clock menu more-arrow no yes

Filed under:

Dana White: If Al Iaquinta beats Khabib Nurmagomedov, he’s the ‘champ’

New, comments
Al Iaquinta posing at the UFC 223 ceremonial weigh-ins in Brooklyn, N.Y., on Friday.
Esther Lin, MMA Fighting

Heading into the tail end of one of the most chaotic weeks in UFC history, Dana White decided to throw another curveball into the mix.

Prior to the UFC 25th Anniversary press conference, UFC 223 main event participants Khabib Nurmagomedov and Al Iaquinta were brought on stage to field questions and hype up for their upcoming bout that materialized barely 24 hours before fight night.

Once upon a time, Nurmagomedov was scheduled to fight longtime rival Tony Ferguson on April 6, but that went out the window last week when Ferguson suffered a freak injury that removed him from Saturday’s show at the Barclays Center in Brooklyn.

UFC featherweight champion Max Holloway stepped up on six days’ notice to challenge Nurmagomedov and set up a bout for the lightweight title, but on Friday the New York State Athletic Commission ruled that Holloway’s weight cut left him medically unfit to compete.

Iaquinta, along with scheduled opponent Paul Felder and former champion Anthony Pettis (who lost opponent Michael Chiesa to injury when Chiesa was cut by broken glass during Conor McGregor’s rampage on Thursday) all lobbied for the belt, but it was Iaquinta who was eventually chosen to face Nurmagomedov. However, Iaquinta initially weighed in at 155.2 pounds, 3.2 ounces over championship weight, and it was ruled that only Nurmagomedov would be eligible to claim the title belt with a victory.

At Friday evening’s press conference, White opened up by saying in contrast to the NYSAC’s ruling, Iaquinta will be considered the lightweight champion if he defeats Nurmagomedov.

“The title is on the line,” White said. “As far as the commission goes, Khabib is the one who is eligible for the title, but obviously if ‘Ragin’ Al’ wins this fight, he’s the champ. If you beat the man, you are the man.”

The claim was backed up by White saying that the NYSAC later weighed Iaquinta’s underwear separately and found that it made for the 3.2-ounce difference so he theoretically would have hit 155 on the mark if he had to earlier in the day.

White was asked if he’ll put the title around Iaquinta’s waist in the event that he wins, but he didn’t answer directly, saying that while according to the NYSAC this is still not a title fight, “We as the fans and as fight fans and as the people, know who the champ is if you win the fight.”

“So we’ll see, obviously, if he wins this fight, we’ll figure that out,” he added.

Iaquinta seemed calm in regards to the changing conditions surrounding his fight this weekend and he made sure to let everyone know that he isn’t feeling any pressure.

“I still don’t know what the hell is going on right now,” Iaquinta said. “It’s the opportunity of a lifetime right here. Thank you Khabib for staying in the fight. This is the opportunity I’m looking for. Stay ready, seize the moment, and that’s what I’m going to do.”

Eleven years ago, Iaquinta’s coach Matt Serra found himself on a similar stage. “The Terror” became an unlikely title contender after earning his shot by winning the fourth season of The Ultimate Fighter, and he capitalized on the opportunity by knocking out heavily-favored welterweight champion Georges St-Pierre at UFC 69 in just 3:25 to cap off one of the greatest upsets in MMA history.

That event took place on April 7, the same date on which Iaquinta will step into the cage and attempt to beat Nurmagomodev for the right to be called champion.

Presented with the parallel, Iaquinta shrugged it off.

“Not really,” Iaquinta said, when asked if he was feeling superstitious. “I don’t know. Crazy things happen. It just happened, it happened to be on this day and it’s working out well for me so far. I’ve just got to go out there and get it done.”

The 30-year-old New Yorker didn’t maintain his zen state for the entire question and answer period. When one rowdy fan attempted to rile him up from the crowd, Iaquinta responded in classic ‘Ragin’ fashion.

“‘Who are you?’ Who the f*ck am I?,” Iaquinta shouted back. “Who are you?”