Jorge Masvidal fights Al Iaquinta at lightweight in the co-main event of UFC Fight Night: Mendes vs. Lamas on April 4, 2015 at the Patriot Center in Fairfax, Virginia.
Cuba tough fights Long Island tough
Kimbo's protege whisperer meets Serra Longo Fight Team
"Raging" Al Iaquinta
Jorge "Gamebred" Masvidal
History lesson / introduction to the fighters
Phil: Iaquinta was the talented but boring favourite for his season of TUF, the straight man to what would becoming the stirring upset win of Michael Chiesa. Since then, Iaquinta has approximately mirrored the path of another talented fighter who lost in a TUF final, namely Michael Johnson, who has punctuated thrilling displays of high-level striking with headscratching submission losses. Like Johnson, Iaquinta seems to have ironed some of the kinks out, and is now on a string of knockout finishes.
Not only has he announced himself as a fighter to watch in-cage, I think we're getting the impression that he's a lot more... interesting than he first appeared to be. After his win over Joe Lauzon, upset at a lack of bonus money, he deadpanned about how he was "...going to Mexico. Gonna learn Spanish. All the senoritas are gonna love me. It's gonna be good," then subsequently burgled multiple bottles of vodka from backstage, drank himself silly, and trashed his hotel room.
Together with this post-fight photo with Ross Pearson where he's holding what appears to be (what else?) a Long Island Ice Tea I have a suspicion that the nick "Raging Al" isn't a reference to his fighting style, but is a sly joke which is deliberately missing the syllables "-coholic."
David: Not only that but he's propped up by the strange brew brilliance of Serra Longo Fight Team; an exclusive club that seems to produce heady pugilism all the way from Long Island. Michael Johnson is a good comparison though; two fighters who experience the hiccups with too much regularity, but are damn near elite.
Phil: Jorge Masvidal has been everywhere. He started out street fighting in Florida as a yout', but since then he's been from the US to Japan, and back again. He's lost to Rodrigo Damm by TKO and headkicked Yves Edwards. Getting tapped out by inverted triangle back in the earliest days of Bellator went viral, and did its fair share in actually getting Bellator's name out there. He lost to Raphael freaking Assuncao back in 2005! He fought for the Strikeforce belt.
All of this would imply that Masvidal is some kind of well-worn journeyman, bringing a close to a storied career on the biggest stage, but that couldn't be further from the truth. He's looked like he's absolutely in his prime, blending together mean-spirited viciousness, athleticism and technique.
David: I think I mention this only once every other syllable when talking about Masvidal, but that TKO loss to Damm was legitimately the dumbest referee stoppage I've seen, right on par with Eduardo Herby's massive brain rip in the Dober vs. Silva fight in Brazil. It was the striking equivalent of Dober vs. Silva basically.
But yea, Masvidal is well traveled. Not too many fighters can claim a punch chain linked experience from Japan all the way to Kimbo's BBQ pit.
What are the stakes?
Phil: Man, I love this fight. It's got this awesome, anachronistic vibe to it. Not in the popular sense of "outdated" but literally in the sense that I could totally imagine these guys fighting in a different life. Some dockside bar in the 1930s, where a bunch of Long Island sailors drunkenly start getting into it with a collection of Cubans. Eventually the two groups draw back and each side sends out their very best street fighter. They roll up their sleeves and put up their dukes.
David: It's definitely got character. Like some jingoistic action movie director who wanted to make a movie about how Americans really did kick some communist ass during the Bay of Pigs, and it was decided by a New York father of three with a purple heart. These two would have been cast for the part to be sure. Although unlike the Russians of the 80's, or the Persians of the 90's, Cubans never got their own bad guy fad (?).
Where do they want it?
Phil: Both fighters do their best work moving forward, putting volume on their opponents. Masvidal has a crisp, snapping jab and a very sharp body kick that he used to great effect on Daron Cruickshank. In general he's a whipcrack puncher who stings and hurts rather than knocks down or out.
Gamebred fights tall, which is normally poison for any kind of defensive wrestling ability, yet is still extraordinarily difficult to take down. This speaks to one of the best things about this fight- that it's a contest of "technical balance", where both men have innately superb control of their own relationship with gravity. This extends to the clinch, where Masvidal throws quick knees as well as slapping elbows without losing his poise at all. On the mat he's a viciously opportunistic submission threat, and like many tall fighters favours the front headlock and D'Arce series. When he uses it, he has an excellent offensive wrestling game. Essentially Masvidal is good to great in every area. That he is only just about ranked in the Top 15 tells you just how deep lightweight is (and also that he's been given a string of unranked opponents).
