This week I had the pleasure of sitting down with Al’s dad, Jay Iaquinta. Jay is an outstanding football coach a dedicated Physical Education teacher, as well as a great husband and father. While he’s coached at Lynbrook High School as well as SUNY Maritime, he’s spent the past twenty two seasons coaching football for Hewlett high school. In that time Mr. Iaquinta has won the Nassau County Championship in 1999, as well as winning the Big Four Champions 11 of the past 15 years. Jay recently retired after 34 years of teaching physical education at Lynbrook High School. A big thank you to Mr. Iaquinta for taking some time to sit down with me an answer some questions.
What did you think about Al’s first two fights with Jon Tuck to get into the house, and his more recent fight with Myles Jury? Anything you would have liked to tell him after either fight?
When I first saw Al was fighting Tuck I cringed because I had done some research and I knew how tough Tuck was. I couldn’t believe he drew Tuck. He had some big fights against some tough opponents, and a very impressive background. Nerve racking in the beginning of the round with Tuck’s arm bar attempt, but we got a chance to see Al’s submission defense work with Matt Serra pay off.
As far as Myles Jury I knew he hadn’t been in any fights out of the first round, so I thought if Al worked hard and got him into the later rounds he would have a good shot. I think his game plan for Jury as well as Tuck was great. He stayed aggressive and smart.
How difficult is it going from watching Al wrestle to a dramatic switch in seeing him get locked inside that cage? Fight by fight does it get any easier?
When he wrestled varsity as a 9th grader we were worried. He was getting tossed around by some tough seniors at his weight. After that we never really worried. Even watching a lot of his amateur fights in Rahway NJ I always felt comfortable because he would usually take his opponents down and control the fight. After the Miglioli fight every fight has been tough and uncomfortable to watch. That was the first time I ever saw him really get beat up despite getting a win. Now seeing him fight in person and on TV it’s definitely easier to watch at home on TV. Much more nerve racking in person.
This is a difficult career move for a parent to adjust to. How did you react to it at first? Has your opinion on his career choice changed as time has progressed?
When he first told me about the Muay Thai and Jiu- Jitsu training it didn’t really faze me. It wasn’t until he asked me what I was doing one Friday, and to come watch his first fight that it really hit me. I remember thinking this is actually happening you’re really doing this? I told him if he was going to do this to treat it like a job and be professional about it, and I think he’s done that.
How strange is it seeing Al on national TV every week? I asked Jackie the same, will you ever think of Al as famous?
To be honest I’m still not used to it, I don’t even think of it as National TV. Any chance we get to see him on there or online is great. Win or Lose he’s still taking out the garbage when he gets home.
Al does a lot of his weight training with you. What’s a typical training day like when Al comes to work out with you?
We have some great equipment over at the high school gym. Before Al left we were weight training four times a week. Two of those days were strength training days. The other two days were explosive workouts with kettle bells, having little or no rest in between sets.
If Al wasn’t your son would he be the kind of guy you’d love to coach?
I would think so, everyone who’s coached him from high school through today has loved coaching him so I’m sure I would as well.
What advice did you give Al before he left to be on the show?
I reminded him that his mom and dad are teachers so to make sure to sound educated. You may be working for Dana White in the near future so sound intelligent. Aside from that I just let him know he did everything the right way especially his preparation. Those two summers at JRob ( J Robinson Intensive Wrestling Camp) would be a big a big help with this experience. I didn’t worry about his focus, I knew he was very intent on what he was doing.
How important has Al’s work ethic, his heart, and determination been to get him to this point?
In this sport it accounts for a lot. Al is fully committed, disciplined, and has a very tough mentality. I think that’s a huge part of him getting to where he is at this point.
You’ve coached a lot of tough kids in your career. Can you teach that “will” and that “drive”, and the ability to dig down and keep fighting when a lot of people would just shut it down during training or during a fight?
I think to fight almost to the death is something that’s very hard to teach. You can get a fighter in great shape and condition someone to go farther then they thought they could go, but I don’t think you can teach someone to get locked in that cage and maintain that never say die mentality.
Any match ups from the fighters you’ve seen so far that you’d like to see Al match up in the next round?
I would have to agree with what Al said the other day. On paper right now Vick would be the best match up for him. He’s probably the least skilled and experienced guy we’ve seen so far. Regardless I think Al is strong, powerful, and very capable to take on anyone in the next round.
How much does the continued support from friends, the town, and Al’s teammates mean to you and the family?
The support means an incredible amount to us, were shocked he has so many friends (laughing). That support started from the beginning during all those amateur fights. I think an important part of getting him to where he is now has been the support by everyone around him. The training as well as the support from his wrestling coach James Murphy was a really important part of getting him to this point. The additional support from Ray Longo, Matt Serra, Eric Hyer, Marcel, and everyone else from the gym has helped him so much. There’s been times that Marcel has come to the house to hold pads for him at twelve o’clock at night leading up to one of his fights. That say’s a lot. Everyone should really feel apart of this whole experience rooting and supporting him.
How important has the training and guidance from Ray Longo, Matt Sera, Eric Hyer, as well as Al’s other teammates from Serra Longo been in helping him progress, stay focused, and on the right path?
There’s no doubt that without them he wouldn’t be there. For the most part the only coaches you hear mentioned on the show by Faber, Cruz, and Dana White are Serra and Longo. I think they really recognize all the quality guys coming out of the gym. All those guys did a great job not only preparing him physically but helping him learn to think like a fighter. He’s taken those lessons from them into the house, and everything they’ve taught him will be with him in all his fights in the future.
Has it been difficult having Al be away for this long, as well as the following month?
Even Jackie (his sister) said the other day she was beginning to miss him. I’d say were missing him “somewhat” (laughing). His mother misses him every minute of the day.
I’ve been trying to put everyone on the spot for the last question. The finals are right around the corner, what are your thoughts on Al being there?
He definitely has the ability and the mental makeup to get to the finale. It’s a fine line at this point but I like his chances. His fighting IQ is high, he knows how to follow a game plan very well. Most importantly we all know he’s been in wars before, not everyone there can say that.
Interview by- Matt Pellicane