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Fighter on Fighter: Breaking down UFC Fight Night 151’s Al Iaquinta

The country’s fiercest real estate worker, Al Iaquinta, will look at advance closer to a title shot opposite longtime contender, Donald Cerrone, this Saturday (May 4, 2019) at UFC Fight Night 151 from inside Canadian Tire Centre in Ottawa, Ontario, Canada.

If we’re being completely honest, Iaquinta’s rise to become an elite Lightweight surprised me. The Ultimate Fighter (TUF) veteran has always shown potential, but taking two years off to sell houses and returning to knock out Diego Sanchez is hardly the classic route to a title shot. Iaquinta showed his toughness in the short-notice showdown with Khabib Nurmagomedov, but it’s not like his toughness was ever in question.

All signs seemed to point to Kevin Lee adding another loss to his record, but no one told “Raging Al.” Instead of being victim to his foe’s vaunted wrestling, the New Yorker pushed the pace, landed hard punches, and finished his five-round fight with “The Phenom” by chasing him around the Octagon and socking him up.

Now, after the biggest win of his career, Iaquinta will look to to prove himself once more. Let’s take a closer look at Iaquinta’s skill set.

Striking

Iaquinta is a fighter in love with his right hand. Whether thrown as a straight, overhand, or most often, as something of a right hook around the guard, Iaquinta is frequently trying to club his opponent upside the head with his right. Obsession with the right aside, Iaquinta is a smart pocket boxer with some sneaky kicks and a general flair for creativity.

Iaquinta is very often seen walking opponents down in an attempt to enter the pocket. When closing the distance, the Ray Longo-trained boxer does very nice work with his left hand. He commonly doubles or triples up with his lead hand, working his way forward behind a trio of jabs or jab-hook. Often, Iaquinta will also go to the body with his jab or left hook, allowing him to lower his level and load up the right hand a bit more. While moving forward behind his lead hand, Iaquinta is sure to actively feint.

Body work makes up a decent portion of Iaquinta’s offense. Aside from the body jab and occasional double hook going low-to-high, Iaquinta commonly digs that right hook to the mid-section as well. The benefits are numerous; aside from what I already mentioned about loading the right, dropping down to hit the mid-section can also help Iaquinta avoid punches and is always valuable in getting his foe’s hands to drop.

Once in the pocket, Iaquinta is looking to shift his weight into a cross (GIF). Iaquinta does a number of things better than the average puncher in regards to the cross, like adjusting his angle on the punch based on his opponent’s guard and keeping his weight back to load the punch while advancing. One of the most important concepts for Iaquinta is getting his head off the center line while throwing the right, a helpful habit that is the topic of this week’s technique highlight.

Another common trait of Iaquinta is to post his left on his opponent’s guard. From this positioning, Iaquinta can get a good read on his opponent’s reaction and potential offense. Plus, if he’s close enough to place his left hand on the forearm, he’s close enough to starting clubbing with his right.

Any fighter who relies on his right hand as frequently as Iaquinta does should have a hard right low kick as well. The double threat of the right hand-right kick is generally not as devastating as the Southpaw equivalent, but the reasoning is similar enough. If an opponent is covering up tight or leaning back to avoid the right, his lead leg is available to be kicked. Even better, if Iaquinta can convince his opponent to raise their leg to check, there’s no better time to punch someone in the face than as they stand on one foot.

While Iaquinta had trouble landing many punches on Jorge Masvidal, the low kick did land with good consistency as a result of the boxer’s stance and head movement.

Speaking of the bout with Masvidal, that fight really showcased Iaquinta’s creativity. I won’t pretend that I believe Iaquinta deserved to won that decision, but his smarts kept things close. With Masvidal picking him apart in the pocket — which is usually Iaquinta’s wheelhouse — the real estate agent improvised.

