When you’re a writer or any type of reporter it’s always important to be unbiased. Call it right down the middle for both sides. I’m no “legit” reporter by any means but I’ve always tried my best to do that here. For this particular article some of the content may not come off that way. Al Iaquinta isn’t just someone I’ve covered as a writer/blogger and sold some shirts and tank tops with. He’s someone I’m fortunate enough to call a close friend for over 20 years. As a writer, and just as a friend it’s been an honor and a privilege to be as close to the “action” for all these years, and I can’t thank him enough for that.
Fearless. A lot of people like to say or think that they are but often it’s just hyperbole, frankly it’s bullshit. Al Iaquinta is fearless. If you look into his eyes during a fight it’s the same look I remember seeing about 15 years ago when we had to wrestle each other in a High School wrestling tournament at Wantagh. It was focus, it was determination, and it was I’m going to beat you and I’ll do it at all costs. As you may have guessed I lost that wrestling match, the same fate many of opponents have felt at the hands of Al. It’s the mindset that set him up to have an incredible career and earn the respect of fighters and fans throughout the world.
Al is relentless. He’s the hardest worker in the room, as tough as they come, intelligent, durable, a Pitbull filled with a combination of calmness and rage that you or I would never be able to channel or even fully comprehend. He’s fought all over the world, been in wars, he’s beaten top opponents and legends in the Lightweight division, been on the only live version of UFC’s reality show The Ultimate Fighter, he’s had massive knockouts, heart breaking losses, never backed down from any opponent or challenge, ranked at the top of the division for most of his UFC career, fought for a title, he’s been a little destructive in a hotel room after a loss and a little destructive after a win, even told an entire crowd of Virginian’s to f*ck themselves. He’s fought hurt, he’s battled through countless injuries, been told more than once he may never fight again and proven all of those people wrong.
Al has had an entire town and community rally behind him having us all feel like we were locked in that cage. He’s never been afraid to speak his mind, he’s always known his worth and wouldn’t accept less than what he rightfully deserved. Outspoken, legitimate, never one to sugar coat things, and always authentic. In a world where a lot of people in all different avenues are fake or bending the truth to gain popularity, Al Iaquinta came as advertised. What you see is what you get and that’s becoming a lot more rare in our society.
Like many athletes Al was handcuffed by the injury bug more than a good portion of his career. Going back to his days competing in Ring of Combat in Atlantic City and dealing with broken hands. An injury that forced him to pull out of his first opportunity to be on The Ultimate Fighter, as well as a knee injury originally sustained fighting Vinc Pichel on TUF Live, and unfortunately lingering for most of his career. During one of those knee injuries and awaiting surgery he found himself in a position not knowing if he would be able to fight again. He recognized that he had to do something a lot of other competitors unfortunately don’t have the means to do. He found another avenue to make himself a career outside of fighting. Putting that same hard work and relentlessness into Real Estate that he had into fighting he’s been able to create a notable Real Estate career opening up other business opportunities in the process.
Yet with other opportunities in front of him not as labor intensive as getting locked in a cage for a living there was still a fire burning within. There’s that old saying fighters gotta fight. That was the case for Iaquinta. After going back and forth with UFC management about covering a knee surgery, he came back with a lot of uncertainty. He proceeded to knock out UFC Veteran Diego Sanchez in the first round to the surprise of many. Iaquinta holds other notable wins over Ryan Couture, Rodrigo Damm, Ross Pearson, Jorge Masvidal, Joe Lauzon, and Kevin Lee. The injury bug gets us all somehow some way. You can certainly have your own opinion but I’m here to tell you that if Al Iaquinta is just a bit healthier, if his body had held up for him that he has the skillset, the determination, and the mental makeup to be a champion. Take that for what it’s worth, call it a biased opinion, maybe it is. Yet, when he’s at 100% I would put him up against anyone in that division any day.
On Thursday on his weekly “Call me Al” show the Serra Longo fighter announced that his fight at UFC 268 likely had been his last. “Fighting again? I’m thinking that’s it, man” he said. “That’s the way to go out. Obviously, you want to go out on a win, but this shit’s not worth it, dude. You saw Michael Chandler and Justin Gaethje fight. Those guys, they beat the hell out of each other. That wasn’t worth it.” Iaquinta went on to question his own preparation and his will, something he’s never thought twice about in his career.
“He didn’t knock me unconscious. And I kinda turned and I covered up. I was still conscious and I knew what I was doing. But I kinda just wanted out. That was it” he said. “I realized that he hit me hard. It probably was not gonna be a good night for me. I was not confident in my preparation, in my cardio, my wrestling. These guys are training hard. These guys are training three times a day, two times a day, really hard. My body just can’t hold up to that anymore. It was the first time in my career, ever, that I gave up in a fight.”
That may be one way to phrase it but “giving up” is not a term I would even still throw around speaking about this man. As far as injuries, and rehab the last year may have very well been the toughest of Iaquinta’s career. Yet he continued to work, continued to push, working to get better physically as well as mentally. For most other people along that part of the journey would have been the moment to “give up”. Al didn’t do that. He fought, and clawed, and sacrificed and got himself back to a point where he was ready to get back on that big stage. That alone is something I think he, and something I know his family, friends, myself included are all extremely proud of.
Al Iaquinta has given us years of entertainment. It’s allowed family and friends to venture to amateur fights from Rahway New Jersey, to the biggest stages in Las Vegas. He’s taught us the importance of setting goals, that with enough hard work and sacrifice you truly can achieve anything you put your mind to. Al has shown how to be truly be ferocious as a competitor, something that separates the people who just train casually, or are able to turn Mixed Martial Arts into a career. He’s taught us to be humble. Humble in victory, and humble in defeat. To treat people with respect and decency. That anyone can bounce back, as dark of times and as much as your back is against the wall, how to find the will to keep fighting when most others would take the easy route and quit. Most importantly the importance of knowing you’re worth, not being strong armed or pushed around. How to put your foot down even during the most difficult situations and stand your ground. To live life, see as much as you can, do as much as you can. Take that trip, grab that opportunity but to never have fear. They say everything you want is on the other side of fear. I hope for Al he’s been able to achieve whatever those things may have been. I know he has other goals and a lot more he’s set to achieve.
I’m thankful for this opportunity to “work” with such a close friend shooting videos, interviews, writing articles, marketing, selling, planing events and trips for different fights. It didn’t feel like work at all it just felt like something I needed to do for a friend. I’ve always been passionate about writing, Al gave me a platform to do that and I value this time and opportunity. It’s been a hell of a ride and only the end of a chapter. There’s a lot more of the story to be told. I appreciate everyone reading and checking in here throughout all these years. To Iaquinta Nation, the town of Wantagh, family, friends thank you, and I know Al thanks you for all the support and love throughout the years. It may be goodbye to fighting, but Raging Al isn’t going anywhere. Congratulations on an outstanding career, and thank you for always keeping it real.
Very well said Matt. Thank you Al Iaquinta for all you gave us fans.