prospects. Tsarukyan is confident the matchup would go his way now.
"We fought four years ago now," Tsarukyan said. "I was 22 years old. Now I'm 27. I've improved. The next fight is gonna be a different one. I'm going to knock him out."
Tsarukyan revealed he nearly pulled out of the fight a month ago but didn't say why.
The Armenian-Russian fighter has won three in a row and has only lost once in the past three-and-a-half years. That one defeat was a somewhat controversial unanimous decision to Mateusz Gamrot in a June 2022 Fight Night main event. Tsarukyan is 21-3 as a professional.
Dariush has lost twice in a row for the first time in his veteran career. The 34-year-old entered the fight coming off a first-round TKO defeat to Oliveira in June.