With talks between the two sides at a standstill, it is unclear whether Al Iaquinta will ever fight for the UFC again. But if he does, the lightweight contender and New York native will have to compete at least three more times before he is eligible for the UFC's customary post-fight bonus program. And according to Iaquinta, the decision is apparently intended to serve as punishment for a disagreement that arose between him and the UFC earlier this year ahead of his scheduled fight at UFC Fight Night 71.
"They took the bonuses away from me," Iaquinta said Monday on The MMA Hour. "Before the Gilbert Melendez (fight), it was supposed to be Bobby Green. I was supposed to fight Bobby Green, and it was like five or six weeks before that fight, there was a fighter summit in Las Vegas. I'm just getting into training camp, I'm just starting to really start pushing hard, and I got sick.
"My immune system was rundown. So I called the UFC and I told them, ‘I got this fight coming up. I don't feel good, I'm sick. Is it cool if I stay home and train?' In my head I'm thinking, I'm not getting paid to go out there. I'm going to get paid to fight, you would think they want me healthy and good to fight. So they said, ‘well we do these summits every couple months. Stay home. You'll come to the next one.' So I was like alright, cool.
"A couple days later, I posted a picture of myself. I just posted a picture that I was at the beach. Now, the beach is five minutes (away). It's my backyard. Basically, I was in my backyard. And I get a text message from, I didn't know who (UFC director of athlete development) James Kimball was at the time, but he texted me and he's like, ‘I thought you were sick. What are you doing at the beach?' So I'm like, dude, what is this? I felt like I was cutting class. Listen, I got a fight in five weeks. I'm relaxing between training sessions. There's a guy trying to kill me in six weeks. Relax, I'll go to the next one."
Iaquinta, 29, said that things then escalated the following day when he received a phone call from UFC executives Dave Sholler and Reed Harris.
"They're like, ‘well, you can't win a bonus. This is your punishment, you can't win a bonus,'" Iaquinta said. "... I explained everything. I said, ‘listen, I've got a fight coming up. I was sick. I went to the beach between training sessions. What does that have to do with anything? You said that they do these every month, I could go to the next one. Who cares? I don't understand what the big problem is.' And at the end of the phone call, I laid it all out there, and they're just like, ‘you know what? Nah. Punishment still stands. Three fights, you can't win a bonus. Three fights, no bonus.'
"That's potentially $150,000, or even more, and you're going to take that away from me because I missed (a summit)? They said it was a three-strike rule. I guess now there's a three-strike rule? Basically, there was no due (process). I didn't go before a committee. I didn't get to explain my case. It was just like, ‘you got loud with James Kimball because he reprimanded you about going to the beach, so now you can't win a bonus for three fights.' And that really stuck with me. I don't know. That they could do that, really was just, I don't know, it disgusted me. It was like, why do I even want to do this? Do I even really want to do this anymore?"
A UFC spokesperson declined to comment on Iaquinta's claims.
The situation is just one of many factors that led Iaquinta to withdraw from his Nov. 12 bout against Thiago Alves at UFC 205. In a wide-ranging interview, Iaquinta pointed to numerous issues he had with the UFC over his 17-month layoff, stating that the UFC initially declined to cover the full cost of his recent knee surgery and that UFC matchmaker Joe Silva scoffed when asked if Iaquinta could renegotiate his UFC contract -- a contract which was agreed upon before the UFC-Reebok deal and could effectively have Iaquinta "fighting at Madison Square Garden for free" due to the lack of meaningful sponsorship income after expenses.
But through it all, the UFC's seemingly arbitrary decision to ban Iaquinta from receiving post-fight bonuses for three consecutive fights was one of the factors that irked Iaquinta the most, and the former TUF 15 finalist threw his support behind the creation of a fighters union like the one being spearheaded by longtime baseball agent Jeff Boras.
"There's got to be some representation for the fighters," Iaquinta said. "There's really not. You saw what happened. If they don't like you, they can do whatever."
For now, the standoff with the UFC has forced Iaquinta to seek a full-time career in real estate, and he indicated on Monday that he is willing to leave behind his burgeoning career as a mixed martial artist if things don't change.
Iaquinta, a member of the Northeast's distinguished Serra-Longo Fight Team, also said that his sentiments are shared by many of his peers; it's just that many of them they are simply unable to act due to their own personal circumstances.
"I'll go to the fights and everyone sits around the table and it's just depressing," Iaquinta said. "It's just like, ‘blah blah blah, I'm not getting this, I can't believe now we're not getting sponsorships, I can't believe now they're going to do this to me, I can't believe I'm not...' And no one does anything, so nothing is going to get done. Everyone just takes what they can get and hopes that they'll win three fights, hopes they'll knock everyone out, hopes that the UFC is going to like them and then they'll be able to sign that new contract, and when they sign the new contract it's going to be all good.
"But that very, very rarely happens to a lot of guys, and there's a lot of guys who are very beat up. They're struggling, and it's tough. A lot of people, they have families, they have kids, and they have to fight for the money. But I don't have to do that. I don't have any of those things right now, so honestly, I'm cool with just moving by the beach and just chilling on the sand. That's all I need. I don't need a lot. I don't have the kids. I don't have the family, so I can afford to take this stance."