Just before he packs his bags and heads off to become a contestant for the first season of The Ultimate Fighter to be broadcast live on FX, one of Long Island’s best unsigned prospects, Al Iaquinta, isn’t feeling any butterflies. Earlier this week, Iaquinta’s participation in the reality show’s first live season was officially announced. Even though he is entering uncharted territory with Fox, live television, and his own career, Iaquinta said in an exclusive interview with The Fight Nerd.com that his big ambitions make the first steps seem small.
â€œTo be honest, I’m not really feeling too much pressure at all,â€ said Iaquinta. â€œI know that they picked 32 of the best unsigned guys out there. And that it’s an honor to get this far. But it’s just not good enough. I’m going to the house to win. I am going to win the show.â€
Originally hailing from Wantagh, New York, Iaquinta spent his entire professional MMA career in one of the east coast’s most successful feeder organizations to the UFC, Ring of Combat. At the RoC, he became notorious with local fans for a fight series with fellow prospect Gabriel Miglioli, the first of which was touted as the best fight the promotion ever put on. Iaquinta felt the fan response both during and after the fights.
â€œEveryone was [congratulating me], especially after the first one [against Miglioli], which was such a war,â€ Iaquinta reflected. â€œEveryone likes a war. I mean, I like the fights that were quick and easy. But it’s good to give the fans what they want…. The energy in the room was intense. In the third round when we were absolutely exhausted the crowd was going [nuts] and that energy gave me an extra push.â€
After the jump, Iaquinta talks the Miglioli rematch, the TUF coaches, his first loss and his fellow contestants.
Iaquinta ended up winning the battle by a tight split decision, out-pointing Miglioli with a slightly more technical game. The popularity of the fight prompted an immediate rematch, which Iaquinta unexpectedly ran away with, scoring a TKO victory just 26 seconds in to the very first round. Iaquinta felt that chance was actually the biggest difference maker in the sequel.
â€œThe second fight could have easily turned out like the first one,â€ he said. â€œI threw a kick that caught him in the eye. He backed up thinking the ref was going to stop it, but [the ref] didn’t and I pounced on him. If he would have slipped his head out of the way it could have been another war. He’s a very tough guy.â€
Now a staple in regional MMA fighting, Iaquinta will get his shot at the national spotlight as a contestant on TUF. The coaches for the upcoming season are bitter rivals and MMA superstars Dominic Cruz and Uriah Faber, who will fight once again for the UFC bantamweight title at the end of the season. Both Cruz and Faber have unique styles and, with team selection done after the first elimination round, Iaquinta could potentially end up under the tutelage of either in his time on the show.
While some fighters come in with an idea of which team they would like to be on, Iaquinta is approaching the coaches with an empty cup.
â€œI really have no preference,â€ Iaquinta said about the coaches. â€œI think they both bring some cool things to the table. For them to get to where they are in the sport they have to have some really good people around them. And they’ll both be bringing their coaching staff along with them. It’ll be cool to work with all those people. I’m just eager to learn.â€
The selected contestants on each season of The Ultimate Fighter are a fiercely kept secret up until the official announcements are made. While Iaquinta knew of his own part in the cast long before hand, he’s only had a little more warning than the general public as to who the rest of the competition is going to be. After checking up on the field, Iaquinta knew he was in for a â€œwar of a tournament.â€
â€œThere’s not really an easy fight,â€ said Iaquinta. â€œPretty much everyone has a solid record. I know that, in the past, some guys were brought in because of their personality. But it doesn’t look like that happened at all, here.â€
Enterting the show, Iaquinta is coming off of his first professional loss to former UFC competitor Pat â€œAwesomely Awesomeâ€ Audinwood. Iaquinta was submitted in the first round, marking simultaneously his first defeat and the first time he’s ever been finished. The Long Islander felt that the problem against Audinwood was his mental state.
â€œI felt a way that I never really felt before,â€ Iaquinta said. â€œI kind of froze up for a second as he was getting that arm bar. My defense is good. I know the escape and I’ve [gotten away] when some really good guys have tried to arm bar me.â€
Iaquinta feels that since the loss he has had time to evaluate his preparation and feels his mind is much stronger as he heads in to the biggest opportunity of his career, thus far.
As a regional fighter, Iaquinta is able to compete largely due to the sponsorship support of local businesses. He took time out to thank Long Island institutions such as B&B Sheet Metal and Flyware. He made special mention of his long-time sponsor and Massapequa-based bar, McCann’s Pub, who will be holding a special event to watch the live premiere of the new TUF season on March 9.