When last we saw Al Iaquinta, the heavily-favored "The Ultimate Fighter — Season 15" finalist was falling prey to a choke courtesy of Mike Chiesa — a surprising turn of events that left the Matt Serra/Ray Longo product unconscious and Chiesa earning the moniker "Ultimate Fighter". But, as is usually the case with TUF competitors who crush nearly all who stand before them on the show and leave a lasting impression on viewers, Iaquinta is expected to get a second chance in the Octagon. Just when we'll get to see the 25-year-old slugger return, however, is another story entirely. Cagewriter caught up with Iaquinta while the Long Island, N.Y., resident convalesces at his home, recovering from knee surgery.
What's up with your knee?
"I just got surgery yesterday. I tore some cartilage on the show, and I thought it was going to get better but it just wasn't healing up. So I got an MRI, and they said I probably should have surgery, and I got it fixed."
When did this happen?
"This was the second-to-last fight, against [Vinc] Pichel. We clashed knees a couple times, and I messed it up pretty good. It didn't bother me in the finale. But afterwards I thought it was going to get better, and it didn't heal right so I got it fixed up."
How soon are you out for?
"Three months, but hopefully I get back sooner than that."
Are you in a lot of pain?
"No, no. Surprisingly, no. They gave me a bunch of painkillers but I haven't taken anything. I've got it in a brace most of the time, and I'm on crutches, and the doctor said I can put a little pressure on it. Originally, they wanted to cut me open and go in there and take stuff out, then put me back together. But I got a second opinion, and this doctor did it arthroscopically. It cuts the healing time in half."
Is this your first knee injury?
"Yeah, it's always been my hands. But my hands have been holding up pretty good, and now it's my knee."
Would you say your knee played a role in your loss to Chiesa?
"Nah. It was tough training that week, leading up to that fight. But once I got in there and got the adrenaline going, it really wasn't a factor in that fight. Once the bell rang, it wasn't even in my mind. I just messed up and got caught, you know?"
Dana White has said that TUF is going back to being prerecorded. How does it feel to know that you were part of the only season where TUF was live?
"That's definitely cool. I think there are a number of reasons why they're doing that. I think financially for them it didn't make sense. It cost them I don't know how many times more to bring in the extra crews for the live shows, and I don't know how many more viewers they got for that. Being on Friday night, that didn't make too much sense to me. Being on Friday night, I think the demographic they're looking for is probably out. I think cutting it down to six weeks and having it prerecorded is going to save them a lot of money. Also, I think with the injuries and stuff… fighting three times in three weeks, you're not coming out of that unscathed. My knee's banged up, and I know Chiesa, his hand's pretty banged up."
What's your best memory from being on the show?
"I don't think there's one thing that sticks out, I think it was just a general… just the camaraderie on our team that we had. I made a lot of good friendships with the guys that were on Team Alpha Male and all the guys that were on Team Faber. I'm definitely going to be training with a lot of them in the future. It definitely broadened my horizons."
Did anyone get crazy in the house?
"We had a couple times in the house where we got pretty drunk, and that was really fun. Thank God they never put it on TV. Me and Chiesa, we actually got pretty drunk one day. It was like a Tuesday, and the episode airs Friday, so we went crazy and broke some things, got a little nuts. And it was like four days leading up to that episode where I was just praying every day that they wouldn't put it on. I didn't want my parents, or anyone, to see that, and thank God they didn't put it on."
It didn't seem like there were a lot of pranks this season compared to other seasons.
"We didn't go crazy with the pranks, but we were definitely messing with each other. I remember one day [Daron] Cruickshank stole the other team's toilet seat. And he hid it in one of the trees, so they had no seat to sit on. That was pretty funny. But it was just silly stuff, nothing crazy. They didn't really go too crazy with the pranks, thank God. Everyone was really cool."
What was the worst thing about being stuck in the TUF House?
"The worst thing about being stuck in the house was that there were no girls. For three months there were no girls, it was just a bunch of dudes. I mean, every once in a while there were these two ladies that came over to do the Twitter — we weren't allowed on the computers so we'd have to write out our Twitter — and these two girls would come over and we'd all smell the perfume and drool all over them."
How was the food?
"The food was great. It was actually too good. We had a list and we'd write whatever we wanted and they'd bring it to us. When you're trying to cut weight, and you've got whatever you need to eat, it's kind of tough at times. We'd all hang out in the kitchen, and you start picking a little bit and picking a little bit, an hour or hour and a half later you've gained a couple pounds right there. So it was tough to keep your weight down. But we all helped each other out and tried our best. We realized we were all in the same situation."
Most fighters film their last fight in the TUF House and go home and train for at least a month or two before the TUF finale. How hard was it to go from the TUF House and a week later have to fight in the finale?
"That was real tough. It was crazy, that week. We went from not being able to do any interviews and not being able to talk to anybody, to having the biggest fight of my life and now everyone is trying to contact me and ask me how I'm doing, and then the interviews started coming. That week was so hectic, to stay focused was tough. But I did my best to stay focused, and I thought I was, leading up to that fight. And it was great experience, I think I learned a lot about myself and a lot about the sport. While I was there I trained with some of the best guys in the world, so I've got a good idea of where I'm at and what I need to work on."
What's next? Has the UFC given you any indication about how they're going to use you?
"I haven't really been in too much contact with them — we're just waiting for this to heal. We're going to see how long this takes, and then I'll give them a call and tell them I'm ready and I'm sure they'll find me a fight. But right now I'm just worried about getting this knee better and getting back in training. I'm going a little stir crazy."