Al Iaquinta's roller-coaster road to UFC Fight Night 71 ended in disappointment on Monday. After losing original opponent Bobby Green to injury, Iaquinta abruptly lost his replacement opponent when former Strikeforce champion Gilbert Melendez was forcibly removed from the July 15 event due to a failed drug test, leaving Iaquinta without a dance partner, and thus, off of UFC Fight Night 71 entirely.
"I don't know what I want to do. I want to break something. I want to slam my head on the desk again. I don't know. I'm just disappointed. I can't describe it, man," Iaquinta said on The MMA Hour shortly after learning of the news.
"I was ready to go. It was a perfect fight for me stylistically. I brought in guys who really had a good style and I've been doing great with the sparring, so it's just, I don't know, I'm just frustrated right now, man. I'm real frustrated."
Melendez tested positive for "exogenous origin of testosterone metabolites" in the aftermath of a narrow loss to Eddie Alvarez at UFC 188. The test marked the first drug failure of Melendez's career, and drew the 33-year-old a one-year suspension retroactive to the June 13 pay-per-view.
While Melendez took ownership of the situation in a statement released by the UFC, it did little to curb the disappointment felt by Iaquinta, as the New Yorker not only lost out on a potentially career-changing opportunity against a perennial top-five ranked lightweight, but also lost the chance to fight at UFC Fight Night 71 at all.
"I don't know what to make of it, because he's the last guy you expect (to fail a drug test)," Iaquinta said.
"I had nothing but respect for him going into this fight. If he's manning up and he's going to take it on the chin that way, I have nothing for respect for him. It's just, I don't know. If you're going to cheat, you're going to get caught, I guess."
To make matters worse for Iaquinta, it could be a while before he's seen in the cage again. The 28-year-old forged his current four-fight win streak while dealing with an injured right knee, and now that his shot at Melendez is off the table, the time to address the injury may be at hand.
"I had a knee surgery, it was actually right after The Ultimate Fighter," Iaquinta said. "It never really healed right, and it's just been getting worse and worse every fight. I've just been putting it off, putting it off, and now it's kind of affecting my left (knee), so I'm compensating for it. I've been getting through it, and for a fight like Gilbert Melendez, I was pushing through it. But to go into another fight not at 100-percent, I think I'm just going to get it looked at, get it set up with a good doctor and get it fixed. It's a sign, I think."
The problem stems from loose cartilage lodged behind Iaquinta's right patella. Doctors have told the lightweight that the injury could be severe enough to be a career-ender if he elects to undergo surgery. Iaquinta, though, hopes to find an alternative treatment that would ready him for a return to the cage later this year.
"They've been telling me to stick it out, stick it out," Iaquinta acknowledged. "Because you don't know what'll have to be done if they do the surgery and how you'll feel after, if you'll have a full range of motion. I don't know. I've been battling with this for a while, so I think now is the time I've got to get this thing fixed up. I've been seeing good doctors, but they've got to be able to do something."