It was tough, it was gritty, it was exactly the performance you expected from Al Iaquinta on Saturday night. Even more impressive considering as late as Friday afternoon Iaquinta had been training to fight a different opponent for a three round fight. Yet there was Iaquinta, in Round Five of a Championship fight still standing toe to toe with the top fighter in the division in Khabib Nurmagomedov.
Mixed chants of I-A-QUINTA and KHA-BIB filled the Barclay Center last night. A main event that had changed three times in a week had all the attention of the electric sold out crowd. Khabib came as advertised, showing why he’s one of the best in the sport. Iaquinta tagged Nurmagomedov early in round one, but it was Khabib who was able to utilize his wrestling and take down Raging Al. He caught Iaquinta with several hard punches. Iaquinta was able to stay composed and weather the storm to end the first round.
Round two started strong for Nurmagomedov, who was able to take Iaquinta down early. Raging Al worked through some tough ground and pound as well as choke attempts from Khabib throughout the round. He hung tough in a position where Khabib has been notorious for finishing his opponents. Round three saw a bit of a momentum change. Iaquinta who had taken some hard shots in the previous round stood in the pocket and exchanged with Khabib. Raging Al was able to tag his opponent with a few big right hands throughout the round.
Iaquinta would stuff takedown attempts from Khabib in the third and fourth rounds. The New Yorker would take a few of Khabib’s best jabs while trying to find his rhythm in the pocket. It wouldn’t be until round five after eating an array of punches that Khabib was able to take Iaquinta down again. Iaquinta would work for a late submission attempt but to no avail. “He went the distance with a monster” trainer Ray Longo said after the fight.
It would all lead to a Unanimous decision win for Nurmagomedov, crowing him the new UFC Lightweight Champion. What had we learned here? Something most all ready knew. Al Iaquinta is a tough (excuse me) mother f*cker. His opponent would agree as well. “Iaquinta is a real Brooklyn gangster” Nurmagomedov said. “He come here. Where’s Connor (McGregor)? He want to fight a bus. I want to fight a real gangster. Iaquinta thank you so much.”
“Much Respect to Al” UFC President Dana White said. “He didn’t come here for a paycheck, he came to win.”
Al Iaquinta all ready well known for his toughness gained the respect of a lot more fans last night. He proved that he belongs at the top of this division. As Iaquinta’s trainers Ray Longo and Matt Serra said, while he didn’t win it didn’t feel like a loss either. You can’t help but marvel at the heart and determination of Iaquinta. He never backed down, continued pushing forward, fighting hard for twenty five minutes. His performance as well as his mental toughness makes you proud as fans, as friends and family, and it makes me proud to write this article. An outstanding effort from a true Warrior, and a warrior that will undoubtedly fight for a championship again.