The voice was loud and unmistakable.
“Five minutes of hell, Al,” cornerman Matt Serra barked at his fighter, Al Iaquinta, in between the fourth and fifth rounds. “Get this dude!”
Iaquinta gave no response but, amid the heavy breathing after 20 minutes of intense fighting against Kevin Lee at UFC Milwaukee, certainly heard his longtime cornerman. The Wantagh-raised Iaquinta brought a whole bunch of right hands and a keen sense of patience with him into the fifth and final round.
Upon completion of that fifth minute of the fifth round, and 25th overall minute of the fight, whatever Iaquinta had left in him came out of his mouth in the form of a loud scream. Iaquinta had just solidified the victory and put an end to all the derisive comments from Lee. The judges scored the bout in favor of Iaquinta, 48-47, 48-47, 49-46, for the unanimous decision on Saturday night.
“What a fight,” Iaquinta said in the cage after the fight. “Thank you to Kevin Lee, he came to fight tonight. I knew he was going to be tough. I knew he got a lot better, but I knew I had to show what I was made of.”
Iaquinta and Lee fought in February 2014, with Iaquinta winning by unanimous decision in Lee’s UFC debut.
Lee was surprised by the decision Saturday night when he heard octagon announcer Bruce Buffer begin to pronounce the first syllable of Iaquinta’s fighter nickname “Raging.”
“I thought I put up a good fight,” Lee said. “It’s not many times I’m left speechless like this. I thought I had the first three rounds for sure.”
Lee won rounds two and three on two of the judges’ scorecards on the strength of his takedowns and ground control of Iaquinta via a body triangle. Iaquinta was able to fend off any chokeholds. One judge gave the third round to Iaquinta (14-4-1, 9-3 UFC), who was able to get free from the body lock and land a number of significant strikes the rest of the round.
Iaquinta mixed up his strikes in the first round, showing a single-leg takedown and then releasing it and throwing a punch as Lee would try to fend off the ankle hold. Iaquinta was able to land his right jab throughout the fight and didn’t seem fazed when Lee would switch from an orthodox stance to southpaw.
In the fourth round, Iaquinta landed a number of strong right punches consistently. He outlanded Lee in significant strikes overall, 111-102.
“Al gave me a great fight,” said Lee (17-4, 10-4). “He won the first one. If the judges say he won this one, I can’t do nothing but take my hat off to him. He showed up tonight. He put on a great fight anyway. I appreciate him.”
Iaquinta last fought in April when, on one day’s notice, he went the distance with the undefeated Khabib Nurmagomedov. It was Nurmagomedov who won the lightweight title that night and then defended it in October against Conor McGregor. Iaquinta would like to get back into that mix.
“If Conor thinks he’s getting a rematch before me, I think that’s some nonsense,” Iaquinta said. “I think I’m the guy he has to get through, if he wants to get a rematch, I’m the guy.”
Nurmagomedov congratulated Iaquinta on Twitter after Saturday's bout.
"Congratulations @ALIAQUINTA," Nurmagomedov wrote. "I know how strong you are, that's why I was waiting for your fight."