UFC lightweight Al Iaquinta likes to break things. A product of Long Island, New York’s Serra-Longo Fight Team, Iaquinta finds a certain relief in the destruction of inanimate objects. So when a less-than stellar Tuesday was compounded by the news that his upcoming opponent, Bobby Green, withdrew from their July 15 bout in San Diego, Iaquinta let his emotions get the best of him.
“I got pissed off. I kicked things and I broke things. It was a bad day man … I went to sleep very aggravated last night,” explains Iaquinta. “In the last 24 hours, Bobby Green dropped out of the fight, then I was driving to the gym and some old guy runs down the street and yells at me cause I guess I was driving fast in a school zone … then I go through an intersection and the lights flash … I’m gonna get a ticket in the mail.”
But what a difference a day makes.
Immediately after hearing the news that Green was forced from their contest, Iaquinta, who is in the middle of training camp, threw out a few names of suitable replacements. And within 24 hours, none other than Gilbert Melendez, the UFC’s fifth-ranked lightweight and former Strikeforce champion, stepped up to the plate to take the short-notice fight.
“This is like a dream … I followed his career cause I was young coming up. I followed all the guys that were older than me doing big things,” offers Iaquinta. “I’ve watched his whole career; it’s crazy, and now I get to fight him. You see guys on TV and you’re like ‘I wonder where I stand against these guys?’ and now I’m gonna get to find out.”
Still despite Iaquinta’s elation—it’s big opportunity, and a much higher profile fight now that Melendez is involved—he has a lot of work to do. And with just four weeks remaining before the bout, Iaquinta will be forced to make some changes and alterations in his preparation. He is, after all, fighting Melendez, and not Green, for whom he already has been preparing for over a month.
“We’re probably gonna tweak things a little bit just to switch it up to fight him, but pretty much every training camp I have is the same … I’ll watch his videos with Ray [Longo] and Matt [Serra] and we’ll get a game plan. It’ll be business as usual,” adds Iaquinta. “I think [Melendez] looked awesome in the first round [at UFC 188] … his jab looked awesome … sticking that jab and using that jab to follow up with combinations … I don’t know if there’s many weaknesses that he has. I’m just gonna have to go out there and make something happen.”
Already a veteran of nine fights inside the Octagon and in the midst of a four-fight win streak, Iaquinta has quickly become a mainstay in the UFC’s lightweight division. Iaquinta is currently preparing for his ninth UFC bout in less than two years (the same number of appearances as Donald Cerrone during the same time period); however, this is the first time that he has ever been forced to deal with a late replacement. But that’s not to say that Iaquinta doesn’t have experience with quick turnarounds himself.
Taking his last bout, a split decision win over Jorge Masvidal, just nine weeks after a TKO win over Joe Lauzon at UFC 183, Iaquinta has bounced from training camp to fight, to training camp to fight, over and over again, physically and emotionally wearing himself down. The fight against Masvidal, in particular, proved to trigger Iaquinta’s tendency for rage. So when fans in the Fairfax, Virginia crowd began to boo and taunt him in victory, he unloaded a bevvy of profanity on live television.
The incident, while entertaining for fans of the fight game, did not sit well with Iaquinta’s superiors at the UFC. He had previously trashed his hotel room at the MGM Grand following the Lauzon fight, apparently upset at not being awarded a fight night bonus. Then came his third strike.
“So I got invited to the fighter summit … I got sick and I got an infection in my arm a couple days before, so I called them and I said that I wasn’t gonna be able to come out … they said it was alright … there were no problems. Bobby Green actually heard that I wasn’t there so he left. He went to the summit, got all his per diem, got his clothing from Reebok, saw that I wasn’t there, so he up and left,” comments Iaquinta. “The UFC got mad and they said that that was my third strike … now I can’t win a bonus for three fights. I'm banned from bonuses.”
A stiff penalty, to say the least, for a fighter like Iaquinta, whose pressure and crisp boxing have produced knockouts in three of his last four bouts. Combine Iaquinta’s style with Melendez’s heavy swinging, and you have a perfect Fight of the Night recipe.
But alas, the pains of being young and the tribulations of growth are helping elevate Iaquinta to new heights, where his emotional quotient matches his already mature fight game. And every time he steps inside the Octagon, Iaquinta is witnessing his own personal development, which will serve him well against Melendez.
“I’m getting more comfortable in the Octagon. I got a couple knockouts in a row and that just boosted my confidence,” states Iaquinta. Confidence is big in this sport … the more confidence you have, the better you’re gonna do, and hopefully I’m going in there real confident against Gilbert Melendez … I may be able to catch him at a good time and get a win over a great guy … it’s the perfect time for a matchup like this for me.”
And if all else fails, Iaquinta always has his “Raging” persona, hell bent on destruction.
“It’s very stress relieving to break something,” adds Iaquinta. “Afterwards you feel better, but then you gotta pay for it. It’s something I gotta work on I guess.”
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