Al Iaquinta is expecting a ‘tough’ fight against former WSOF lightweight champion Justin Gaethje, but ‘Raging Al’ believes the matchup plays in his favor.
Gaethje, 29, will return to action against Iaquinta at UFC Fight Night 135, after suffering two back-to-back knockout losses to lightweight standouts Eddie Alvarez and Dustin Poirier.
But Iaquinta, who dropped a unanimous decision to Khabib Nurmagomedov at UFC 223, believes ‘The Highlight’ should have taken some more time off to ‘relax’ his chin.
“We got a tough task ahead of us,” Iaquinta said on a recent edition of The MMA Hour, per MMA Fighting’s Shaun Al-Shatti. “Justin Gaethje is no joke. That guy is about a round-and-a-half of hell. I gotta be ready for a round-and-a-half of absolute hell, then he starts slowing down about midway through the second round. But holy sh*t, that first round. We gotta sit, we gotta talk with (coach) Ray (Longo), get a gameplan going. This is good.
“He needs time off. That’s another advantage for me. He needs a break. I’ve had a break. I’ve been on break. I’m good, you know? Took a couple weeks off after Khabib (Nurmagomedov) just to head up everything, but, I don’t know, I think it’s not a good fight for him. I don’t think it’s a good one for him. I don’t know, take a little time, take a little time to relax [your] chin. I don’t know, you need time. He needs time.”
Gaethje, who made his UFC debut with an impressive second-round TKO of Michael Johnson in 2017, is simultaneously applauded and criticized for his balls to the wall, gung-ho fighting style.
The Colorado-based brawler always walks forward, and is always looking for the knockout. It might be one of the most entertaining fighting styles in the lightweight division, but it comes at a cost, and Iaquinta believes Gaethje needs to start making adjustments in the Octagon.
“I think [his style has] come back to haunt him more in the UFC than not,” Iaquinta said. “That’s like a coin toss of a style. You just go kamikaze, let’s go. I think I’m just more tactical, more gamplan-oriented. I just feel like, I don’t know — I don’t know if there’s a gameplan going into his fights. Does his coach talk to him about a gameplan, like, ‘This is what you’re going to do?’ Because he does the same thing every fight. There’s no difference compared to the opponents he fights, so it’s just, you’ve got to make little adjustments.
“At this level, there has to be those little adjustments. That’s the adjustment that Eddie Alvarez made, that’s the adjustment that Dustin Poirier made. You make adjustments at this level, you’re gonna win, and you’ve got to make the right adjustments at the right time. He’s got to realize. And he’s not learning anything between those fights and these fights. So I’ve gotta just show that I’m on that level. I’m better than that. I’m way better than that. So I think it’s perfect. It’s a perfect fight.”
Iaquinta plans to capitalize on Gaethje’s seemingly one-dimensional approach and promises to ‘make it look better’ than Alvarez and Poirier did.
“He fights like a freaking tough guy, but you know what? It comes to a point where you can’t do that anymore. Not saying that he can’t anymore. He will. He’s gonna. Like I said, it’s gonna be a round-and-a-half that’s just outta control, but I think it’s a good fight at the right time. I think it’s good. I think we’re right where we want to be. This is what I want to do, man. This is where I want to be: Main event, Justin Gaethje, guy is tough as nails but he’s not unbeatable. He’s 1-2 in the UFC, so I think it’s — everyone’s gonna see where I’m at. I’m gonna make it look better than Eddie Alvarez and Dustin Poirier did, absolutely.”
UFC Fight Night: Gaethje vs. Iaquinta takes place later this year, August 25 at Pinnacle Bank Arena in Lincoln, Nebraska.