Al Iaquinta doesn’t have the highest opinion of former opponent Kevin Lee.
“Raging Al,” the mercurial lightweight, told Ariel Helwani on the 400th episode of The MMA Hour that he doesn’t feel Lee is deserving of the opportunity he’ll get next month. On Oct. 7, Lee faces Tony Ferguson with the UFC interim lightweight title on the line.
“There’s a lot of other people that should have gotten a title shot,” Iaquinta said. “He had a good interview. He was in the right place at the right time. He won the fight, Ferguson happened to be doing the FOX thing. They had a little back and forth. I think Kevin Lee, I don’t think he’s there.”
Lee beat Michael Chiesa by first-round submission in June in the main event of UFC Oklahoma City, which aired on FS1. Ferguson happened to be working as a Fox Sports desk analyst for that card and Lee was interviewed on the post-fight show after his victory. Ferguson and Lee had a memorable verbal exchange. Weeks later, the interim title fight between them was booked.
Iaquinta, 30, actually beat Lee by unanimous decision at UFC 169 in 2014. But Lee has won nine of 10 since then. Iaquinta has had success himself — he’s won eight of his last nine. But Iaquinta isn’t as close to title contention, mostly due to injuries. He returned after two years to knock out Diego Sanchez in the first round back in April, but is now dealing with another knee injury.
In the last year or so, Lee has surpassed Iaquinta in the pecking order, mostly through no fault of Iaquinta’s. The New York-native still feels like Lee has a ways to go before he should be considered among the elite 155-pounders in the world.
“I think Kevin Lee, he’s big, he’s strong, he’s a good wrestler,” Iaquinta said. “But his stand up is not there, he’s stiff. I don’t know. When I was growing up, I’d look at guys and I’d go, well he’s got some talent there, he’s good. He’s like championship worthy.
“Fighting brings out people. You can see what people are made of. I know exactly what he’s made of. I can see it clear as day.”
Iaquinta (13-3-1) said when he fought Lee, he saw him backstage and he has a solid idea of who he is as a person. Now, Iaquinta said, Lee is wearing the Russell Westbrook-esque outfits and he feels like he’s playing a “character.”
“I see right through it,” Iaquinta said. “I can tell in the fight, when we were fighting. I can see right through it. That’s it. I know exactly what he’s about. I see right through it.”
Ferguson, on the other hand, has Iaquinta’s respect as far as in the Octagon goes.
“He’s just out of his mind,” Iaquinta said of Ferguson. “There’s no rhyme or reason for what he’s doing. He’s jumping, he’s doing flips, he’s picking legs. But he’s got a dangerous skillset, he’s got those chokes from anywhere, he’s unorthodox on his feet, which is a problem, because when people are unorthodox on their feet, a lot of times you try to take them down, but he’s got those chokes. It’s gonna be a tough one for Kevin Lee.”
Iaquinta is picking Ferguson, but he wants Lee to win. Anyone who he has fought, Iaquinta said, he roots for in the future.
“Every guy that I fight, I hope they kill everybody,” Iaquinta said. “I want everybody to be the champion that I beat.”
Lee could have that interim title before long, which would — at least, presumably — earn him an eventual shot at UFC lightweight champion Conor McGregor. When asked about that potential matchup, Iaquinta laughed. He doesn’t believe Lee will fare too well.
“That would be hysterical,” Iaquinta said. “Kevin Lee would get demolished. Not even in the fight. He thinks he’s like Conor. How you gonna mimic the guy that you’re fighting? What are you doing? He’s just such an act, it’s just so hard to stomach. Ugh, God, with the outfits. He’s like ‘Pootie Tang’ with the outfits.
“He’s just so fake and he’s just trying so hard. He really is.”