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Al Iaquinta happy with choice not to fight Justin Gaethje, says he’s ‘given up’ on UFC getting behind him

Esther Lin, MMA Fighting

Al Iaquinta was supposed to be in Nebraska this week, doing media and cutting weight in preparation for a main event fight with Justin Gaethje at UFC Lincoln.

Instead, he’ll be home on Long Island, N.Y., likely wearing flip flops and trying to get out to the beach, which is 10 minutes from his place. That’s a net win, Iaquinta told MMA Fighting.

“Raging Al” said he’s comfortable with his decision to rest his injured shoulder and not fight Gaethje. He was initially scheduled for the card, but James Vick will replace him in the headliner Saturday. Iaquinta said the money he made selling houses — his other job — this summer was comparable to what his show purse would have been at UFC Lincoln.

“Basically, in the time that I would have trained for that fight, I made as much money selling real estate,” Iaquinta said. “So, it’s not a money thing. I enjoyed my summer. I wasn’t going to bed injured every night, I wasn’t waking up with a sore neck. I didn’t have to worry about Justin Gaethje’s crazy ass. I’m doing what I want to do. If they made it worth it for me, I would have. I’m making my show money in that amount of time when these deals close out. It’s crazy that a real estate agent on Long Island can make their show money for headlining a five-round fight against a top-six, top-seven guy in the world.”

Iaquinta, 31, said he injured his shoulder at UFC 223 against Khabib Nurmagomedov in April and he felt rushed into the Gaethje fight. He also doesn’t think Gaethje should be fighting, coming off two straight knockout losses in the last eight months.

“I was almost like, you’re not looking out for me and you’re not looking out for Gaethje,” Iaquinta said. “The guy just got pummeled his last three fights. You’re not looking out for him, you don’t care about me, because you didn’t even ask me how I’m feeling. They called me that night of the fight and a couple weeks later they offered me another fight.”

The key for Iaquinta right now, he said, is fighting when he wants to and training when he wants to. He doesn’t have to do it — he has the real-estate gig to fall back on and that is thriving. Most importantly, his quality of life is better, Iaquinta said.

“The rest of the fighters, they all would have taken the fight, you know what I mean?” he said. “They all would have taken it and they would have had to push through the injury. I was like, you know what? F*ck this. I’m gonna make just as much money walking around, meeting people selling real estate. I’m making great connections with people like me — my kind of people. It’s a beautiful thing.

“So, my friends are buying houses. It’s just so much better. I had such a great time. The last two months of my life were just so much better. So much more stress free. And I made just as much money. Could I have fought Gaethje and got something? It really doesn’t matter. Shots come and go. It’s not even about winning and losing. I don’t know. The more I think about it, the more frustrated I get.”

Iaquinta (13-4-1) took the fight with Nurmagomedov on a day’s notice. Tony Ferguson was Khabib Nurmagomedov’s initial opponent at UFC 223 in a lightweight title fight, but he pulled out due to an injury just one week before the event. Max Holloway, the UFC’s featherweight champion, stepped in, but he was unable to make the weight on such short notice and was pulled by doctors.

Iaquinta would have fought Paul Felder on the card, but he accepted the Nurmagomedov bout. He said the UFC gave him $250,000 to fight Nurmagomedov, but he believes it would have been more — with bonuses added in — during the UFC era led by the Fertitta brothers. Iaquinta ended up losing by unanimous decision.

“I earned every penny I got and I’m not complaining about it,” Iaquinta said. “But … I think back a couple years ago it would have been a lot more.”

Now, Iaquinta feels like he’s in a position where he doesn’t have to fight, but he wants to. He said he’d like to get back in the Octagon before the end of the year, against someone like Ferguson, Anthony Pettis or Kevin Lee. But it has to make sense for him.

“I’ve wanted to fight forever, but it’s not gonna be at my expense,” Iaquinta said. “It’s gonna have to be an asset for me to fight.”

In his mind, life is too good right now and his real-estate job is going so well that he doesn’t need to force anything. It’s still summertime on Long Island and the sand and the waves are never too far away.

“I’m training, I’m having fun in the gym,” Iaquinta said. “I’m training when I want to train. I’m getting better when I want to get better. I don’t have to do anything. Am I missing out on opportunities? Maybe. It’s too much stress. I’m having fun with my life now. I’ve given up on the UFC getting behind me. So I’m just getting behind myself.”

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