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Al Iaquinta willing to walk away from MMA if dispute with UFC remains unsettled

Al Iaquinta is out of his fight against Thiago Alves at UFC 205, and there is a chance Iaquinta could be done with the UFC for good.

Iaquinta revealed Monday that he pulled out of the Nov. 12 contest in his home state of New York due to a dispute over his UFC contract. Iaquinta said that after spending 17 months shelved by injuries, he couldn't afford to risk another health scare on the terms of his present contract, which was signed prior to the UFC-Reebok deal, and in the case of a loss, would effectively have him "fighting at Madison Square Garden for free."

"There's a lot things that have changed since I signed the contract, and for me to go in there and risk my health, risk everything that you risk when you go into a cage fight, I just said, ‘look, I can't do it,'" Iaquinta explained Monday on The MMA Hour. "'We've got to ask for more money. Maybe we can negotiate something.' My manager told me there's probably not a good chance of that happening, so I said, ‘you know what, I can't do it. Financially, I can't fight for this purse.'

"If I win the fight and they take taxes out and I pay my trainers, I make okay money. Okay. For fighting in a cage, I don't know about it. God forbid, I don't win the fight, (after) taxes, trainers, all the expenses, everything that goes into a training camp, I'm basically fighting at Madison Square Garden for free. It's just unreasonable. So I asked him to reach out to the UFC, and from what he tells me there was no consideration of a negotiation whatsoever."

Iaquinta, 29, is currently the No. 13 ranked lightweight on the UFC's media-generated rankings. The native New Yorker has fought nine times in the UFC since entering the promotion in 2012 as a finalist on The Ultimate Fighter 15. He has won seven of those nines appearances, punctuated by a split decision victory over Jorge Masvidal in his most recent outing in April 2015.

The victory over Masvidal marked the first bout on a new four-fight deal with the UFC for Iaquinta, and took place before the Reebok deal dramatically altered the UFC sponsorship landscape. Iaquinta was then slated to compete at UFC Fight Night 71, however the match-up was scrapped when both Bobby Green and Gilbert Melendez fell through as opponents, and Iaquinta instead elected to seek treatment on a severe knee injury that he suffered while competing on TUF 15.

What followed was a process that Iaquinta likened to a nightmare. After a meeting with Dr. Riley Williams at the Hospital for Special Surgery in New York, Iaquinta requested to have a procedure called an osteochondral allograft to repair his injured knee. Iaquinta said UFC doctors instead insisted on stem cell injections to repair the damage, although after a near half-year process, Iaqunita's injury remained unchanged and he again pushed to have surgery with Dr. Williams.

Iaquinta said the UFC initially offered to cover $15,000 of the procedure, which costs upwards of $60,000, not including the price of extensive post-surgery physical therapy. The UFC ultimately paid the full cost of the procedure, however there was an extended period when Iaquinta believed his mixed martial arts career may actually be over. That experience, coupled with the fact that his monthly income from sponsors was suddenly zeroed due to the UFC-Reebok partnership, left Iaquinta with a meager income and forced the fighter to find a full-time job as a real estate agent just to make ends meet.

"That just changed my outlook on everything," Iaquinta said. "God forbid, I take this fight, $26,000, I win, I lose, whatever happens. Say I get hurt somehow, I got nothing. I'd have to take off time from my clients, I'd have to take off time with the real estate that I'm learning. I kind of got myself in a groove. To stop that, to take a fight where I could be risking everything, it's just not worth it for the amount of money that they're going to pay me.

"It would be great to say that I fought at Madison Square Garden, but after a while, you're just saying that. There's nothing to show for it. And that's basically why I took the stance that I took, and it's a tough one because there's nothing I'd love to do more than fight at Madison Square Garden. But I feel like, to not even have a negotiation, and the things I heard (UFC matchmaker) Joe Silva say to my manager about me when he asked just to negotiate, ‘eff him, eff this' -- who is he to put a price tag on what my life is worth, on what my knee is worth? I've had two knee surgeries already. I may have to have to have another one after nine more fights.