David: Masvidal definitely brings a 'street tough' element to the proceedings. But not in that pom pom Scarface way. Rather, in an understated Manolo way. He never breaks out into a full scale brawl, but the things he does aggressively he also does quietly. He's also one of the best fighters I've seen at timing his knees. Standing knees seem like a lost art sometimes. I get that you don't want to give up the takedown, but fighters are so much more adept at sweeping, and getting back to their feet that you would think it's a decent trade off.
Phil: Raging Al has developed into something of a special boxer. He's one of the very few fighters who can efficiently throw combinations in MMA. His weight transfer, which smoothly rolls through his body, but never passes over his front foot to overbalance him, and then slides back to set up his next punch almost immediately, is as good as you'll see in the sport. He works thundering body and head work with equal aplomb.
I've heard complaints that he's "hittable" but this honestly makes very little sense to me. The surge of effective combination punching and the compression of the space in which MMA striking is being effectively contested means that being unhittable is no longer the attainable goal it once was when people were jousting with single jabs and overhand rights from as far away as possible. You're going to get hit in modern MMA. You just are. Does Iaquinta get hit cleanly? No, and he hits his opponents cleanly and hard.
David: I think what observers mean when they say "hittable" is that he doesn't squeeze his head around his arms like he's a 2nd grader in timeout. 'Hands around your head' is how MMA fans often think of effective defense, which simply isn't the case. Iaquinta understands that in MMA, your best weapon against getting hit is not how much surface area you can cover your head with, but how much movement you can generate. Al is lights out shuffling, and moving laterally.
His 'bad defense' comes from things that have less to do with his fundamentals, like how he doesn't phase shift as much as he should to make his strikes more effective, and standing in the pocket too long. Aside from that, he's one of the more technically sound fighters in the division.
Insight from past fights?
Phil: Masvidal vs Melendez and Khabilov are interesting to me, because they were two examples of someone who could athletically match the modern Masvidal, and his traditional bullying style was forced backwards. Melendez in particular resembles Iaquinta in his fearless pressure boxing, as mentioned by Connor and Patrick in this week's Heavy Hands, and he was able to walk Masvidal down repeatedly.
David: Melendez especially. Masvidal has a tendency to get hit, which is what makes me think Iaquinta has a real shot at winning this fight. Masvidal has such a clean upright striking game, and good defense in general, so it sounds silly. The one TKO loss on his record is functionally bullshit, so he's more than durable. But he gets caught enough in fights where he presumably has the advantage that I think Al can locate the target in this one.
Phil: Masvidal's wrestling game in conjunction with his submission threat is too obvious to really class as an X-factor, but I'll be interested to see if Iaquinta's own wrestling game gets some play, and whether that's a good idea. If we've seen anything from him, it's that he's fearless to a fault.
David: Other than eye pokes, and Eduardo Herby, I don't see anything out of the ordinary affecting the outcome of this bout.
Phil: I've vacillated on this one so much. On the one hand, I think Iaquinta has a power and a technical boxing advantage. In the fight between aggressive punchers, I think he can force Masvidal backwards and maybe even hurt him. However, it also goes against my "no-man's land" rule, which is that if someone can strand the opponent between two areas in which they have an advantage, then it becomes very difficult. In this case, Masvidal is better at both kicking range and in the clinch. In the end, I think for all his incredibly impressive skill, Masvidal still tends to challenge his opponents where they want him to- he's still got that street tough pride. If he challenges Iaquinta to a pressure boxing match, then much like Melendez, I don't think he wins. Al Iaquinta by unanimous decision.
David: Masvidal has never turned that street tough pride into an achilles heel though. If anything, he can be faulted for being sedated rather than savage; as was the case against Evangelista, Palomino, and Kotani. I have a hard time picking Masvidal for this reason, and yet Iaquinta can be prone to questionable tactics as well. Your no man's land rule passes the test in this one, though. Masvidal is too durable to get pasted, and I think he'll threaten enough from afar to not be too confounded by Al's movement. Jorge Masvidal by Decision.