Al Iaquinta knows he’s one of the best lightweight fighters in the world, and he doesn’t need to look at the number next to his name to know it.
The New York native, who faces Dan Hooker in the co-main event at Saturday’s UFC 243, didn’t hesitate to accept the bout despite the UFC rankings, which say he’s No. 6 opposite Hooker’s spot at No. 15.
An unfortunate side effect of the UFC ranking system is fighters constantly jockeying for position in hopes of gaining recognition with the promotion, not to mention no defined system in place to determine how exactly title contention can be achieved.
That’s why Iaquinta didn’t even consider where he was on the list when Hooker called him out for the card in Melbourne, Australia.
“I don’t really look at the rankings,” Iaquinta said when speaking to MMA Fighting. “That doesn’t really hold too much water with me. His last two fights were Edson Barboza and James Vick, those are guys I respect as fighters. I don’t know what the number is next to his name. People keep asking me, and I’m like I don’t know. He’s in the top-15 at least, I guess. I don’t really look at that. That didn’t have any impact on me.
“He’s a tough guy, he’s on his way up, he’s working hard, (and) he’s definitely up there. The top-15 in the UFC, anyone can beat anyone. It’s just style matchups and who shows up on a particular day. That’s all I really look into as far as that goes.”
A deep dive into the UFC rankings from a Reddit user exposed a fatal flaw in the current system, with only 14 people currently participating in the voting process. According to the breakdown, only nine people involved in determining the rankings are directly involved with a mixed martial arts media source.
The UFC constantly refers to the rankings on television broadcasts – and press releases – when hyping up a fight card. And yet UFC president Dana White routinely bashes his own rankings, particularly when it comes to the ‘pound-for-pound’ list that includes athletes from every weight class across the sport.
In the lightweight division, more than a few fighters have pointed out that former champion Conor McGregor is cemented in the top-three rankings despite his last fight ending in a loss to reigning champion Khabib Nurmagomedov – and he has only one UFC win at 155 pounds against Eddie Alvarez in 2016.
Those are just some of the reasons Iaquinta doesn’t determine his fighting future by rankings.
“I don’t know what they’re ranking? Is it how good of a fighter you are? Is it how much you sell? How popular you are?” Iaquinta said. “I think that’s more the case, and if that’s the case than Conor [McGregor] fought Khabib [Nurmagomedov] and he got finished and he hasn’t fought since then. I fought Khabib and I went all five rounds. I came back with a win against Kevin Lee, who I think should be ranked ahead of Conor, as far as skills go, and lost a decision to (Donald) “Cowboy” (Cerrone).
“So you could make an argument as far as toughness of opponents, and if there was quality points like they do in wrestling – guys that you beat, and who beat who – Conor might not even be ranked. It’s subjective, and it’s more of a popularity contest.”
Because fighters like McGregor seem to sit like a brick wall in the rankings, Iaquinta is just going to concern himself with what he can control, and that’s why he’s focused on defeating Hooker this weekend. Then, he’ll move onto the next toughest challenge in his path.
“I’m just focused on this fight and I’m focused on myself,” he said. “I focus on myself and I focus on getting better everyday. I’m focused on putting on a dominant performance (and) a skillful performance against Dan Hooker.
“I think that people think we’re both very tough and that’s true, but I think you’re going to see my skills are beyond his, and that’s why I win this fight and make it look really good.”