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Jorge Masvidal another step up for Al Iaquinta at UFC Fight Night

Al Iaquinta, a UFC fighter from Wantagh, trains

Al Iaquinta, a UFC fighter from Wantagh, trains at Longo and Weidman MMA in Garden City on Jan. 17, 2015. Credit: Mark LaMonica

Al Iaquinta hasn't forgotten what ran through his mind more than two years ago as he lay around with nothing to do except heal his body after fighting three times in 15 days in the live season of "The Ultimate Fighter."

He made himself a promise.

"As long as I'm healthy," the Wantagh-raised Iaquinta said, "I told myself I was going to fight as much as I could."

Not even 24 hours after he knocked out Joe Lauzon at UFC 183 on Jan. 31, Iaquinta found his next opponent. Scrolling through his Twitter feed while waiting in the airport for his flight home, Iaquinta saw Benson Henderson had been moved from an April 4 fight to a fight in February. That left Jorge Masvidal without an opponent. That gave Iaquinta an opportunity.

Iaquinta called his manager and told him he wanted that fight. By the time Iaquinta landed in New York, the fight was just about a done deal. UFC officially announced the bout the following day.

And this Saturday afternoon in Fairfax, Virginia, Iaquinta will fight veteran lightweight Masvidal in the co-main event at UFC Fight Night 63. Featherweights Chad Mendes and Ricardo Lamas headline the card.

"Every fight is a little step up, a step up in opponent notoriety and quality," Iaquinta said.

After losing by submission to Mitch Clarke (who also is on Saturday's card against Michael Chiesa, who beat Iaquinta in the "TUF Live" finale), Iaquinta has won three straight. And he's done it in a way that has made people take notice.

Iaquinta (11-3-1, 6-2 UFC) stopped Rodrigo Damm last September. He knocked out Ross Pearson in November. He knocked out Lauzon on Super Bowl weekend. Three fights, three stoppages. Not bad for the 27-year-old Serra-Longo fighter, who had gone the distance in his previous UFC wins.

"That's what happens," Iaquinta said. "You knock people out, and then you get people ranked ahead of you."

Masvidal, winner of three in a row (all by decision), is ranked 14th in the UFC's lightweight division. Iaquinta is ranked 15th.

Masvidal (28-8, 5-1) has expressed his dismay with his opponent, saying Iaquinta has "no business" fighting him. Masvidal used the "boy vs. man" analogy as well as saying he's a "tiger" while Iaquinta's previous opponents were "kitty cats."

Masvidal said it's not personal against Iaquinta; it's just that he wanted a higher-profile opponent after losing out on a fight with Henderson, a former lightweight champion.

"We're ranked one apart," Iaquinta said. "It's a good fight."

Iaquinta doesn't have time to worry about Masvidal's comments. His career is on an upward trajectory and he wants to continue his ascent.

"You want your name on the poster, you want your picture on there," Iaquinta said. "You want to have to do the most media, the most everything. That shows all your hard work is paying off."

New York Sports