Al Iaquinta had some legitimate gripes in a long-standing feud with his employers at the UFC.
He was understandably upset after it appeared that he may be forced to pay for part of a surgery to repair a knee injury that he suffered while competing on ‘The Ultimate Fighter’. That eventually got settled and Iaquinta was able to have his surgery without footing the bill himself.
Iaquinta also had a beef with the UFC after he was disqualified from winning post fight bonuses for several bouts after the promotion punished him for perceived behavioral issues, including cursing on television following one of his wins.
Perhaps the biggest gap between the two sides over the last few years has been Iaquinta’s steadfast attitude that he’s not going to fight for less than he’s worth, which led to a few very public spats over his contract with the UFC.
Last year, Iaquinta ended up bailing the UFC out of a bad situation when he accepted a title fight against Khabib Nurmagomedov on 24 hours notice. Obviously it was a great opportunity for Iaquinta as well but his willingness to jump into the fire with no time to actually prepare for Nurmagomedov showed what he was willing to do for the company.
In the aftermath of that fight, Iaquinta ended 2018 with a phenomenal performance against Kevin Lee to cement his place as one of the best lightweights in the sport. Now as he prepared for a main event showdown against Donald “Cowboy” Cerrone this Saturday night, the New York native admits that he’s in a better place with the UFC now than he has been in several years.
“I’m definitely just happier I think in general,” Iaquinta said when speaking to MMANews. “I’ve got a good rapport with Hunter Campbell and Sean Shelby. I went out to the Performance Institute and got some great training out there. I met with those guys, my father came out and we had a nice dinner together.
“We understand each other a lot better now and I think they understand my gripes and I think they’re doing their best to make me happy. I know what they expect out of me and I’m doing my best to make them happy. It’s a good working relationship.”
While he was not successful in his bid to become lightweight champion in the fight against Nurmagomedov last April, Iaquinta still believes that was probably a huge turning point in his career.
“I needed that for everybody to see what I’m really made of and I put in the work to rise to the occasion in a situation like that,” Iaquinta said. “I was confident that I was going to go in there and win that fight. I was one punch away from really shaking things up. I was thrust into that thing pretty quickly and it’s something I’m focused on getting back and doing it the right way.”
The road back to the title already started with the win over Lee last year and now Iaquinta will look for two in a row in his second straight main event fight.
Iaquinta was happy with the matchup against Cerrone because he’s one of the biggest names in the entire sport and it will give him another opportunity to shine in a high profile headline fight.
“The ranking really doesn’t mean much. Everyone knows where he’s at and where he’s been and who he is and he’s just as dangerous as everybody in the top five,” Iaquinta said about Cerrone. “I think he’s got win over some great guys. That fight with Leon Edwards, that was a close fight and that guy has been tearing through everybody. Mike Perry is a tough out for anybody. He made that last guy look who he should have made him look. He’s up there for sure.”
Iaquinta isn’t expecting a title shot with a win but he also knows he won’t be too far away either as Nurmagomedov prepares to face interim champion Dustin Poirier later this year.
“The division is going to shake out until September. It’s going to be whoever emerges, who has dominant performances and who the fans want to see in that spot,” Iaquinta said. “I think the fans respect the body of work I’ve put together over the last couple of years and the way that I handle myself, I think I resonate with the fans.
“I think the UFC is behind me, too. I think the UFC believes in me and I’m a performing member of the squad.”