Al Iaquinta, Kevin Lee

Al Iaquinta: “Kevin Lee might be just as tough, if not tougher than Khabib Nurmagomedov”

Ever since their first UFC encounter back in 2014, Al Iaquinta and Kevin Lee have exchanged harsh words towards one another.

Now five years later, the two top UFC lightweights will meet again at UFC on Fox 31 on December 15 in Milwaukee Wisconsin.

But this time around, things are quite different between the two men as the smack talking that went on among them before, has now been ceased.

According toIaquinta, the reasoning for it might have to do with the mutual respect the two have gained for one another over the years despite the verbal tirade that transpired before.

Back in August, Iaquinta was originally scheduled to face the recently red hot Justin Gaethje, but after suffering an injury as well as having personal issues with the UFC, he withdrew from the bout.

During that time, Iaquinta would have been just four months removed from his last minute notice UFC lightweight championship fight with Khabib Nurmagomedov at UFC 223, where Nurmagomedov won the title by unanimous decision.

Even in a loss, Iaquinta showed a iron will and fought with tremendous heart when you consider he was actually training for Paul Felder and only got the fight with Nurmagomedov when Max Holloway was unable to make weight safely.

Though the Gaethje fight was not at the right time, Iaquinta says his bout with Kevin Lee is.

“Everything was correct about this and nothing was correct about the last one,” Iaquinta said. “It was like injuries, coming off that Khabib fight I was still banged up. It was quick. I wasn’t happy with a few other things. It just wasn’t right. This is definitely a better fight. I think it’s an intriguing matchup. Just everything. Everything about it, I like. He’s just as tough, if not tougher [than Gaethje]. He might even be just as tough, if not tougher than Khabib. I was sitting front row at his last fight with (Edson) Barboza and I was like, ‘Fuck, I don’t want to be Barboza right now.’ It was brutal, it was not fun to watch. So, I’m training my ass off. I want to be the one doing that to him, for sure.”

Iaquinta defeated Lee by decision at UFC 169.

Since their 2014 clash, Iaquinta admits that Lee has vastly improved being that he was only 21 years old when they first faced each other.

“He’s definitely bigger and stronger,” Iaquinta said. “More mature as a fighter, probably less mature as a person. He’s polished, he’s seasoned. Now he’s been in there with really tough guys. He was cocky when he came into the UFC, he kind of thought that he was gonna run through everything.”

After losing to Iaquinta in 2014, Kevin Lee had relocated to Las Vegas Nevada and started training with Xtreme Couture.

Iaquinta stated he has taken note of the changes his opponent has made, but believes it still won’t give him an advantage going into their second contest.

“I definitely humbled him there and he changed his life,” Iaquinta said. “He moved to Vegas, he switched camps. I think I’ve been in the guy’s head for a while and he’s been looking forward to this. There’s two kind of ways this goes. He’s definitely put in the work — he’s all in. A guy willing to move to Las Vegas, because he thinks it’s a better team there is definitely serious. He’s coming to put it on me, I know that for sure.

“On the other hand, I’ve been with Ray (Longo), I’ve been with Matt (Serra), I’ve been with these guys forever. We have such a good bond. (Matt) Frevola coming over, [Aljamain Sterling], (Chris) Weidman. I don’t think he has anybody like that on his team. I don’t think he’s got like a family like I have. Not saying that’s gonna win me the fight, because I’m the one fighting, but I just feel like I put in so much work in my life that I have to beat this guy. That’s it.”

The man who comes out the winner of this fight will put himself in prime position in the UFC 155 pound division.

Lee currently stands as number 4 in the UFC’s official lightweight rankings while the outspoken Iaquinta sits at number 8.

Bottom line, this second meeting between Al Iaquinta and Kevin Lee has very high stakes, which would explain why there has been minimal lip service from the two competitors.

“He’s been awful quiet lately,” Iaquinta said. “So have I. I think we both realize the talking was in the past. Now it’s business. It’s for real. We signed the contract — it’s on.”