Al Iaquinta Had a Feeling He’d Be Fighting Khabib Nurmagomedov

By Nathan Zur Apr 10, 2018


It seems that Al Iaquinta is quite the psychic.

In the aftermath of Conor McGregor’s crazy attack on the bus carrying the fighters for UFC 223 media day, Iaquinta had a feeling he’d be fighting the man McGregor was after, Khabib Nurmagomedov.

Originally, the 30-year-old New Yorker had signed to fight Paul Felder in a lightweight bout at UFC 223.

Iaquinta appeared on “The MMA Hour” to discuss the events that transpired over the days leading up to the event and the emotional rollercoaster ride he went on.

“When that happened, Khabib was there, and they were sitting right behind us, and I just felt, like, a weird, it was weird, like ‘I’m going to fight this guy one day,’” Iaquinta said. “It was a weird, I’m not going to be too jokey about this whole thing, I don’t want to get friendly about it, because I feel like we’re going to fight one day.”

“That was just the craziest weekend, that was just insane,” Iaquinta said.” I still don’t know what the f*ck happened.”

Iaquinta in essence did his job; he weighed in at 155.2 pounds and was ready to face Felder at lightweight.

“I weighed in, I was eating, drinking. Paul Felder, he was sitting to the right,” Iaquinta said. “He was sitting to where he could see me, but I couldn’t see him, I would have to make it obvious to turn to see him. So I was eating and I felt like he kept looking over at me. That was the guy I was thinking about, I was thinking about fighting him, you know what I mean? Then I left, I went up to hotel room and I was just laying down.”

At that time, “Ragin Al” found out that the New York State Athletic Commission had made an executive decision to pull Nurmagomedov’s opponent from the fight, UFC featherweight champion Max Holloway, who had only accepted the fight six days before the event and was rumoured to be fairly overweight when he signed on the dotted line.

“Someone said ‘Max is out,’ and immediately I called my manager and said ‘what’s going on?’” Iaquinta said. “And he said [Anthony] Pettis and [manager] Dave Martin kept in touch with them the whole time. I just kept following it on social media to see what latest was, forget this, I’m going downstairs, and I chased Sean Shelby around the hotel room. He didn’t want to even look to at me at first. I think he was mad at me for some other stuff. And then I just stayed on him. I let him know I was down to fight.”

UFC President Dana White has said on multiple occasions in the past that he respects fighters who actually come out and say they want to fight. Iaquinta did exactly that and it seemed to pay off as he got the nod ahead of both Pettis and Felder. Although there was one point of contention, he had to weigh exactly or below the 155 pound limit to be eligible for a championship bout.

As with all fighters after they weigh in, they rehydrate their bodies, which is exactly what Iaquinta did, so there was no way at this point he could shed the required weight. That was until the UFC asked him to bring down the underwear that he wore when he weighed in at 155.2 pounds.

“They asked me to come down with my underwear, and I know that was a good sign, so I grabbed my underwear and I went down and they weighed it. It was funny, I went down there and I went into the room and they were all looking at me, I pulled out the underwear and waved it like a flag and they were hoping it said .2. The scale said .2 and, so they said, the commission, I don’t know what the deal what that was, I don’t know why it wasn’t a title fight.”

The NYSAC didn’t bend the rules and stated they would not recognize Iaquinta as the champion if he managed to beat Nurmagomedov as he officially weighed in 0.2 pounds above the limit. Once this was decided there was just the small matter of money to deal with. For a main event, there are clauses in contracts to have a percentage of the pay-per-view taken into consideration.

Iaquinta has publically mocked the UFC and what they pay their fighters in the past, although as time was of the essence and the fact he was given this opportunity he gave full control to his manager to handle the finances to allow him to 100 percent focus on the fight.

Iaquinta definitely saw a rise in his usual fight pay but he didn’t go into specifics on how much it was although he was happy with the outcome.

“I definitely got a bump,” Iaquinta said. “There’s a time for negotiating and holding out and then there’s go time. That was an opportunity that was brought to me, it was just go time. I told my manager, Dave, you take care of it, my trust is in you. Let me know after the fact. I don’t even want to think about it, I just want to think about fighting this guy. I just said let’s go. ... For that everything was good, I really had a great week with the UFC, they really treated me well.”

While it would have been a huge upset for the New Yorker if he had managed to beat the undefeated Dagestani, it wasn’t meant to be. Iaquinta gave a good account of himself inside the Octagon on the biggest night of his career and is still pinching himself on what happened.

“I’m still sitting here like, I can’t sleep, I haven’t slept, I’m delirious,” he said.

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