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Iaquinta: New unionization effort ‘long overdue’

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UFC lightweight contender Al Iaquinta explains why he joined the Project Spearhead interim executive board.

Last week, Al Iaquinta became the third member of the Project Spearhead interim executive board. The UFC lightweight contender took the role of interim secretary and treasurer, joining interim president Leslie Smith and interim vice president — and fellow 155-pound fighter — Kajan Johnson.

Project Spearhead is a new effort to unionize UFC and Bellator fighters. It was launched by Smith earlier this month. New York labor lawyer Lucas Middlebrook, best known as Nick Diaz’s attorney in his 2015 Nevada Athletic Commission case, is also involved as counsel.

Iaquinta’s decision to step up and join the Project Spearhead board was easy to make; he simply wanted to help out with the unionization effort to give MMA fighters more rights.

Iaquinta said he listened to Smith on The MMA Hour last week and took the women’s bantamweight fighter’s comments to heart. He reached out to Smith and offered to help in any way possible.

“I felt it’s a good time for this,” Iaquinta told BloodyElbow.com. “It’s something that needs to happen. It’s happened in every other sport, and it’s something that needs to be done in the UFC. … I’m helping the cause and trying to bring all the fighters together to get done what should have been done a long time ago.

“I think everyone knows where we’re at. Everyone knows this is long overdue. It’s the first step in the process to just making it right.”

Despite failed unionization efforts in the past — such as the Professional Fighters Association and the Mixed Martial Arts Athletes Association — Iaquinta was not hesitant about supporting Project Spearhead.

“I just know where their heads are at. It’s a good starting point. It just feels more authentic; it has a good feeling to it. This is the first step to getting this done, and I think that they just need the right people to get behind it.

“I think this is something that I’ll enjoy doing. Leslie Smith is really going above and beyond to make this happen. I filled out my card, and I’m asking other fights to fill out theirs. She’s doing this for all the fighters, I’m doing it for all the fighters, Kajan Johnson is doing it for all the fighters. I think it’s a good thing and I think people’s hearts are in the right places. I don’t see why it shouldn’t turn out good for anybody.”

In the effort’s early stages, like the rest of the board, Iaquinta will focus on getting fighters to sign authorization cards. He also has some ideas regarding raising money for Project Spearhead, he said.

“I have some ideas, and we’re gonna have to talk about it,” Iaquinta said. “I know they have a lot of plans; I’m kind of just jumping in here new, so I don’t want to overstep what they’ve been working on.”

Iaquinta, like other fighters, could have just signed a confidential authorization card. That still would have helped Project Spearhead’s effort, as the association needs 150 cards from UFC fighters — and a to-be-determined amount from Bellator fighters — to further the process.

But he made his support of Project Spearhead public by joining its interim executive board, because he is not worried about potential retaliation — including perhaps getting released — from the UFC.

“I don’t know why I wouldn’t put it out there,” the No. 10-ranked lightweight said. “It doesn’t make a difference — if I fight well, I fight well. If I’m an asset to them, I’m gonna be an asset to them whether I’m doing this or not. It’s not the kind of thing where they’re gonna cut me on a loss or whatever just because of this.

“They’re gonna need me for as long as they need me. I kind of know how they work at this point. If I’m of value to them, then they’ll keep me around. If I’m not, then they won’t. I don’t think an affiliation with Project Spearhead is going to make any difference to them.”

In 2016, Iaquinta became a real estate agent and now sells properties on top of competing in MMA. He no longer needs the UFC to make a living, he said, so that is one of the things that decreases his concern about retaliation.

He also thinks it makes him an ideal candidate to try to organize fighters.

“I’m taking this thing one fight at a time at this point,” Iaquinta said. “I’m doing other things as well. I don’t have all my eggs in this UFC basket anymore; it’s proven to be a mistake in my career, so I’ll never do that again.

“In a lot of ways, I’m their worst nightmare. I’m a top 10 guy that doesn’t need them. I’m doing this because I like fighting, and now they’re paying me enough to where I can do what I like doing and not have to kiss their ass, beg for things — if I get hurt in a fight and I need surgery, I can pay for it now. I don’t have to beg them to pay for it, and worry about being on their time schedule of when they’re gonna pay for it.”

Iaquinta faces Paul Felder at UFC 223, which takes place April 7 in Brooklyn, New York. According to Iaquinta, he recently signed a new four-fight deal with the UFC.

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