After two-plus years away from the cage, and with long-term injuries finally subsiding, Al Iaquinta believed UFC 268 at Madison Square Garden would be the perfect venue at the perfect time for his long-awaited return.
But on Saturday, it was his opponent Bobby Green who delivered a perfect performance.
Iaquinta (14-7-1) was dropped by a right hook midway through the first round, falling to the canvas and never recovering as Green (28-12-1) swarmed for the TKO finish 2:25 into the bout. It was the first TKO loss of Iaquinta’s career.
"He did kind of what I expected, I just expected to get out of the way, and I didn’t." Iaquinta told Newsday.
Keeping his hands high, Iaquinta looked to close distance early and pressure Green, who let his hands hang low. Green landed a few clean jabs early in the fight as Iaquinta moved in, but the LIer persisted. Soon enough, Green caught Iaquinta clean with a one-two combination, the back half of which sent Iaquinta face first to the mat.
Green had no trouble following to the ground and finishing the fight.
"Flawless victory," Green said. "No disrespect to Al, he’s a great guy."
The matchup was a long time coming, with Iaquinta and Green scheduled to meet in 2017 before Green was pulled with an injury. This was Iaquinta’s first professional fight in his home state. He was expected to compete at UFC 205 in November 2016, the first UFC event in New York following the sport’s legalization in the state, but did not fight that night because of a contract dispute.
Before the fight, Iaquinta, 34, received MSG crowd’s loudest ovation at that point in the night as he walked to the cage. A fine experience, Iaquinta said, but one that was hard to enjoy given the result.
"Yeah, it’s tough man, it feels kind of like it was all for nothing because I didn’t win," Iaquinta said. "That’s all good, but I would’ve liked to put on a show for them. Even if I lost, I didn’t want it to be like that."
Big dollars in the Big Apple
Ticket sales for UFC 268 are expected to be in the neighborhood of $8 million, making it the fourth highest live gate in Madison Square Garden history, according to Joel Fisher, MSG’s executive vice president of marquee events and operations.
"The UFC is as huge an event as you can get," Fisher said.
No. 1 on the list is UFC 205 with a live gate of $17.7 million, a three-title card headlined by Conor McGregor on 2016. It was the first UFC event at MSG after New York State legalize mixed martial arts earlier that year, and remains the promotion’s biggest live gate ever. The previous record for a sporting event at MSG was the $13.5 million gate from Lennox Lewis vs. Evander Holyfield in March 1999. An MSG spokesman said The Concert for New York City, a benefit concert to raise money for Sept. 11 victims and first responders in 2001, is the highest non-sporting event gate.
With Mark La Monica