As one of the top contenders in the UFC lightweight division, New York’s Al Iaquinta was watching last weekend’s Khabib Nurmagomedov vs. Dustin Poirier fight very closely. In fact, Iaquinta had some pretty unique insight into this Nurmagomedov vs. Poirier matchup, having battled the former to a decision loss in a short-notice fight in early 2018.
In the end, Nurmagomedov defeated Poirier by submission. With the dust settled, Iaquinta shared his thoughts on the fight on the latest episode of BJPENN.com Radio.
He has some very interesting takeaways.
For one, Iaquinta feels that Poirier was somewhat surprised — even panicked — by Nurmagomedov’s wrestling ability.
“I thought that everything played out the way that I expected, except for the comments in the corner — Dustin’s comments in the corner in between rounds.” Iaquinta said. “It sounded like he was really surprised that he was getting out-wrestled and kind of controlled. I feel like that would’ve been expected. Or even not expected, but just… visualizing that fight, in the lead-up, he would have seen that as a possibility.
“He got out-wrestled in the first round and then in the corner he was like, ‘not a lot of space,'” Iaquinta continued. “Almost like a panic that he wasn’t expecting it. I feel like [being out-wrestled] would’ve been kind of a neutral thing. It’s like, all right, you expected this to happen. Then the second round, he landed some shots, but then the same thing in the corner. He’s saying, ‘he’s all over me. I can’t get him off of me.’ Well, you’re landing shots, so let’s build off that.”
As Al Iaquinta suggests, Poirier did have some success in the fight. In addition to a few solid strikes in the second round, he also briefly threatened with a guillotine choke. Yet Iaquinta suspects it was this failed guillotine attempt that took the final bit of wind out of Poirier’s sails.
Poirier’s tap, after all, was not long thereafter.
“I think that he went for that guillotine, and the guillotine was close — it was tight,” Iaquinta said. “But once Khabib got out of it, I think that was it. The momentum really shifted and there wasn’t too much of a defense for that choke.”
Iaquinta believes we saw something similar when Conor McGregor attempted to dethrone Nurmagomedov. The Irish star was actually able to win around against the champion, but after this brief period of success, he seemed to abruptly deflate and was promptly submitted.
“Same as Conor,” he said. “It’s like they gave that one last effort, you know, Conor won the round prior. And then once he couldn’t get him out of there, it was like that was it. [McGregor was] pretty quick on the tap.”
From here, Nurmagomedov is expected to defend his title against his long-time rival Tony Ferguson. The pair have been scheduled to fight four times previously to no avail, and Iaquinta is hopeful we’ll finally get to witness this incredible lightweight matchup.
“I hope that Ferguson gets that fight and we get to see that fight finally play out,” he said. “I think that’s the fight that really needs to happen, deserves to happen.
“What a great time for the lightweights it is,” Iaquinta added. “Just so many good fights and so many possibilities. I think Ferguson deserves that next shot. I think that he’s very, very dangerous in certain positions, and he’s very good at getting to those positions.”
While Ferguson is widely viewed as the number-one contender at lightweight, there’s also been some discussion about a potential rematch between Nurmagomedov and McGregor. Iaquinta can see it happening, but only for financial reasons.
“The only reason that that fight would happen again is for money,” he said. “I mean it would be a shame if that’s the whole goal of this thing, and it seems that recently it has been.”
Whoever Khabib Nurmagomedov ends up fighting next, Al Iaquinta hopes the champ keeps winning. As the only man to survive to the final bell with Nurmagomedov of late, Iaquinta believes he looks better and better every time the champ finishes somebody like McGregor or Poirier.
“Every fight he fights, I’m rooting for him,” he said. “I hope he keeps winning. And I hope he keeps making me look good and making me look tough.”
As aforementioned, Iaquinta only had a short time to prepare for his fight with Nurmagomedov. We’re talking 24 hours. Despite the brevity of his preparation, he preformed admirably against the undefeated Russian, and would love the opportunity for a rematch with a full training camp.
“I still have a lot of respect for him,” Iaquinta said. “I just think that with a full training camp and the preparation… he hasn’t faced anybody since then with a wrestling pedigree like mine. I grew up wrestling and then transferred over to MMA. I wasn’t one of these guys like a Dustin or Conor that started doing everything else and then tried to learn wrestling.”
What do you think is next for Khabib Nurmagomedov? Do you Al Iaquinta will earn another crack at the champ in the future?
This article first appeared on BJPENN.COM on 9/12/2019.