Opportunity outside the octagon affords Iaquinta a new outlook

UFC headliner meets Donald “Cowboy” Cerrone on Saturday in Ottawa

UFC lightweight Al Iaquinta works on his striking during the UFC open workouts at Barrymore's Music Hall in Ottawa.  MARCUS REBELO PHOTO

OTTAWA, ON — Going into the biggest fight of his career, the perspective Al Iaquinta gained outside the cage was just as meaningful as the one in it.

Iaquinta will square off against Donald “Cowboy” Cerrone in Saturday’s main event in the Ultimate Fighting Championship, that takes place at the Canadian Tire Centre in Ottawa.

The winner will move one step closer to earning a title shot to be crowned the promotion’s lightweight (155 lbs) champion.

For the Wantagh, N.Y., native, the path to UFC gold wasn’t always as transparent and his prospects in the sport of MMA were in question.

With a knee injury that threatened to end his career and a contract dispute, the UFC’s No. 4 ranked lightweight turned to real estate, a decision he’s grateful he made.

“I feel so much more well-rounded, I was just like a fighter, lost. If I was older—kept on that path and fighting didn’t work out, I probably would’ve been real lost,” said Iaquinta, while speaking to reporters during media day.

“To have that [real estate] at that time it was convenient for me to take a step back and figure out some opportunities and then come back to fighting when the time was right.”

After a two year layoff, Iaquinta returned in April of 2017 with a first round knockout of Diego Sanchez, but was forced to sit out again due to more injuries and another contract dispute.

It all changed on April 7, 2018, at UFC 223 in New York City.

Following Max Holloway’s last-minute departure from the event, due to weight cutting issues, the UFC called upon the 32 year-old to face current undefeated lightweight champion Khabib Nurmagomedov.

“Raging Al” did not disappoint, and arguably gave the champion his toughest test inside the octagon, despite the loss by unanimous decision.

Iaquinta believes that event was the turning point in his relationship with the UFC, while earning the respect of the MMA community.

“It was the Khabib fight — I showed them what I was about. I think it’s just me constantly putting on a strong body of work. The fans appreciate I don’t put on a facade,” said Iaquinta. “That was the start of it.”

The interaction between the fighter and promotion has since evolved to what it is today.

“We have a good working relationship. They understand me a lot better—I understand what they’re looking for a lot more. I think there’s still stuff we hash out when we need to but it’s a good working relationship and I’m in a way better place—I think we both are.”

Those lessons inside and outside of fighting, Iaquinta believes, might have cost him, but in the end led to improvements within himself.

“I’ve learned a lot in the last few years in the fight game and in life in general, it’s unfortunate—a lot the things that have happened, but it made me a better person.”

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Posted: May 2 2019 8:13 pm
Filed under: Other Sports Sports