Kevin Lee has a little history with Al Iaquinta. Back in 2014, Lee was fresh off the north american regional fight circuit, just two years into his young career, but with an impressive 7-0 unbeaten record. That’s when the UFC signed him and put the then 21-year-old in the cage against former Ultimate Fighter 15 finalist Al Iaquinta.
Iaquinta wasn’t notably much more experienced than Lee at the time, but - as Lee recently revealed in an interview on the MMA Hour (transcript via MMA Fighting) the Serra-Longo talent still represented a big step up from the competition the ‘Motown Phenom’ had been dominating outside the Octagon.
“That was the first time that I made a big jump up. I was fighting in front of country bars and I didn’t come from another organization like a Bellator or a ONE FC or whatever. I [went from fighting] like in front of 500 people to the Prudential Center, and to be honest, Al was really the first really tough guy that I fought. Everybody before then, they just didn’t give me much challenge. So it was a big learning experience for me. At the time, it was the toughest fight, but I’ve had 12 fights since then, all at a higher level. I’ve fought much tougher guys, and you’re just learning, you learn through that experience. And yeah, maybe my striking defense has gotten a whole lot better, but my offense got a lot better too, so that’s what he’s going to see on Saturday. I’m worried about that offense — I’m gonna put that on him.”
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While Lee wasn’t otherwise quick to dismiss Iaquinta’s skill or danger in the cage, saying that “Al’s a tough guy, I’m not going to take that away from him,” he also added that he hopes this fight will display that he’s been a lot more focused on his career and training lately. After all, to his mind, Iaquinta’s
“I think it’s more he has just changed with time,” Lee said of Iaquinta. “He’s gotten a little bit older. But I’ve had 12 fights since our fight, and he’s only had [seven], and he’s taken years off in there and he’s a real estate agent now. He’s going around, he’s worried about other things. He’s the one that’s doing something else. When we fought the first time, he had so much more experience over me. He had been through The Ultimate Fighter, he had already had three or four fights in the UFC, and now the tables have flipped a little bit. This is what I do full-time and I think that’s what’s really going to show through, is the evolution.”
Eventually, what exactly it is that Lee hopes to show is that the Grand Rapids, Michigan native is still among lightweight’s top contenders, and Iaquinta simply isn’t.
“He’s got some good qualities probably, but we just are two different types of people,” Lee said. “We’ve crossed paths a couple times in these last years, and we’re just two different [people]. He’s that Jersey boy that’s going to get drunk and f*ck up a hotel room, and I just don’t think there’s a — his voice shouldn’t be no bigger than it already is, so I feel like it’s my personal duty to get him up out of there and put him back on the prelims.”
UFC on FOX 31: Lee vs. Iaquinta 2 goes down this Saturday, December 15th in Milwaukee, WI. The card will be headlined by the rematch between top-ranked lightweight contenders. Lightweight fights between Edson Barboza & Dan Hooker and Jim Miller & Charles Oliveira are also set for the main card. Stay tuned to Bloody Elbow for more coverage.