On April 7, 2007, Matt Serra shocked the world with a first-round knockout of UFC welterweight champion Georges St-Pierre. Tomorrow night, eleven years to the day from the greatest upset in UFC history, a young man coached by Serra, Al Iaquinta, will look to perform a similar feat when he takes on unbeaten juggernaut Khabib Nurmagomedov in the main event of UFC 223 at Barclays Center in Brooklyn.
It’s the perfect storyline to cap off what was an imperfect week for the UFC 223 card, but Iaquinta isn’t putting too much credence in fate. He’s planning on letting his fists handle the outcome against “The Eagle.”
“Crazy things happen,” said Iaquinta Friday afternoon, just hours after he replaced Max Holloway in the main event. “It happened to be on this day and it's working out well for me so far. I just gotta go out there and get it done.”
On Friday morning, Iaquinta weighed in at 155.2 pounds for his bout against Paul Felder. Soon after, it was announced that Holloway was not going to be allowed to continue cutting weight, and he was pulled from the fight. For the next several hours, it was a waiting game to see if Nurmagomedov would get an opponent to fight him. Felder and Anthony Pettis were in the discussion, but ultimately, the call went to Long Island’s Iaquinta, who will not be eligible to win the lightweight belt thanks to New York State regulations that prevent a fighter from fighting for a title if they come in over the weight class limit.
Nurmagomedov clocked in at 154.5 pounds, and while he does get to fight for the belt, it hasn’t been an easy road to fight night for the Dagestan native, who has gone through two official opponents (Tony Ferguson, Holloway) in six days before finally getting Iaquinta. But he hasn’t lost his focus on the ultimate goal.
“How am I gonna watch my fans’ eyes if I’m gonna say this is not a good stylistic matchup for me,” he said. “I want to become UFC champion. If I cannot beat Iaquinta, Pettis or Felder, how can I convince (them)? I have a different mentality. I am born from crazy mountains. I grew up with a very tough life. How am I gonna say this is not a good matchup for me?”
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Even without the belt, that’s the talk of a champion, and Nurmagomedov is determined to make it official on Saturday.
“When you are ready, you have to fight,” he said. “It was a crazy week for me. But you cannot teach your heart or mental (game). You have to be born with this.”
Nurmagomedov has that heart of a fighter. So does Iaquinta. Now all that’s left is the fight.
“I come in here, I've got nothing to lose,” said Iaquinta. “I'm focused on going out there and just having fun. There's no pressure on my back. Go out there, do what I love to do.”