For one, Iaquinta would tie kicks together in combination. In one example, Iaquinta threw a right low kick then stepped that foot down into a left high kick. In another, Iaquinta smacked the inside of Masvidal’s thigh with a quick left kick before immediately digging into the mid-section with a left snap kick.

At distance, Iaquinta was also took more of an MMA approach to his movement and entries than his usual boxing-centric approach. Rather than move straight in behind the lead hand, Iaquinta was more willing the dart off the center line and try to take angles on Masvidal.

Finally, while Iaquinta was completely unsuccessful with his single leg takedown attempts in that bout, he did build off them with punches. Often, Iaquinta would reach down, touch the lead leg, and fire his right. At one point, he even tried a leg touch into an upward elbow and follow up punches. In his last bout with Lee, Iaquinta surprised the wrestling by being will to shoot and strike off the break despite Lee’s apparent wrestling edge.

Wrestling

A high school and junior college wrestler, Iaquinta has largely used his wrestling in reverse outside of the occasional single leg takedown and threat of the shot. Iaquinta is not impossible to takedown, but he managed to stuff a fair amount of shots from both Lee and Nurmagomedov, which is impressive work.

Against both of those dominating wrestlers, Iaquinta did a very good job of mitigating damage while working back to his feet. He was quick to turn his back — and did expose himself to back mount from Lee in the process — but Iaquinta fought hands very well and never allowed his opponents to tee off on him. Constantly fighting to hold down an opponent who is turning away and hand-fighting properly is exhausting for both men, meaning Iaquinta was able to make future takedowns more difficult without getting battered.

Once Nurmagomedov and Lee were more fatigued, Iaquinta’s defense did deny a number of shots. On the whole, Iaquinta found most of his success by denying the initial entry with a the MMA equivalent of a wrestling down block: dropping one hand down to defend and kicking the targeted leg back. If Nurmagomedov did manage to grasp the leg through the down block, Iaquinta did his damnedest to limp leg out and flee from the shot. Meanwhile, when Lee shot (which was oddly rare), Iaquinta made sure to drop down and match his level, doing his utmost to prevent Lee from locking his hands on the double.

Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu

A student of Matt Serra, Iaquinta is not helpless on the mat nor is he the most active offensive grappler. Really, the one offensive movement he continually returns to is the scissor sweep into a heel hook, which is actually quite unique. The best situation for its use is the one he faced against Kevin Lee the first time around: denying a single leg takedown. While bouncing on one foot, Iaquinta will place a hand on the mat and use it to momentarily hold himself up as his other leg swings around and trips up his foe. This immediately places Iaquinta in position to attack the trapped leg (GIF).

Additionally, Iaquinta attempted to heel hook Jorge Masvidal twice. The first time it was actually quite helpful, as Iaquinta used a knee reap to buy himself a few seconds after being stunned by punches. The second example was less useful, as Iaquinta attempted to jump forward and wrap up the leg from range — very difficult to pull off.

Defensively, it does have to be mentioned that Iaquinta has been tapped out in three of four losses and was nearly strangled by Lee as well. The near sub by Lee and rear naked choke defeat to Chiesa are understandable: those two Light/Welterweights specialize in being giant and cranking on necks. The other UFC loss was a miracle submission from Mitch Clarke, a man Iaquinta was thoroughly pummeling before he pulled off a spinning d’arce choke from the bottom. That’s a rather rare submission, one that is extremely effective if the top grappler is unaware of the threat.

Conclusion

Iaquinta’s game is not the most complicated or complex, but mixed martial arts (MMA) constantly rewards simplicity and fundamentals when paired with great toughness and conditioning. Opposite Cerrone, Iaquinta will face a man with more tools and experience, but if Iaquinta can manage range and score with his right hand, the momentum is likely as ever to shift into his favor.


Andrew Richardson, a Brazilian jiu-jitsu brown belt, is a professional fighter who trains at Team Alpha Male in Sacramento, California. In addition to learning alongside world-class talent, Andrew has scouted opponents and developed winning strategies for several of the sport’s most elite fighters.