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All in: Iaquinta returns after exploring life outside Octagon

As he approaches his first fight in over two years against Diego Sanchez this Saturday, Al Iaquinta will first tell you what he’s not before he tells you what he is as he returns to the Octagon.

“I don’t do flips like these guys, I don’t have a cool haircut with the spikes, so it is what it is,” he said. “I am who I am, I like to fight and that’s it.”

 
That has always been enough to not only make “Raging Al” one of the top lightweights in the world, but one of the most popular on the roster as well. But after his fourth consecutive win, a split decision victory over Jorge Masvidal in April 2015, he was prepared to walk away from the sport in order to pursue other interests. Rehabbing a knee injury that required surgery was just the icing on the cake.

“I don’t know where I was at,” he said when asked if he was at peace with the idea of never fighting again. “In the back of my mind I thought I was gonna fight again in some capacity, but it was a rough time. It was tough. At the time, I was pretty over it.”

So as the lightweight division moved on without him, Long Island’s Iaquinta moved on without the lightweight division, settling into a gig as a real estate agent.

“The real estate was really, really hard getting started,” he said. “Now I hit a groove, got the ball rolling and I’m having a good time. I’m having a lot of success.”

But the itch never left him, and early this year, rumblings started about a comeback. Still not ready to make a full commitment, Iaquinta thought about going up to the welterweight division, but when he got presented Sanchez as an opponent, he was back and all-in to begin another assault on the 155-pound elite.



“I thought I wasn’t gonna put in as much time into training for a fight because I’ve got all these other things going on and I was gonna do it just to get in there and fight,” he said. “But then they said Diego Sanchez at 155 and I was like, ‘Wow.’ That’s the one fight that is actually really cool because it’s a guy I grew up watching. The last three fights have kind of been that way, against guys I watched when I was just getting into the sport and that I looked up to. But Sanchez is the ultimate guy in that category and I think it’s a great time for me to fight him.”

Some might read that as Iaquinta saying that he’s catching the 35-year-old veteran at the right time. But on the contrary, the 29-year-old believes Sanchez is catching him at the wrong time.

“My body’s never felt better,” he said. “Towards the end there, I was fighting so much that you get burned out. But I took this serious. I’m in better shape than I’ve ever been, I’m stronger now, and I’m in my prime. I think the two years have done a lot of good for me, and I don’t know where Diego’s at in his career. I’m kinda not seeing it being a good night for him.”

That doesn’t mean he’s sleeping on the original “Ultimate Fighter,” who has won two of his last three, defeating Jim Miller and Marcin Held. Iaquinta doesn’t want to join that list.

“I’m definitely aware of all that he’s capable of,” he said. “A guy with a heart like that is capable of anything, so I’ve gotta make sure I go out there to absolutely demolish him and put a statement on him.”

Sounds like Al Iaquinta is back in fighting mode, and he is. But what he missed the most over the last two years isn’t what you would expect, and it’s something you don’t get selling houses.

“Making a schedule with (coach) Ray (Longo) and hitting pads with him, being with the guys at the gym and putting myself through a training camp where it’s tough, but you’re seeing your friends every day,” he said. “You’re having a good time before training and then you train your ass off to the point where you’re so exhausted. Then everybody comes together at the end.”

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