Nearly five years and two extra rounds didn’t change the result as Al Iaquinta earned a second win over Kevin Lee to cap off the final UFC on FOX card on Saturday night from Milwaukee.
A lot has changed for both fighters since they first met back in 2014 when Lee was making his UFC debut and Iaquinta was just two fights removed from his time spent on ‘The Ultimate Fighter’.
But much like the first fight, Iaquinta showed off a strong striking arsenal and good ground defense to take the fight to Lee over all five rounds to earn the unanimous decision victory.
Going into the fight it was expected that Lee would probably try to out wrestle Iaquinta but he didn’t really start looking for the takedown until the second round. Lee seemed like he wanted to show off his striking early but that allowed Iaquinta to settle into more of a rhythm with his boxing combinations where he landed with more regularity.
Lee surged ahead when he finally took the fight to the ground in round two as he planted Iaquinta on the mat, locked on the body triangle and started fishing for the rear naked choke submission.
While it looked like Lee might get the finish, Iaquinta stayed patient and eventually worked his way free so he could restart on the feet in the third round.
As the fight continued, Lee managed press forward with his grappling attacks that allowed him to slow Iaquinta’s boxing combinations and put the New York native on his back foot. Still, Lee couldn’t mount that much damage and he was exerting a lot of energy going for takedowns and then trying to control Iaquinta on the ground.
That led to Iaquinta mounting a comeback in the fourth and fifth rounds as he started putting together his punches in succession with his accuracy really starting to give Lee some problems.
With each passing minute, Iaquinta’s confidence grew with the shots he was landing and Lee was left circling away just trying to find a moment to catch his breath. Iaquinta just never let Lee recover as he started to find his target repeatedly with arguably his best shots of the entire fight.
There were a couple of moments when Lee was definitely on wobbly legs while Iaquinta was in constant pursuit, just pouring on the pressure with a relentless pace and a high volume striking attack.
As the horn sounded, the referee got between the fighters but Iaquinta managed to shout one more time in Lee’s face before returning to his corner to celebrate.
— UFC (@ufc) December 16, 2018
The judges ultimately returned scores of 48-47, 48-47 and 49-46 all in favor of Iaquinta, who gets his second win over Lee and likely a spot in the top five rankings in the lightweight division.
Afterwards, Iaquinta quickly turned his attention to former two-division champion Conor McGregor, who has been asking for a rematch with current lightweight king Khabib Nurmagomedov after falling to him by submission in October.
Iaquinta managed to go all five rounds with Nurmagomedov back in April after accepting the fight on 24 hours notice and he had no problem reminding McGregor of that fact in his post fight speech.
“With the right preparation, with the right fight, I can beat anybody in the lightweight division,” Iaquinta said. “If Conor [McGregor] thinks he’s getting a rematch [with Khabib Nurmagomedov] before me I think that’s some nonsense. I think I’m the guy he’s gotta get through if he wants to get a rematch. I’m the guy. No immediate rematch for him. He tapped out, I took it like a man on a week’s notice.
“He had all the time in the world to prepare and he wanted a way out.”
What a way to end the era.
— UFC (@ufc) December 16, 2018
As for Lee, he was obviously disappointed with the result while feeling that he did enough to win following a strong showing through the first three rounds. As upset as he may have been, Lee still gave Iaquinta credit for a great performance.
“I thought I put up a good fight. It’s not many times I’m left speechless like this. I thought I had the first three rounds for sure,” Lee said. “Al gave me a great fight.”
Iaquinta’s win injects yet another interesting contender into the lightweight division’s top five with several potential matchups awaiting him in 2019. Considering how he looked on Saturday night, it’s likely Iaquinta will be staring down a big fight in his return to action next year.