There’s a lot of talk about a potential bout between Conor McGregor and Donald Cerrone. As fun as that matchup would be, it would be blatantly ignoring another, more deserving fighter in the UFC lightweight title picture: Al Iaquinta.
Fights with Conor McGregor are their own kind of prize in today’s UFC landscape. The former two-division titleholder is able to return to the Octagon this spring, and as always, several fighters are throwing their names into the mix to welcome the Irishman back. Following his hearing with the Nevada State Athletic Commission, McGregor’s 2019 can finally begin to take shape.
A rematch with Khabib Nurmagomedov will have to wait. The lightweight champion also had a hearing with the NSAC, where he was handed a suspension potentially three months longer than McGregor’s. All due to the post-fight antics from the matchup between the duo at UFC 229. According to ESPN’s Ariel Helwani, Nurmagomedov is now aiming for a November return at Madison Square Garden.
So, if he’s not fighting Khabib in his first bout of 2019, who will the promotion match-up with McGregor? Right now, it sounds like Donald “Cowboy” Cerrone is the favorite.
Cowboy and McGregor have been chirping at each other for a while now. Given both fighter’s recent performances, the bout seems as possible as ever. McGregor is coming off of a one-sided loss to Nurmagomedov (and a suspension), while Cowboy has earned finishes and Performance of the Night bonuses in his last two fights.
For a fight like that Donald, I’ll fight you.
— Conor McGregor (@TheNotoriousMMA) January 20, 2019
Cerrone isn’t currently ranked in the lightweight division in the “super-duper official” UFC fighter rankings, considering he’s just returned to 155-pounds. He’d likely stay at that weight to fight McGregor, who’s the second-ranked lightweight, behind the champion Nurmagomedov and former interim titleholder Tony Ferguson.
While the UFC rankings are obviously flawed, in the case of Al Iaquinta, they give the best barometer for the road the New York native should take in 2019. The 31-year-old has lost just once in his last seven bouts (dating back to late-2014), and had an impressive run last year. He’s earned another opponent in the lightweight title picture.
Iaquinta filled-in on short notice in the main event of the chaotic UFC 223 pay-per-view in April of 2018. Although he, like McGregor, was defeated by Nurmagomedov, Iaquinta was able to make it through all five rounds, unlike McGregor.
He followed that up with his second career win over Kevin Lee in the main event of UFC Milwaukee in December. Those performances pushed Iaquinta to the fourth spot in the rankings, behind the trio mentioned above, and Dustin Poirier.
"If Conor thinks he's getting a rematch before me, that's some nonsense!"
"I'm the guy he's got to get through if he wants a rematch."
After a unanimous decision win over Kevin Lee at #UFCMilwaukee…
— Watch UFC on BT Sport (@btsportufc) December 16, 2018
Based off of the quality of their recent opponents, and where they’re at in their UFC careers, the argument of who deserves the bout with Conor McGregor, between Al Iaquinta and Donald Cerrone, is a simple one. One guy has been competing at the top of the lightweight division, and doing well. The other guy has been struggling at welterweight, and made his return to 155-pounds against a highly-touted prospect with three career UFC fights.
Then again, since when did who-deserves-what matter in the UFC?
The problem for Iaquinta is that the “other guy” is Donald Cerrone. He’s a fan-favorite, a favorite of Dana White and Co., and has the name-power to main event a card with any opponent. By comparison, Iaquinta’s past relations with the promotion have been less than stellar.
If the promotion, McGregor, and Cerrone are all game, it’s easy to see how Iaquinta could get left out of the picture. He’s used to being treated in such a fashion by the UFC, and it doesn’t seem to have slowed him down too much. Whether Iaquinta ends up fighting McGregor sometime this year remains to be seen. We’re hoping that, McGregor or not, Iaquinta is competing with the other fighters in the lightweight title picture. It’s what he deserves.