One of this weekend’s biggest winners was Long Island’s Al Iaquinta, who went to Sydney, Australia for UFC Fight Night 55 and TKO’d betting favorite Ross Pearson in the co-main event. For Iaquinta, in his first big step up in competition, it played out like a moment of arrival. Not only did he hold his own on the feet against the deft striker Pearson, he dropped "The Real Deal" with a counter left hook that signaled the beginning of the end for the Brit.
The fight was stopped moments later as "Raging Al" pouring it on.
Iaquinta Skyped into The MMA Hour on Monday from Byron Bay, Australia, just south of the Gold Coast, where he was still basking in the glow of his victory. When asked if he envisioned being able to take out Pearson on the feet like that, Iaquinta said there was more than a hunch that he could.
"It was definitely one of the scenarios that played out in my head," he told host Ariel Helwani. "I’d think about the fight constantly leading up and I’d go through getting beat up for two rounds and having to come back and win…all these different scenarios, and one of them was definitely going out there and just having a flawless performance. You know, not taking too much damage, just sticking and moving, good footwork, doing everything that we game-planned and went over in practice.
"It was really just like a sparring match. One of our guys, Jonny Bonilla-Bowman, he’s got a style that’s similar, but he puts a lot more pressure on. So this was actually a little bit less stressful of a fight than going through a sparring session with that guy."
With the victory, the 27-year old Iaquinta (10-3-1) made it two in a row after being shocked by Mitch Clarke in May at UFC 173. He rebounded from that loss against Rodrigo Damm at UFC Fight Night 50 at Foxwoods in Connecticut this past September, and now has scored a pair of victories in two months. Overall Iaquinta’s won five of six since placing as the runner-up on The Ultimate Fighter 15, when he lost to Michael Chiesa via rear naked choke.
Iaquinta traveled with the bulk of his teammates from the Serra-Longo gym, including middleweight champion Chris Weidman and upstart Aljamain Sterling, who was slated to fight Frankie Saenz at UFC FN 55 as well (which was cancelled when Saenz withdrew and no replacement could be found).
It just so happened that Iaquinta’s breakout performance with Pearson occurred on a historical night in which all 11 fights on the card ended in finishes -- including the main event, in which Luke Rockhold finished Michael Bisping via guillotine in the second round. It's the first time a card has played out like that since 2007.
And even before the event, much of the attention went towards Bisping and Rockhold, who had an ongoing feud. When asked if it bothered him that the headlining act stole so much of the spotlight, Iaquinta said he actually didn't mind at all.
"I was enjoying it I guess, kind of letting the main event take all the attention," he said. "It was my first time fighting in such a big -- or any kind of -- profile fight. So have it a little bit of both ways was good I think. I got to fight in front of the big crowd. [There] wasn’t too much behind it, so I was kind of just doing my own thing."
What did bother Iaquinta was the fact that he pulled off an upset, in fairly spectacular fashion, and it still wasn’t good enough for an end-of-the-night bonus. Not with the kinds of finishes going on in Sydney.
"Yeah, I was pretty pissed man," he said. "I think any other card, a fight like that, coming in and being the underdog, getting a win the way I got it…but, it is what it is, you know?"