NEWARK -- In the 15 minutes lightweights Al Iaquinta and Kevin Lee spent beating each other up inside the Prudential Center, the most important moment happened 19 months earlier.
Saturday night at UFC 169, Iaquinta found himself seconds away from being choked into unconsciousness. The same thing happened to him in the Ultimate Fighter finale in July 2012. Iaquinta lost that night.
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Iaquinta won on this night, though. The Wantagh-based Iaquinta fought his way out a rear naked choke submission attempt from Lee early in the second round to win a unanimous decision, 29-28, 29-28, 28-27.
"It was a flashback," Iaquinta said. "It went through my mind. This ain't happening again."
It didn't, although it was close.
"That was about as deep as it gets," said Iaquinta (8-2-1, 3-1 UFC). "I felt myself getting a little dizzy. I just grabbed that top arm and pulled it down as hard as I could, hope I wasn't going to wake up."
Iaquinta won the first and third rounds on the strength of his striking. He stunned Lee (7-1), who was making his UFC debut, in the first round with a straight left in the first minute, then dropped him shortly thereafter. Iaquinta also had a heel hook submission attempt, but he said that Lee stuck his finger in his glove to defend against it.
It was the third straight win for Iaquinta since returning last August to heal injuries that stemmed from his time on "The Ultimate Fighter" in 2012. And that loss to Michael Chiesa in the TUF finale, his third fight in a 15-day span, finally paid its dividend.
"That's the way he lost in the finale, and he showed he made the correction," trainer Ray Longo said. "Huge, huge from a fight standpoint, and from a growing standpoint that he was able to overcome the adversity."
Octagon geography didn't hurt Iaquinta either. It occurred just a few feet in front of his cornermen, including former UFC welterweight champion and Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu black belt Matt Serra.