Al Iaquinta explains why he’s not competing in his dream fight at UFC 205

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Al Iaquinta is no longer facing Thiago Alves at UFC 205 in Madison Square Garden after the New York native dropped off the card due to a contract dispute with the organization.

Iaquinta had verbally accepted a matchup with Alves on Nov. 12 but after closely examining the bout agreement, he decided that he could no longer compete for the contracted money that he was set to be paid after spending the last 17 months on the shelf with a serious knee injury.

“I got the contract and I was just looking at it for a couple of days. I was like I just can't sign it. I can't do it,” Iaquinta told FOX Sports. “I felt like it wasn't right. I talked to my manager, I said listen I really want to fight in New York. There's nothing I want to do more than fight in New York, but I can't take a pay cut for this fight.

The UFC declined to comment about Iaquinta's statements or his contract negotiations when reached by FOX Sports.

According to Iaquinta, he inked his new four-fight deal with the UFC prior to the Reebok deal being enacted, which was instituted with a new uniform policy for all fighters. Fighters are paid based on total number of fights in the UFC with payouts ranging from $2,500 up to $40,000 for a champion.

Iaquinta stood to make $5,000 from Reebok for the fight with Alves at UFC 205 and he says he made more than that from one sponsor in his previous bouts with the promotion. After the Reebok deal started, Iaquinta says most of his sponsors disappeared outside of a couple key endorsements that kept him afloat while he was out of action for more than a year.

Iaquinta isn't alone in his complaints about the structure of deals changing after the Reebok deal was enacted. Former welterweight champion Georges St-Pierre has stated that without a new deal to compensate him for the lost endorsement money he will no longer make because he can't wear sponsors inside the Octagon, it would be hard for him to justify a return to the UFC.

Iaquinta says based on his current contract he stood to make $26,000 to show and another $26,000 to win for the fight against Alves at UFC 205.

Iaquinta doesn't deny that he willingly inked the original deal with the agreed upon pay, but after the long layoff due to surgery, wiping out his savings account to stay afloat and fear of another injury potentially ending his career, he felt like he was worth more than he was being paid.

Iaquinta's recourse is limited because he has a signed, binding agreement with the UFC based on the new four-fight deal that started with his bout against Jorge Masvidal last April. The UFC isn't required to renegotiate any deal for an athlete already under contract. Of course, Iaquinta can also sit out and choose not to fight again as well.

Iaquinta was also no longer eligible to receive a post fight bonus after the UFC punished him for a trio of infractions that culminated when he missed a fighter summit last year.

“Five weeks out from my fight, it was supposed to be Bobby Green, the UFC wanted to fly me out to a fighter summit in Las Vegas, which would have been a time difference for a week and it would have been five weeks out from a fight,” Iaquinta explained. “I teach private lessons that's how I make a little bit of side money, I would have had to stop doing that. I would have had to go to Las Vegas, get mediocre training away from my team, away from my coaches and not get paid a thing.

“It would have been an expense for me to go out there and I was sick.”

According to Iaquinta, the UFC allowed him to bow out of the fighter summit but then when he posted photos on a beach near his house a few days later, he received a call asking why he was playing in the sand when he was supposed to be too sick to attend the meeting in Las Vegas.

Skipping the fighter summit was the “third strike” according to Iaquinta, who had previously admitted to wrecking a hotel room after his fight with Joe Lauzon in 2014 as well as cursing on live television following a hard fought victory over Jorge Masvidal in 2015.

Iaquinta eventually got on a conference call with UFC officials to explain what had happened but the end result was still the same. He wasn't eligible for any post fight bonuses such as 'Performance of the Night' for his next three bouts in the UFC.

“They listened to every word that I said and when I was done they said 'well we're still going to stick with the same punishment, you're not going to be able to win a post fight bonus for three fights',” Iaquinta said. “It was their call. I think they had their mind up before I got on that call with them.

“It's not like I went before a committee or anyone. It was their decision and boom, three fights no bonuses.”

Iaquinta says that he initially injured his knee while competing on “The Ultimate Fighter” in 2012 and had surgery after the show finished filming.

