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Al Iaquinta is no stranger to the grind. Even though he signed up to fight Dan Hooker in part so he could spend some time “Down Under,” he’s hardly on a working holiday. After his co-main event goes down in front of an estimated 60,000 people in Melbourne’s Marvel Stadium, he’ll be jumping back on a plane to attend a real estate seminar in Hawaii, and then back to his life as a realtor in Long Island, New York.
Talking to Sherdog.com at UFC 243 media day, “Raging Al” reflected on juggling his business and his fighting career, his continuing interest in fighter unionization and the state of the lightweight division.
“It’s stressful for sure,” he said of managing properties while also maintaining the training schedule of an elite athlete. “I put a lot of pressure on myself. But I’m getting the hang of it. I’ve got people that help me out when I have to go away, and they really cover [for me]. The biggest thing is that the people I work with, all my close friends and family, selling houses. I just want to make sure that I’m not dropping the ball for them. I have really good people around me, on the MMA side and on the real estate side, that make everything possible and easy to succeed in both.
“One of my friends is doing a seminar in Hawaii and I’m gonna try and make it out there [next week]” he continued. “I’m not really thinking about after the fight right now, I’m just thinking about the fight.”
The fight is one with serious implications for the lightweight division, with the 6th-ranked Iaquinta meeting the 15th ranked Hooker on the main card of Oceania’s biggest ever MMA event. A win would effectively secure Iaquinta’s place in the upper echelon in the weight class and put him within striking distance of a rematch against Khabib Nurmagomedov; a defeat would likely set him back considerably.
“I pay attention [to the rest of the division],” Iaquinta said. “I’m a fan of the sport as much as I’m a fighter. I pay attention to how things are going to play out and everything. But right now, as far as a fighter, I’m just focused on Sunday morning. That’s really all that matters right now.
“I was the one that called the UFC to fight,” he elaborated when asked about whether he’d taken exception to claims by Hooker that he had originally declined the fight back in August. “[His comments] just didn’t make sense to me. I don’t know… maybe they were telling him something else. On my side, it was fine the whole time.”
Iaquinta may be playing the part of company man this weekend by jumping into enemy territory to fight a man nine places behind him in the lightweight pecking order, however few could forget his role in Project Spearhead 18 months ago. The organization, geared towards securing fighter authorization cards and eventually approaching the National Labor Relations Board to unionize, ultimately fell flat. But Iaquinta -- who admits he’s kept up with the UFC antitrust hearings -- is hardly calling time on his organizing days.
“I’ve followed the [antitrust suit] a little, I’ve been keeping up with it,” Iaquinta said when asked about the subject. “I do think that it would be beneficial for the fighters and for the UFC if fighters unionised. In the long run, I think it would better for everybody. I’m following it closely, and we’ll see how it plays out.
“I think it was a good idea that was just missing a little something,” he elaborated when asked to success on Project Spearhead. “We’ll see how everything plays out in the future, but I think that all the intentions were in the right place. I think it just didn’t have… there was just something missing. A lot of the fighters, they’re just willing to take what they’re given. I think it’s unfortunate that’s that what they do, and that’s why something like Project Spearhead didn’t work. I mean I’m still standing up for myself right now. I think that that’s all I can do at this point.”
Jacob Debets is a law graduate and writer from Melbourne, Australia. He is currently writing a book analyzing the economics and politics of the MMA industry. You can view more of his writing at jacobdebets.com.