Al Iaquinta’s win over Kevin Lee has re-positioned the Ultimate Fighter: Season 15 finalist as a potential lightweight title challenger once again. Iaquinta missed out on a chance to grab an interim belt when he fell short against Khabib Nurmagomedov for their short notice bout at UFC 223 (and failed to make championship weight).
However, a strong bounce-back over another top ranked opponent has him with his sights firmly set on the other elite talents in his division, and which one of them would most likely lead him back to a rematch with the ‘Eagle.’
“I want to fight anybody ranked above me,” Iaquinta told assembled media at the recent UFC: Dillashaw vs. Cejudo event. “I want to fight Tony Ferguson. I want to fight Conor McGregor. I want to fight Dustin Poirier. And a win over either of those guys will get me that rematch against Khabib – which is something I want to do this year – and have a full training camp, really be prepared. I know that’s a fight that, it would be a lot different the second time around.”
But, while ‘Raging’ Al feels that wins over Poirier or Ferguson would likely do the trick just as well, it sounds like his first choice would be a bout against Conor McGregor. And that preference isn’t just about getting to a belt, or even ‘red panty night’ – as McGregor himself has dubbed the opportunity to fight alongside him (and the money that can bring) – but a chance to test wills and get the kind of legacy win that he could cherish down the road.
“To me, I don’t know. I think... Everyone keeps talking about, ‘It’s the money fight.’” Iaquinta explained. “I don’t even know if it’s... That’s the last thing I’m thinking about. I’m thinking about... There’s so much else. It would be such a great fight. It’d be fun. I’d enjoy the lead-up to that fight and seeing how that goes. I think it’d be fun. It’s something I’ve always wanted. He’s such a popular... Everyone knows who Conor McGregor is. Couple years from now I want to be able to say I fought him and I got a win over him. That’s something that I’ve... I’ve fought a bunch of tough guys in this division — guys tougher. He’s the name, and that’s something that’s big.”
As for why Iaquinta feels he holds the edge over McGregor? There’s no denying the former two-division champion’s skills as a fighter – or as a talker – but Iaquinta sounds sure that deep down, he’s tougher than the ‘Notorious’ Irishman.
“His skills are great,” Iaquinta said, when asked about McGregor’s abilities. “Mental warfare leading up to the fight, you know, he’s the best at it, right? And then he goes in there and he’s dangerous. He’s a great bully. He walks across the cage and just gets right after it. But, a little bit further down the line – a little bit of resistance – and you can see the change just on the looks of his face. You can see it, the moment the momentum switches in a Conor McGregor fight.
“I’ve visualized myself fighting Tony Ferguson. I’ve visualized myself fighting Dustin. I’ve visualized myself fighting Conor. And when I visualize it, that’s what I see. I see him coming across all cocky, coming after me. He’s throwing these shots, then he starts not looking like Conor McGregor. Just like Kevin Lee didn’t look like Kevin Lee. Just like Khabib didn’t look like Khabib. Just like ‘Gamebred’ Masvidal didn’t look like Masvidal. Conor McGregor’s not going to look like himself. And you’re going to see that switch in his face when he realizes that he’s in there with a bad motherfucker and somebody that he’s going to have to kill to get out of there. And I don’t think he’s willing to die. He’s got a lot of money, he’s got a lot of other things going on.
“To put it all on the line in the cage when you’ve got all that stuff?” Iaquinta continued. “I look up to him. I look up to him for what he’s done, but I’ve got something he doesn’t have. And no money can buy that. He’ll just never have it, and I really just hope I get that fight. Because I know what I can do against an opponent like that. I think it’d be very similar to the Kevin Lee fight in a lot of ways.”
Currently though, it appears that the UFC may be leaning toward a fight between McGregor and longtime action favorite, Donald Cerrone. ‘Cowboy’ put together another highlight finish with his win over top prospect Alexander Hernandez in Brooklyn on January 19th. The win served to reintroduce the former title challenger to 155 lbs after a three-year stint at welterweight. After the bout, Cerrone called out McGregor, who accepted his challenge via Twitter.
It’s a guaranteed action bout that has a lot of fan interest and seems to be what both fighters want. If the UFC feels like it’s the best way to get McGregor back in the cage, then Iaquinta my have to keep his sights set on the rest of the lightweight elite for now.