"Am I going to be able to walk? Am I going to be able to live and enjoy life? And for him to say, ‘eff you, eff this, I'll cut him. Is he retired?' ... Maybe we don't see eye-to-eye, and maybe I'm not worth what I am, but for you to say, ‘eff this, eff that' -- you've never stepped in the cage. You don't know what my body feels like after a fight, what my body will feel like down the line. So for a company like the UFC to talk to me like that, to talk about me like that, it just doesn't sit right with me. I think it could've been resolved a whole different way. I think we could've gone about it a whole different way. I don't know. It's just frustrating."

Iaquinta also pointed to several other factors that helped play a part in his stand, including the decision by the UFC to ban him from receiving post-fight bonuses for his next three fights.

That situation arose earlier this year, when an ill Iaquinta requested to skip a fighter summit in Las Vegas five weeks out from his bout against Green, then posted a picture on social media from a beach near his house in the days afterward. UFC officials informed him the following day that he would no longer be eligible for bonuses for his next three fights. The UFC declined to comment on Iaquinta's claims when reached Monday.

Iaquinta ended up losing further money on the situation when Green's replacement, Melendez, was pulled from the bout due to a failed drug test less than two weeks out from fight night, leaving Iaquinta without even his show purse.

"We'll go out to dinner with a bunch of fighters or whatever, and everyone sits around the table and everyone is talking about the Reebok deal, talking about how they're losing money, how it's tough to get by," Iaquinta said. "To get a good training camp, you've got to bring people in. You've got to pay. You've got to do this and do that. I flew people in for the Gilbert Melendez fight. He got pulled for what he got pulled for, and here I am, and they don't give me any of my show money. Nine days before the fight. Some guys get their show money, some don't. For some reason, I didn't. So it's tough."

When asked straight up if he is prepared to not compete again in the UFC if things remain the way they are, Iaquinta said that he was, stating that "it's just not worth it" and acknowledging that the past 17 months, and the treatment he has recieved throughout from the UFC, has left him disillusioned.

"I love fighting for the UFC. It's the best organization in the world with the best fighters in the world," Iaquinta said. "There's nothing I enjoyed more than fighting. When I hurt my knee and I thought my career was over, that was a hard, hard time for me. Because I do, there's nothing I like more than fighting. But there's nothing I like more than standing up for what I think is right, and what I think I've earned. I've earned more than that. I've earned a discussion.

"I've earned the right to ask and not be cursed at and put down. I feel like them paying for my knee surgery was almost (viewed) like a gift, like they went above and beyond to pay for it -- where it's like, I hurt myself fighting for not a lot of money. I fought on The Ultimate Fighter to get to the UFC, where you're going to make all that money, in the UFC. And then I get to the UFC and it's like, I'm still fighting to get that next contract, where that next contract is awesome. And then I fight, I beat Ross Pearson, I beat Joe Lauzon. These guys are tough guys. These are big-name guys in the UFC, and I'm like wow, I made it. I did it. We're going to renegotiate and I'm going to make money.

"Then they come back with what they came back with and I was like, oh sh*t, that's nowhere what I thought I was going to be making. And it's the same thing, it's, ‘you know what, you should just sign the contract, stay in the good graces of the UFC and win three more fights, or win four more fights, and then you sign the big one.' In a perfect world, I would've done that two years ago, but I got injured. So you're not getting paid on what you do. You're getting paid on what you can do, and for a lot of guys, that doesn't happen. They never reach that point."

Iaquinta added that he is more than willing to revisit the discussion if the UFC wishes, however he isn't counting on that happening, and as things stand now, he is reluctantly looking at a future in real estate rather than living out his dream and fighting at UFC 205.

"I'm not even really thinking about that," Iaquinta said. "I just don't even care anymore. When they weren't going to pay for my surgery, I thought my career was over, so I made terms with that at that time. So I'm like a guy, I just really don't even care. I could take it or leave it. It is what it is. I would love to fight at Madison Square Garden. It doesn't seem like they have any want to negotiate at all, so I'm not going to sit and cry about it. I'm going to move on with my life. If there is a negotiation, that's great, we can talk about it. But I'm not banking on that, by no means."

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