Al Iaquinta is finally in a good place as he enters the prime of his career.
Following major knee surgery and a very public spat with the UFC over several issues including his contract, the 31-year old New York native was admittedly disgruntled and not very happy with his place in the sport.
Much of that has changed over the past year after Iaquinta was offered a short notice opportunity to face Khabib Nurmagomedov with the lightweight title on the line last April at UFC 223.
While he came up short in his bid to win the title, Iaquinta believes that the UFC truly saw his potential and his worth to the company in that fight, which has led to a much better working relationship with the promotion ever since.
“I needed that for everybody to see what I’m really made of and I put in the work to rise to the occasion in a situation like that,” Iaquinta told MMAWeekly. “I was confident that I was going to go in there and win that fight.
“I was one punch away from really shaking things up. I was thrust into that thing pretty quickly and it’s something I’m focused on getting back and doing it the right way.”
He put on one of his best performances to date with a win over former interim title challenger Kevin Lee in his last fight and now Iaquinta is ready to do the same in his next fight against Donald “Cowboy” Cerrone.
The lightweight showdown will headline the UFC’s return to Ottawa, Ontario, Canada this weekend with Iaquinta ready to make another huge statement with a win.
“I think it puts me right up there,” Iaquinta said when asked what a win over Cerrone does for him. “The division is kind of all over the place but Dustin [Poirier] is said to get the next shot and whoever emerges will probably be after him.”
There may not be a direct path to a title shot in the UFC but Iaquinta definitely feels like he clears a big part of the road ahead with a dominant performance against a former title contender like Cerrone.
“The division is going to shake out until September. It’s going to be whoever emerges, who has dominant performances and who the fans want to see in that spot,” Iaquinta said. “I think the fans respect the body of work I’ve put together over the last couple of years and the way that I handle myself, I think I resonate with the fans.
“I think the UFC is behind me, too. I think the UFC believes in me and I’m a performing member of the squad.”
Now Iaquinta won’t go as far as rooting for one fighter over another but he does believe that Nurmagomedov will retain his championship when he faces Poirier later this year.
Iaquinta admits that his hope is that the undefeated Russian stays that way until they finally have a chance to meet again — this time with more than 24 hours to get ready for the fight.
“I would want to fight Khabib for the title to get that one back,” Iaquinta said. “After a couple dominant wins, it sets up that rematch and I think the first fight wasn’t a good evaluation of my skill set against him and for his to mine. That was just the craziest weekend ever.
“I think we do it again and I’m thinking the outcome is a little different.”