Heading into the fourth round of his lightweight main event bout with Kevin Lee at UFC on Fox 31, Al Iaquinta was behind on the scorecards and heading for defeat.
But a stern bollocking from his coaches Ray Longo and Matt Serra lit a fire under the New Yorker’s arse, who went out and produced two thrilling rounds of action to turn the tables and claim a unanimous decision win on the scorecards.
Iaquinta took the win with scores of 48-47, 48-47 and 49-46 as he forced himself into the lightweight title picture with a superb victory.
But, perhaps realising an immediate title shot is unrealistic after he lost a short-notice bout to Khabib Nurmagomedov for the vacant title at UFC 223 in Brooklyn earlier this year, Iaquinta instead turned the his attention to the Russian’s most recent victim, Irish superstar Conor McGregor.
“If Conor thinks he’s getting a rematch before me I think that’s some nonsense,” he said after the bout.
I think I’m the guy he’s gotta get through if he wants a rematch – I’m the guy.
“There’s no rematch for him. He tapped out. I took it like a man on a week’s notice. He had all the time in the world to prepare and he wanted a way out. So I’m the f*****g guy in this division.”
— UFC (@ufc) December 16, 2018
Lee was also hoping to force himself into title contention with a win, and was clearly shocked to lose out on the scorecards after dominating the middle rounds.
“There’s not many times I’m left speechless like this. I thought I had the first three rounds, for sure,” he admitted after the contest.
“Al gave me a great fight. He won the first one. If the judges say he won this one I can’t do nothing but take my hat off to him. He showed up tonight, he put on a great fight. I appreciate him.”
But despite Lee being the pre-fight favourite, it was Iaquinta who advances up the lightweight ladder. And the New Yorker, who is now fully back in the UFC fold after a two-year hiatus from the sport from 2015 to 2017, says he’s a match for anyone at 155lbs when coming in fully prepared for a fight.
“With the right preparation and the right fight I can beat anyone in the lightweight division.”
Barboza the Beast
Brazilian striker Edson Barboza showed just why he’s considered one of the best pure strikers in the UFC and an all round beast with a comprehensive demolition of New Zealand contender Dan Hooker in the night’s co-main event. Hooker headed into the contest in a rich vein of form, and looked to take the fight to the experienced Brazilian right from the off, as he stood in the pocked and landed solid shots on Barboza from the start of the first round.
But Barboza quickly settled and began to punish the Kiwi, with those trademark devastating leg kicks reducing Hooker’s movement and solid punches and knees scoring well at close range.
Hooker steadfastly stayed in the pocket, looking to break down the Brazilian, but Barboza’s power ultimately proved too much as he hammered the Kiwi to the body and finally stopped his man in the third round.
Easy Night for Font
UFC flyweight contender Sergio Pettis’ move up to bantamweight didn’t go too well for him, being well beaten by the experienced 135-pound contender Rob Font.
Font controlled the contest throughout the fight, using his superior reach to good effect as he kept Pettis at arm’s length for much of the contest to run out a clear winner on the scorecards with scores of 30-27 on all three scorecards. Easy night’s work for Font.
Oliveira Exacts revenge on Jim
Charles Oliveira earned revenge against his old foe Jim Miller and extended his incredible submission record in the opening main card bout of the night.
Oliveira lost by first-round submission to Miller eight years ago, but reversed that result in Milwaukee, submitting the American in just 75 seconds to pick up the win.
His submission victory not only earned Oliveira his win bonus, it also saw him claim the 13th win of his UFC career of which 12 have now come via submission. That 12th tapout victory extended the record he already owned as he showed the world why he’s one of the most dangerous fighters in the UFC on the ground.