It’s been a long time coming, but Al Iaquinta’s return to the Octagon couldn’t be under more ideal circumstances.
After what turned into a frustratingly difficult time away, caused by surgeries and simply the need to reset, Iaquinta gets to make his return under the bright lights of Madison Square Garden: “The Mecca,” as he puts it, of combat sports.
“As a fighter, in general, but especially as a New Yorker who grew up taking the Long Island Railroad to the Garden, to finally be able to fight there...it’s a dream come true, really. The coolest thing ever,” Iaquinta said with the same glimmer he likely had in his eye the first time he ever stepped foot in Madison Square Garden as a kid. “The arena that so many of the greats have walked out in and competed at and I’m looking forward to getting it done and getting my hand raised on Saturday.”
As he prepares to take the stage for what will be his 15th fight under the UFC banner, the 34-year-old is ready to put the challenges of the past 25 months behind him.
“It was really difficult dealing with the mental side of not being able to train, not being able to fight. It’s what I love to do,” the Long Island native said. “I just kind of stayed positive, tried every day to do something positive, and tried to work in the right direction every day.”
It’s a goal that was made a little easier by training alongside UFC bantamweight champion Aljamain Sterling and surging 135-pound contender Merab Dvalishvili. The three have been training together for nearly three years and having someone waiting on him to attend each training session and assist with each camp is what made this layoff less daunting to return from for Iaquinta.
“I just kind of got back in the groove quicker since I've been working with the same guys this whole time,” he said, noting that his camp ahead of UFC 268: Usman vs Covington 2 felt like any other fight camp. “I’ve had layoffs in my career; I’m kind of like a psycho where I’m very active for a few years, and then I go on a layoff for a year or two, but I don’t think it really affects me negatively like it does other fighters. Instead, I like the time off to re-energize and refocus.”
Only time will tell what the “Raging” Al who enters the Octagon to take on fellow UFC veteran Bobby Green looks like, but he’s ready for the challenge that lies in the 35-year-old from the left coast.
“He’s definitely a very unique fighter. He’s one of one. He’s got a style I don’t think very many people can mimic,” Iaquinta said. “He’s a great wrestler, has a very good scrambling ability if you take him down. He’s also a really good boxer, but a boxer in the sense that it’s a unique style. He’s got his hands down at his waist, he’s got great head movement, he’s very elusive and he’s in great shape. I think he’s turned a corner in his career and he’s definitely a more mature fighter than he’s ever been. I’m looking forward to figuring out the puzzle that is Bobby Green.”
As Iaquinta tries to put together the pieces that make up Bobby Green inside 15 minutes, he does so with the confidence backed by his Octagon time and the work he’s put in over the last two years. And despite both lightweights attempting to break their two-fight skids, Iaquinta rests assured heading into Saturday night thanks to the strength of his schedule throughout his career.
“You never wanna be in the loss column, but I think my level of competition in my last two fights have been tougher than him,” Iaquinta explained. “My losses were two years ago, his were pretty recent. So I have a pretty recent picture as to what his skills are right now.
“The past two years, I’ve evolved as a fighter and as a person. I’m going to be way more mature in there, way more experienced, and I think that’s going to really be the difference. We both have lost to tough guys At this level, I think it’s all about the matchups you get. I think Bobby Green is a great matchup for me; he’s a tough fighter, but a great matchup.”
Regardless of the outcome, this opportunity could be once-in-a-lifetime for the roster mainstay of the Serra-Longo Fight Team, so we can be sure that Iaquinta will leave it all in the Octagon Saturday night. After all, it’s a homecoming for Iaquinta — both figuratively and literally.
Don't miss a single strike of UFC 268: Usman vs Covington 2, live from Madison Square Garden in New York City on ESPN+ on November 6, 2021. Prelims begin at 6pm ET/3pm PT, main card starts at 10pm ET/7pm PT.