Back in July the UFC sold for an astronomical 4 billion dollars. Yet despite that, and with the new Reebok sponsorship deal in place, fighters aren’t seeing changes financially. One of those fighters happens to be ranked 13th in the lightweight division. Al Iaquinta has taken a stand, one that may help other martial artists fighting for the promotion put things into perspective. That these athletes putting their bodies on the line through training, and on fight night, are not being properly compensated or represented.
Today, Iaquinta made his decision well known. He would currently remain off the UFC 205 card in a contract dispute. UFC 205 is the first in New York, at the Worlds most Famous Arena Madison Square Garden. A card that just about every New York fighter is scratching and clawing to become a part of. For Iaquinta it’s become much more. It’s become making a long term life decision, and a moral decision. Over fighting in an arena he’s dreamt about fighting in since entering the sport. With the current deal in place if Iaquinta were to lose the fight, it would be “like fighting at MSG for free” He explained.
The Serra Longo fighter has been out for over a year, working to come back after his second knee surgery. The injury was originally sustained in the semi finals of the Ultimate Fighter against Vinc Pichel in 2012. Following Raging Al’s first knee surgery he was able to come back with a vengeance. Climbing up the division by recording wins over Ryan Couture, Piotr, Hallman, Kevin Lee, Rodrigo Damm, Ross Pearson, Joe Lauzon, and Jorge Masvidal.
On a four fight win streak Iaquinta was scheduled to fight Bobby Green, and than Gilbert Melendez. After Green dropped out with an injury, and a suspension for Melendez, Iaquinta knew it was time to get his knee taken care of. He wasn’t compensated for the Melendez fight, who tested positive for HGH two weeks prior to the bout. Despite all those victories, the rising star in the light weight division is left wondering if he’ll ever step into the octagon again.
On top of the grueling process of asking the UFC to pay for the $60,000 knee surgery that Iaquinta needed to fight again, Al was also dealing with an issue many fighters are currently dealing with. The Reebok deal. A sponsorship deal that forced fighters to drop current sponsors, costing thousands of dollars. Most fighters, including Iaquinta had contracts negotiated prior to the deal with Reebok. With that deal handcuffing fighters like Iaquinta, the promotion is now putting the livelihood of these competitors on the line.
“There’s a lot things that have changed since I signed the contract, and for me to go in there and risk my health, risk everything that you risk when you go into a cage fight, I just said, ‘look, I can’t do it,’” The experience has been an eye opener for the New Yorker. One that even drove him to get his realty license, realizing that the career of a cage fighter isn’t always guaranteed. Another factor to note would be the UFC ruling to deny Iaquinta of any post fight bonuses for the next three fights. A ruling that was brought down after Iaquinta opted to skip a fight summit, staying in New York to train for an upcoming fight. Something UFC officials originally gave Iaquinta permission to do. That decision by the UFC, as well as harsh comments by former UFC match maker Joe Silva to Iaquinta’s manager, forced him into this decision.
Iaquinta discussed Silva’s comments in regards to negotiating on the MMA hour. “Eff him, eff this.” — Who is he to put a price tag on what my life is worth, on what my knee is worth? I’ve had two knee surgeries already. I may have to have to have another one after nine more fights. Am I going to be able to walk? Am I going to be able to enjoy my life? And for him to say, ‘eff you, eff this, I’ll cut him.” Iaquinta went on, “You’ve never stepped in the cage. You don’t know what my body feels like after a fight, what my body will feel like down the line.
Iaquinta not only opened up the eyes of fellow fighters today, but MMA fans as well. The way these fighters are being treated simply isn’t fair. “Something’s got to give” an exhausted Iaquinta told me tonight. “I love fighting for the UFC, there’s nothing more I enjoy than fighting.” Yet The UFC isn’t taking care of the fighters that are making great sacrifices trying to make a living in this sport. Forcing fighters to take on second, and third jobs to make ends meet. Leaving them hoping the next fight will lead to something better. Watching professional boxers “earn” pay days they don’t even come close to deserving. Seeing someone like former WWE star CM Punk make the amount of money he just made in his FIRST MMA fight. Like Iaquinta said, somethings got to give. Fighters like Iaquinta deserve much more for what they put into this sport. Hopefully this sparks a much needed change.
For now it keeps one of the light weight divisions most exciting fighters off a card that most would do anything and everything to be on. Perhaps UFC and Dana White can see they’re in the wrong here. That the current business model doesn’t work, and it’s going to leave more fighters with a similar mindset. Do I want to work for an organization that clearly doesn’t care about my best interests? Will Iaquinta remain off the card, no one can know for sure. Today he did his part to spread the word on just what a grind this sport can truly be.