It’s been nearly five years since Al Iaquinta handed Kevin Lee a loss in his UFC debut but he doesn’t expect much to change in their rematch.
On Saturday night in the final UFC on FOX card from Milwaukee, Iaquinta will face Lee in the main event with the winner undoubtedly positioning themselves for a top five fight in 2019 as well as entering potential title contention.
While Iaquinta already holds a victory over Lee from their first meeting, he didn’t blink when the UFC came calling to ask him to accept a rematch on Dec. 15 card.
“It’s definitely a fight that’s been a long time coming,” Iaquinta told MMAWeekly. “We’ve been going back and forth at each other as far as poking at each other. We’ve also been going back and forth in terms of the rankings. I won a bunch of fights, I became ranked and he was calling me out. Then he got ranked higher than me, I was calling him out.
“It seemed like this is the perfect time for that fight to happen.”
Now it’s safe to assume that both Iaquinta and Lee have evolved since their first meeting but there are still some tendencies that likely stay the same.
Lee is a dominant wrestler and Iaquinta is best known for his knockout power and that’s very similar to the first time they clashed back in 2014.
“I do remember him being tough, strong, young and inexperienced,” Iaquinta said about Lee. “I remember him in the back he looked out of place but trying to look tough. He was grilling me kind of amateurish. Kind of new to the game but a young, hungry kid. He’s come a long way. He’s very seasoned now. He’s bigger and stronger now and more experienced now.
“He’s been in there with the top guys but I still think it’s a great fight for me. I think I can make it look great.”
Over the past couple of years, Lee has made a rapid rise up the lightweight rankings with a string of impressive performances capped off with his fifth round TKO against Edson Barboza earlier this year. Lee has shown a strong arsenal of weapons while earning his spot in the top five in the lightweight division but there’s no doubt that his wrestling remains his biggest strength.
The former Division II college standout has landed takedowns in 12 of 13 fights in the UFC and he has the second most ground strikes landed in UFC lightweight history behind only champion Khabib Nurmagomedov.
Despite those impressive credentials, Iaquinta says he’s definitely not afraid of Lee’s wrestling or if his game plan is centered around grappling.
“I’ve been wrestling my whole life,” Iaquinta said. “As long as I do what I’m supposed to do, I’ll be fine. I stopped all of his takedowns the last time I fought him. He took me down one time, he timed a good takedown when I got a little over confident and I threw a big haymaker and he timed it well and took me down. I don’t see that happening again. If it does, I have plenty of weapons on the ground that no one has seen. I showed a couple of them in the first fight with him but I was inexperienced as far as submissions off my back.
“I don’t want to end up there but if I do, I’m looking forward to some techniques that I’ve been working on to get him.”
As comfortable as Iaquinta might be on the ground, he says that Lee won’t be nearly as confident if this fight stays standing.
Iaquinta is well known for his knockout power and he knows the last thing Lee wants to do is spend five rounds attempting to show off his kickboxing skills.
“He’s very outmatched with his striking,” Iaquinta said. “He’s very stiff on his feet. He’s not smooth. It’s not something that you can really fix. He’s got a long reach that can kind of cover for the mistakes that he makes but I’ve fought against the best of the best.
“I’m just on another level as far as the striking. I think mentally I’m on a different level.”
All in all, Iaquinta loves everything about this rematch because he believes deep down he can beat Lee anywhere and a second win over him will put him back within striking distance to another title shot.
“I think I’m better than him everywhere,” Iaquinta stated. “He might be bigger and stronger but the longer this fight goes, the better it is for me. Technically, I think I’m just way more sound than he is. I’m a veteran. I’ve put in the time, I’ve put in the work.
“It’s going to be a great night for me.”