Al Iaquinta’s run to next Friday’s Ultimate Finale has already made him a marquee name in the Long Island MMA community. A victory over Mike Chiesa will rank him among the best in the region, despite only seven pro fights entering the competition.
Iaquinta (5-1-1 MMA, 0-0 UFC) is in a position to become only the second Long Island native to win a six-figure contract from the UFC. His trainer and mentor, Matt Serra won TUF 4: The Comeback, and he parlayed that into one of the biggest upsets in the sport’s history when he stopped Georges St. Pierre in 2007 to become UFC welterweight champion. Last season, Dennis Bermudez (Lindenhurst, N.Y.) was a runner up in the featherweight division.Once Iaquinta fought his way into the house for the first season of live fighting, he emerged as an early favorite when Urijah Faber made him his No. 1 selection. He didn’t disappoint either, earning wins over Myles Jury (decision) and Andy Ogle (TKO) – and looked great doing it. In the semifinals, Iaquinta survived a game Vinc Pichel to take a unanimous-decision victory in a fight that arguably could have reached a sudden-death third round.
“I couldn’t have done it without a great team, great roommates,” Iaquinta said. “Everyone really helped me out. The coaching staff was just awesome. Everything was a dream come true. When I left, I didn’t know what I was getting myself into. Now I have the toughest fight of my life ahead of me, and I’m ready for it.”
If Iaquinta finds a way to beat Chiesa, unbeaten in seven MMA fights and the feel-good story of the season, it’s another major feather in the cap for Long Island MMA. Serra, of course, is the region’s most famous fighter. Phil Baroni (Massapequa) was a rising star early last decade and has competed around the world. Bermudez nearly defeated eventual TUF 14 Diego Brandao and scored an impressive unanimous decision win over Pablo Garza at UFC on FOX 3 in East Rutherford, N.J. Gian Villante (Bellmore) has won his last three, the latest over Derrick Mehmen on May 19. And there’s Chris Weidman, 8-0 (4-0 in the UFC) and set to headline his first show, UFC on FUEL 4 against Mark Munoz on July 11.
Throughout the just-concluded TUF season, Iaquinta – to borrow a famous Teddy Roosevelt phrase – spoke softly, but carried a big stick. In fact, he’s been a silent assassin, an indomitable force inside the Octagon who is up for Knockout of the Season.
I’ll throw in a third cliche: Iaquinta, the immovable object, will contend with Chiesa, the irresistible force. Chiesa’s father passed away early in the season, but he stayed on and earned his way to the finals when he slammed James Vick, and ground and pounded for the TKO win. The pain of losing his dad isn’t going away anytime soon, but secondary to the contract, Chiesa is fighting to honor a greater power.
“I feel great. It has been quite a journey. A lot of ups and downs, but I feel like I’ve earned my spot in the finale and I’m very excited to seize the moment,” Chiesa said.
He has, and so has Iaquinta. It makes for a compelling finale to complement an intriguing main event of Jake Ellenberger vs. Martin Kampann.
Thanks to Al Gattullo and the gang from SportShouting Radio for having me on as a guest Wednesday night. I broke down UFC 146 and shared my prediction for Junior Dos Santos’ heavyweight title defense against Frank Mir. Click here to listen. My appearance begins around the 48-minute mark.
Follow Jon Lane on Twitter: @JonLaneNYC