By: Ty O'Keefe
Al Iaquinta's impressive win over top-five contender Kevin Lee at last weekend's UFC Milwaukee has raised some interesting questions about a few very intriguing potential matchups within the sport's premier lightweight division. And many believe that a 155-pound showdown between Iaquinta and former two-division champion Conor McGregor is at the top of that list.
During Monday's edition of "The MMA Hour," Ray Longo, Iaquinta's head coach at Serra-Longo MMA, spoke to host Luke Thomas about exactly who he'd like Iaquinta to face next after he defeated a top-five contender in Milwaukee.
"I'd really like to see him fight Conor [McGregor] next," said Longo. "I don't think Conor deserves the Khabib [Nurmagomedov] rematch at all. It looks like they're going to give [Tony] Ferguson [to] Khabib, which is 100 percent fair. That makes fair sense, not everything is fair sense, it's money sense."
"But I'd like to see Al get a big money fight against a great guy who can bring a lot of eyeballs to pay-per-view," continued Longo. "I think that would be great. I think Al deserves it and I think that's a great matchup. I'd love to see it and I'd love to be a part of it."
While McGregor isn't exactly known for taking fights against anyone other than champions or big pay-per-view draws, there's reason to believe that he'd be interested in a bout with Iaquinta.
Above all else, a lot of folks think Iaquinta did better than McGregor against Nurmagomedov when "Ragin Al" fought the Russian for the 155-pound crown on a day's notice at April's UFC 223. Following a full training camp ahead of UFC 229, McGregor suffered a fourth-round, submission loss to Nurmagomedov. And despite the fact that neither Iaquinta nor the lightweight champ had the chance to prepare for their unlikely clash, all that seems to matter is that Nurmagomedov finished McGregor, but couldn't finish Iaquinta.
Forever known as someone who'd rather forge his own path to Octagon success rather than follow more traditional avenues to UFC glory, Iaquinta's rebellious image and ability to entertain throughout pre-fight festivities may also appeal to a showman such as McGregor. Iaquinta's relationship with the UFC has definitely improved in 2018, but that doesn't mean he'd hold back if faced with one of the Irishman's verbal onslaughts.
Since losing to Nurmagomedov, McGregor has made it clear that he's willing to work his way back to a title shot, and that means at least one bout against one of the division's top contenders. Unfortunately, SBG coach John Kavanagh has publicly stated that he'd need convincing before agreeing to ever train McGregor for another fight because he believes that his star student should consider retirement. But the former two-division champ recently posted pictures of a training session with a promising caption that supports the belief that he'll continue to fight in the UFC.
So does Iaquinta-McGregor actually make sense for both fighters and the lightweight division? At this point, it does. Now that Iaquinta has cracked the top five following his second win over Lee, he's in a position to challenge any of the UFC's top 155-pounders outside of Nurmagomedov, and "Ragin' Al's" reputation as a tough-as-nails brawler only adds legitimacy to his newly-attained status. And for McGregor, a potential win over America's most dangerous real estate agent could be the first step towards earning another elusive title shot.
But remember, just last month fight fans were buzzing about a possible matchup between McGregor and Donald Cerrone following "Cowboy's" welterweight win over Mike Perry, and Cerrone has since been booked to face Alexander Hernandez instead.
When coupled with his relatively recent performance against Nurmagomedov, Iaquinta's win over then-No. 4 Lee definitely qualifies him for a shot at the Irishman. However, McGregor's future will remain uncertain until his issues with the Nevada State Athletic Commission are resolved in early 2019. Until then, we'll just have to wait and see if a bout between these two lightweights will become a reality.