Like the old saying goes what a difference a day makes. Yesterday Al Iaquinta was set to take on Paul Felder, kicking off the main card at UFC 223. Now 24 hours later he’s set to fight in the main event against Khabib Nurmagomedov. Oh, and they’ll be fighting for the Lightweight Title. Quite the turn of events. With that change comes an extraordinary opportunity for Iaquinta, one he’s been working for his entire career.
The lead up to UFC 223 has been one of the strangest ones to date. From an original main event change where Nurmagomedov would fight Max Holloway instead of Tony Ferguson, to Connor McGregor and his entourage attacking a bus filled with UFC fighters. Both Micheal Chiesa and Ray Borg experienced injuries due to broken glass during that altercation, forcing them to withdraw from their fights. The Alex Caceres Artem Lobov fight was also canceled on account of Lobov’s involvement in the situation. Lobov is a training partner of McGregor. But wait, there’s more. Than Max Holloway filling in for Ferguson was unable to make weight Friday morning. He was later ruled unfit to compete, leaving UFC 223 yet again without a main event. Anthony Pettis, Paul Felder, and Al Iaquinta all made their case to jump in to fight Khabib. When it was all said and done it would be New York’s Iaquinta to get the call. Now, exhale.
Al Iaquinta (13-3-1) taking on Khabib Nurmagomedov (25-0) stylistically is a very intriguing matchup. Khabib is well known for his wrestling skills, generally looking to take his opponents down and inflict his will on them. Where he has eight knockouts on his record showcasing that brutal ground and pound, he’s also submitted eight opponents as well. While Khabib will look to stand and exchange, it’s generally to put himself in position for those take downs.
Iaquinta has the skillset to be a difficult match up for the undefeated Khabib. The lightweight contender has shown how dangerous his stand up is, knocking out four of his last five opponents. Expect Iaquinta to stand and box with Khabib looking to land one of those big knock out blows we’ve seen in his previous fights. If Iaquinta’s stellar takedown defense gives Khabib issues, it will be interesting to see where Khabib looks to take the fight. While Iaquinta may look for those knock out opportunities early, his endurance and mental makeup is built for a fight to go the distance if need be.
The additional road block here was originally due to Iaquinta being .2 lbs over the 155 championship weight limit, only Khabib could win the title, not Iaquinta. This was later corrected by UFC President Dana White. “The title is on the line,” White said. “As far as the commission goes, Khabib is the one who is eligible for the title, but obviously if ‘Ragin’ Al’ wins this fight, he’s the champ. If you beat the man, you are the man.”
On Khabib’s side this has been quite the roller coaster ride. Like Iaquinta he’s dealt with injuries of his own that kept him out of the octagon over the past few years. Currently he’s had his opponent changed twice within the last week. Iaquinta, going through a bit of his own roller coaster ride the past 24 hours looks to remain calm, cool, and collected. As calm as a guy nicknamed Raging Al can be. Iaquinta spoke to UFC Reporter Megan Olivi following the weigh in’s. “I’m excited for the opportunity. I’ve been through so much, I deserve this.” Iaquinta later went on to say “I’m going out there with nothing to lose. Have fun, go out there and do what I love to do.”
The undefeated Nurmagomedov has given opponents fits thus far in his career. Now Iaquinta will take on the dangerous light weight with UFC gold on the line. “No one has been able to figure him out. I’m the guy. I’ve said it before, I’m the guy. I’ve been working my whole life for this, I’ve got too much skill, I’ve been studying fighting my entire life. This is what it’s all about.”