“It happened in the cage in my semifinal fight on “The Ultimate Fighter”, I tore a piece of cartilage behind my kneecap and it's a pretty rare injury but it happened inside the cage,” Iaquinta explained. “I had a knee surgery coming off “The Ultimate Fighter”, which went pretty good and it held up for a while. I fought a bunch of fights, I had eight fights in the UFC since then and towards the end with every fight it was getting worse and worse. Then training for Gilbert Melendez, I was in excruciating pain.”

When the fight with Melendez fell apart nine days before the bout was scheduled to take place, Iaquinta knew it was finally time to get his knee fixed. He visited several physicians and ultimately found Dr. Riley Williams at the Hospital for Special Surgery in New York, who recommended an osteochondral allograft — which is removing cartilage from the joint and replacing it with cadaver cartilage — to repair the damage.

At that time, Iaquinta says the UFC preferred that he visit with one of their physicians, who instead recommended stem cell injections for the knee.

“Eight weeks later, no good results, I was just as bad as I was before,” Iaquinta said about the stem cell treatments. “I went to see Dr. Riley Williams again and told him what happened and he said 'let's just schedule this surgery, put a little pressure and hopefully they'll pay for it'.”

UFC fighters are covered by insurance for any injuries that occur inside the Octagon as well as “accidental” insurance, which covers fighters for up to $50,000 per year based on any injuries suffered in preparation for an upcoming bout. It was Iaquinta's understanding that because the injury originated from his fight on “The Ultimate Fighter” that the promotion would pay for the surgery.

Ultimately, the UFC did pay for the full cost of the surgery but Iaquinta says that agreement wasn't reached without a lot of back and forth that had him frightened that his career was potentially over.

“Last minute they agreed to pay for it,” Iaquinta said. “I got a bunch of emails saying they were only going to cover $15,000 out of $60,000 and I wasn't going to be able to pay for it. Even if I was able to afford that, I wouldn't have been able to afford the eight months being laid up and not being able to fight or work or anything.

“They ended up agreeing to pay for it after about eight months of trips to L.A. and other stuff. They paid for it and I had the surgery.”

Between the time off, the battle to get the surgery done and the difference in his sponsorships before and after the Reebok deal kicked in, Iaquinta just felt that he was worth more money than he was going to be paid in his return to action and he asked the UFC to renegotiate his deal.

The UFC declined.

When he officially dropped off the card, Iaquinta says he also received a contract extension from the UFC after he decided not to compete in November.

“They sent me an extension to my contract, which is saying because I can't fight they're going to extend my contract until I can fight. That's it, it's a done deal,” Iaquinta said.

After an arduous road back to the Octagon, Iaquinta says that his perspective changed dramatically and he couldn't approach his fight career without thinking about his long-term future in mind. At this point, Iaquinta definitely plans on fighting again but he's just not sure when or where it will be.

“There's nothing left. I'm fighting for free,” Iaquinta said about his guaranteed pay to fight in New York. “God forbid I get injured again and I've got nothing left because I spent it all on the last injury, keeping my head above water. If anything were to happen, there would be nothing left. It scared me. Even if I do win, I'm going to have to fight again in a couple of months. Am I going to be able to walk up a flight of stairs with my kids when I'm older? Am I going to be able to play with them? Probably not. Is it worth this money? No.

“Before these injuries I might have fought for $10 but you see things through a different spectrum. I thought my career was over. I got my personal training, I got my real estate license and I'm living comfortably. I don't need to fight now. If I did take this fight, I would have to stop everything else I was doing and I wouldn't make money and there's got to be some stability. After going through the injury, I thought my career was over. My whole perspective changed. I hope people can learn, this kind of thing can happen and I hope they see what happened to me. It can happen. It was definitely a scary scenario.”

I'm taking a pay cut from all of my sponsors. I'm taking a pay cut of all the last 18 months of the sponsors that could have been. I told (my manager) that I wanted more. I wanted to have a conversation with the UFC and see if they would do some kind of negotiation because when I signed my contract, there was no Reebok deal.

— Al Iaquinta

I don't think they were really entertaining any negotiations whatsoever.

— Al Iaquinta