It’s possible this could turn out to be the best thing ever to happen to Al Iaquinta.
Or maybe the worst.
In this business, sometimes it’s hard to tell.
All we know for sure at the moment is that Iaquinta has been a hot topic of conversation since Saturday’s UFC Fight Night 63, when he celebrated his split-decision win over Jorge Masvidal by yelling obscenities at fans in Fairfax, Virginia.
Into a microphone.
On live TV.
Warning: NSFW language in video:
“Are you booing me?” Iaquinta shouted during his post-fight interview with UFC play-by-play man Jon Anik as the crowd voiced its displeasure with the controversial judges’ verdict. “You better not boo me! I f--king fought my ass off! F--k you!”
Over at MMAJunkie.com, Ben Fowlkes and Danny Downes made Iaquinta the subject of their popular weekly Trading Shots column. At MMA Fighting.com, Chuck Mindenhall brought his unique brand of wry humor to the situation, calling the fighter’s potty-mouthed tirade “madness.”
“Iaquinta won and was angry,” Mindenhall wrote. “Masvidal lost and was smiling.”
Bleacher Report’s own Jonathan Snowden posted his own thoughts in real time:
Even UFC President Dana White published the following red-faced response to finally getting to see where “Raging Al” got his nickname:
Embarrassing the UFC’s fiery head honcho has never been good for a fighter’s bottom line, and, clearly, Iaquinta went way off-message with his profane eruption. In true MMA fashion, however, it’s not out of the question this could turn into a positive for him.
We are an industry after P.T. Barnum’s own self-aggrandizing heart, after all. The 19th century carnival impresario is largely credited with popularizing the expression, “There’s no such thing as bad publicity,” and there is perhaps no vocation where that rings truer than professional fighting.
While Iaquinta seems bent on stretching that cliche as far as it will go, it’s very possible—maybe even probable—he rides this self-made hullabaloo to a better standing in the crowded and competitive lightweight division.
This, despite the fact things only got worse at Saturday’s post-fight press conference, when he tried to explain himself.
“I looked in the crowd and I saw two kids…giving me the finger,” Iaquinta said, per Junkie’s Brent Brookhouse and Matt Erickson. “It set me off.”
So to recap, Iaquinta wasn’t just shouting F-bombs at the faceless Virginian masses, he was shouting them directly at “two kids.” That seems like it’s going to be a hard bell to un-ring. Chances are, we’re going to spend the rest of Iaquinta’s career thinking of him as the guy who yelled "f--ck you" at the fans.
Question is: Is that better than what we thought of him before?
Prior to the Masvidal fight, Iaquinta had been a mid-level lightweight on a nice little three-fight win streak. We had a vague sense that we liked him because he was an exciting fighter and because we like his coaches—Long Island fan-favorites Matt Serra and Ray Longo.
But we really only knew Iaquinta as the guy who lost in the finals of The Ultimate Fighter Season 15. We only knew him as the funny guy who admitted in a press conference to trashing his Las Vegas hotel room after defeating Joe Lauzon in January and the guy who made quips about learning Spanish so he could pick up women when he fought in Mexico.
We hadn’t attached much emotion to him one way or another. We looked forward to his co-main event bout against Masvidal only as a surefire contender for Fight of the Night—a mid-afternoon meeting between two capable strikers who were going to put on a show.
Now, for better or worse, at least we feel a bit more invested.
Before that interview, nobody was going to remember Iaquinta vs. Masvidal six months from now. Through two rounds, it seemed like Masvidal had handled him with ease, but Iaquinta didn’t fold the tent. He battled back in the third and made things close. He deserves credit for that.
Still, most observers seemed to think a 29-28 victory for Masvidal was in the offing. Interestingly, none of the three judges ended up having it scored that way, as one card came back 30-27 for Masvidal and the other two went 29-28 for Iaquinta.
Then Iaquinta suffered a breakdown on the mic and stormed out of the cage and into the forefront of our consciousness.
At this point, a Masvidal-Iaquinta rematch not only makes sense, it would be a much higher-profile affair than the first. In this day and age of oversaturation, the UFC could probably get away with using it as the main event of a card on its digital subscription service or even cable TV. That’s certainly better than Iaquinta would’ve gotten had he lost and maybe better than if he’d won without controversy, too.
Unless the UFC feels like punishing him just to make a point—which is still possible—he exits this shaky win over Masvidal as a more interesting fighter than when he went in.
Sometimes in a business that so regularly carries the public relations handbook out to the town square and burns it, that’s all it takes.
As a bizarre epilogue to the Iaquinta story, the fighter appeared on The MMA Hour with Ariel Helwani on Monday to say he had no regrets about shouting swear words at fans. If he had it to do over again, he’d do it exactly the same way, he said. If those fans who flipped him the bird had been close enough, he might even have given them a “kick in the a--.”
In a surprise—but classic—move by Helwani, it turned out the two fans in question were standing by on the phone. They wanted to apologize. They told Iaquinta they weren’t booing him, but booing the decision. They were just being fans, they said, and they were just rolling with the emotions of the room, reacting to an event they saw purely as a show.
Iaquinta accepted their apology, and then they signed off by telling him they thought his outburst was going to be good for his career.
They said, personally, they’re both now “Raging Al” fans for life.
Those two guys probably aren’t alone—and that could turn out to make Iaquinta UFC Fight Night 63’s most surprising winner all over again.