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Al Iaquinta readying for a ‘round-and-a-half of absolute hell’ against Justin Gaethje

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After a slight bump in the road due to negotiations, Al Iaquinta is set to return to the cage Aug. 25 when he takes on fellow lightweight contender Justin Gaethje in the main event of UFC Lincoln. And after watching Gaethje string together three ridiculous ‘Fight of the Year’ contenders to kick off his Octagon career, Iaquina knows exactly what he is signing up for if he wants to defeat the former WSOF champion.

“We got a tough task ahead of us,” Iaquinta said Monday on The MMA Hour. “Justin Gaethje is no joke. That guy is about a round-and-a-half of hell. I gotta be ready for a round-and-a-half of absolute hell, then he starts slowing down about midway through the second round. But holy sh*t, that first round. We gotta sit, we gotta talk with (coach) Ray (Longo), get a gameplan going. This is good.

“He needs time off. That’s another advantage for me. He needs a break. I’ve had a break. I’ve been on break. I’m good, you know? Took a couple weeks off after Khabib (Nurmagomedov) just to head up everything, but, I don’t know, I think it’s not a good fight for him. I don’t think it’s a good one for him. I don’t know, take a little time, take a little time to relax [your] chin. I don’t know, you need time. He needs time.”

Iaquinta, 31, and Gaethje, 29, fought within a week of each other this past April. Iaquinta suffered a unanimous decision loss to Khabib Nurmaogmedov on just one day’s notice at UFC 223 following a bizarre series of events that thrust the New Yorker into an impromptu main event against the man who currently holds the UFC lightweight title. Exactly one week later, Gaethje lost a thrilling war of attrition against Dustin Poirier at UFC on FOX 29, faltering via fourth-round TKO in one of the year’s best fights.

For Gaethje, the performance marked a second straight loss after the Arizona native began his career a perfect 18-0. And Iaquinta is confident that Gaethje’s staunch belief in his pressure-heavy, forever-walk-forward style will be his undoing, just as it was against Poirier and Eddie Alvarez in his past two UFC fights.

“I think [his style has] come back to haunt him more in the UFC than not,” Iaquinta said. “That’s like a coin toss of a style. You just go kamikaze, let’s go. I think I’m just more tactical, more gamplan-oriented. I just feel like, I don’t know — I don’t know if there’s a gameplan going into his fights. Does his coach talk to him about a gameplan, like, ‘This is what you’re going to do?’ Because he does the same thing every fight. There’s no difference compared to the opponents he fights, so it’s just, you’ve got to make little adjustments.

“At this level, there has to be those little adjustments. That’s the adjustment that Eddie Alvarez made, that’s the adjustment that Dustin Poirier made. You make adjustments at this level, you’re gonna win, and you’ve got to make the right adjustments at the right time. He’s got to realize. And he’s not learning anything between those fights and these fights. So I’ve gotta just show that I’m on that level. I’m better than that. I’m way better than that. So I think it’s perfect. It’s a perfect fight.”

For Iaquinta, the meeting with Gaethje at UFC Lincoln will signify the first time since 2015 that “Ragin’ Al” has fought more than once in a calendar year. Much of that time spent on the sidelines has been the result of Iaquinta’s often frayed relationship with the UFC, in particular his relationship with UFC president Dana White.

Iaquinta’s disagreements with White nearly affected the Gaethje fight as well, as White publicly put the kibosh on the deal by declaring Iaquinta to be “absolutely 100-percent out of that fight” just days before the matchup was agreed upon. But according to Iaquinta, that hold-up was simply a matter of negotiations gone public.

“I wasn’t even looking to fight,” Iaquinta said. “I was like whatever, I fought, maybe I was thinking they’d want me to fight in November at the MSG card or something. But apparently after the Khabib [fight], I’m in high demand, and with high demand comes a pay raise.

“We had a few things that needed to be worked out, they got worked out, so now the fight’s on.”

Iaquinta said that although his remained on his same UFC contract, he ultimately was able to negotiate a few concessions from the promotion for his main event against Gaethje.

“Little bit. I got a little bit,” Iaquinta said. “They made adjustments to the contract. I knocked a fight off my contract and they bumped me up a little bit, so it was as if I won the Khabib fight, and next fight there will be one fight left on my contract. I’m happy about that. It’ll be good. And this is a big fight. This is a perfect for me to really show where I’m at. I took that last fight on a day’s notice. I think with more time to think about it, prepare for it physically, mentally, to train for five rounds — this time I’m going to be training for five rounds, and it’s an opponent that I think, his whole career he’s just been so crazy, go-ahead, nuts.

“He fights like a freaking tough guy, but you know what? It comes to a point where you can’t do that anymore. Not saying that he can’t anymore. He will. He’s gonna. Like I said, it’s gonna be a round-and-a-half that’s just outta control, but I think it’s a good fight at the right time. I think it’s good. I think we’re right where we want to be. This is what I want to do, man. This is where I want to be: Main event, Justin Gaethje, guy is tough as nails but he’s not unbeatable. He’s 1-2 in the UFC, so I think it’s — everyone’s gonna see where I’m at. I’m gonna make it look better than Eddie Alvarez and Dustin Poirier did, absolutely.”