Monday, September 19, 2016

The UFC spent nine years and millions of dollars getting mixed martial arts regulated in New York. A massive return to The Empire State is planned for UFC 205 on November 12, 2016, at Madison Square Garden.

Every New York fighter wants on the card. Wantagh, New York’s Al Iaquinta is on a four-fight win streak and verbally agreed to fight Thiago Alves at UFC 205. However, Iaquinta has not fought since April 4, 2015, due to a knee injury. In July of that year, the UFC mandated Reebok apparel only during fight week.

Iaquinta’s current contract calls for $26,000 to show and $26,000 to win, with another $5,000 in Reebok money. UFC contracts are characteristically for a number of fights across a set time period, but when Iaquinta was out injured, the time was extended.

He is also ineligible for a fight of the night performance bonus in his next three fights, after skipping the yearly fighter’s summit in favor of training for a fight that was five weeks out, and making money as a personal trainer. Iaquinta had cited sickness for his absence, but his social network showed him at the beach. Coupled with wrecking a hotel room after his fight with Joe Lauzon, and cursing on live television after his fight with Jorge Masvidal, the UFC heard him out on a con call and then removed the possibility of a performance bonus for the remainder of his contract.

His last fight, a split decision win over Masvidal, was the first on his four-fight contract. Most of his sponsors left with the Reebok deal, although a couple of key endorsements plus running through his savings kept him afloat for the past 17 months.

When Iaquinta looked over his contract, it no longer made sense to him.

“I got the contract and I was just looking at it for a couple of days,” said Iaquinta to Damon Martin for FOX Sports. “I was like I just can’t sign it. I can’t do it. I felt like it wasn’t right. I talked to my manager, I said listen I really want to fight in New York. There’s nothing I want to do more than fight in New York, but I can’t take a pay cut for this fight.”

“I had a knee surgery coming off ‘The Ultimate Fighter’, which went pretty good and it held up for a while. I fought a bunch of fights, I had eight fights in the UFC since then and towards the end with every fight it was getting worse and worse. Then training for Gilbert Melendez, I was in excruciating pain.”

The UFC covers injuries suffered while training or fighting, but there was some disagreement. On the recommendation of Dr. Riley Williams, Iaquinta wanted cartilage from a cadaver used, while the UFC’s physician recommended stem cell injections.

“Eight weeks later, no good results, I was just as bad as I was before,” said Iaquinta. “I went to see Dr. Riley Williams again and told him what happened and he said ‘let’s just schedule this surgery, put a little pressure and hopefully they’ll pay for it’.”

The UFC ended up covering the $60,000 cost, but only after an extended negotiation.

“I’m fighting for free,” said Iaquinta of his show money. “God forbid I get injured again and I’ve got nothing left because I spent it all on the last injury, keeping my head above water. If anything were to happen, there would be nothing left. It scared me. Even if I do win, I’m going to have to fight again in a couple of months. Am I going to be able to walk up a flight of stairs with my kids when I’m older? Am I going to be able to play with them? Probably not. Is it worth this money? No.

“Before these injuries, I might have fought for $10 but you see things through a different spectrum. I thought my career was over. I got my personal training, I got my real estate license and I’m living comfortably. I don’t need to fight now. If I did take this fight, I would have to stop everything else I was doing and I wouldn’t make money and there’s got to be some stability. After going through the injury, I thought my career was over. My whole perspective changed. I hope people can learn, this kind of thing can happen and I hope they see what happened to me. It can happen. It was definitely a scary scenario.”

Iaquinta still wants to fight, but he is not sure when or where.