UFC lightweight Beneil Dariush concerned for others about recent travel ban

Lightweight contender Beneil Dariush is scheduled to face Edson Barboza at UFC Fight Night on March 11 in Brazil. Josh Hedges/Zuffa LLC/Getty Images

UFC lightweight Beneil Dariush was never at risk of being affected by President Donald Trump's executive order on immigration, even before several aspects of it were recently blocked in federal court.

Dariush was born in Iran, one of the seven predominantly Muslim countries affected by Trump's travel ban, but has lived in California since 1999. He is scheduled to leave the U.S. next month to fight Edson Barboza at UFC Fight Night in Fortaleza, Brazil.

Dariush, 27, had no concerns about re-entering the country, however, because he is a U.S. citizen. His situation differs from middleweight Gegard Mousasi, a fellow Iranian who holds Dutch citizenship. Prior to latest development in federal court, Mousasi had expressed some concern about entering the U.S. for a fight on April 8 in New York.

In general, Dariush, who is a Christian, says the travel ban has had almost no practical effect on his life, but he sympathizes with those who were affected.

"I think the idea of protecting American citizens is great, but the way they are going about it is wrong," Dariush said.

"I think the confusion in how it was rolled out caused a lot of fear, which is sad. You have a lot of people who, whether they will have trouble getting into this country or they won't, are now very afraid to travel here. It's hard to see so many people with that fear."

Prior to his family moving to the U.S., Dariush grew up in a small village in northwest Iran until he was 9. He made return visits in high school, but hasn't gone back since he was 17 due to the country's mandatory military service order that affects 18-year-old Iranian males.

Despite some early confusion, no UFC athletes were forced to reschedule fights due to the executive order. Iranian lightweight Reza Madadi, who fights out of Sweden, is scheduled to fight on March 18 in the United Kingdom. Strawweight Randa Markos, originally from Iraq, now living in Canada, will fight Feb. 19 in Halifax, Nova Scotia.

The promotion released a statement this week to say it is "aware of the federal travel ban" and that officials "will be affirmatively engaged to ensure that our fighters and employees are able to go where they need to go."

Dariush, who says he voted for third-party presidential candidate Gary Johnson in 2016, said he doesn't intend to make it a point to speak about political issues around his fight next month -- but he's willing to express his opinion should anyone ask.

"If someone asks, I'm going to tell them what I feel," Dariush said. "It's been a little frustrating for me because I've always complained about [U.S. handling] of the Middle East, and now there's this ban and all of a sudden people are outraged. I want to say, 'Where were you guys all this time?'"

Dariush (14-2) says his main focus next month is still making sure he gets his hand raised. He has won seven of his last eight contests and has a major opportunity in the form of Barboza, whom ESPN.com ranks the No. 6 lightweight in the world.

"I'd be lying to you if I said I don't feel a little pressure," Dariush said. "But that pressure doesn't come from fighting Edson, the UFC or any of the fans. I put that pressure on myself, because I want to win and I want to perform.

"I've fought in Brazil before. I've been in the back when the crowd is stomping their feet and the entire locker room is shaking. I have to take that pressure they are trying to put on me away and keep the pressure I put on myself. I want to go after this guy. I'm not going to let anything get in my way."