Iran has an incredibly deep rooted wrestling culture, having won 43 of their 69 Olympic medals in that one sport, but very few Iranians have flourished in mixed martial arts.
Two names that come to mind are Beneil Dariush, an Assyrian born in Iran, and Gegard Mousasi, an Armenian born in Iran. Dariush opened up about the lack of MMA development in his home country in an exclusive interview with Bloody Elbow.
“I think MMA is still kind of new in Iran. Not a lot of people are even familiar with MMA. The wrestling there, the taekwondo, these are the top sports. Everyone in Iran has wrestled, except for me, I never wrestled in Iran for some reason,” he chuckled. “I’m telling you I was from such a small village I didn’t even know what wrestling was until I came to America.”
“I think people just stick with what they know,” he continued. “Recently, I’m seeing a lot of people come up. There is a heavyweight in Rizin and he’s pretty good to.” The Iranian heavyweight Dariush is mentioning is likely Rizin Open-Weight Grand Prix finalist Amir Aliakbari (9-1).
“We’re for sure going to find more Iranians,” Dariush assured. “The truth becomes, how are they going to find proper camps in Iran where they can get everything done? Where do you get your boxing done? Your kickboxing, your jiu-jitsu. All of it... They don’t have the complete gym yet.”
Dariush also reflected on a viral video that saw him, Kelvin Gastelum, Marvin Vettori, and Fabricio Werdum engage in a multi-man sparring session.
“Whenever Fabricio is in the gym, I don’t know what we’re going to get,” he reflected. “Sometimes he’s really serious and everyone is working hard, sometimes he is just goofing off. On this day, he was serious. He messed with the wrong guy. I was sparring with Kelvin and Kelvin bumped into him and Werdum [punched] my partner.”
“That’s my partner, you know? So I had to remind him, ‘hey, that’s my partner’ and so I gave him a little kick back,” Dariush smirked. “It turned into a mess. I’m glad master was there to say, ‘okay guys, no more joking.’ Because [it starts] joking, joking, joking, and then it gets serious. At some point it would have gotten crazy.”
Despite the near-altercation, Dariush had nothing but praise for the former UFC heavyweight champion: “Werdum is one of the nicest, kindest people I’ve ever met. I’m normally looking forward to the surprise, let’s just put it that way.”