Iaquinta told ESPN Wednesday night that he is not fighting Gaethje on Aug. 25 in Lincoln, Nebraska, after all. He said he informed the UFC of his decision to withdraw from the fight, and according to sources, the UFC is currently seeking a new opponent to fight Gaethje in the main event of the Fight Night card.
UFC offered the fight to Kevin Lee, sources say. However, Lee declined the opportunity because he wanted more time to train for his next fight. Lee is hoping to return to action later this year.
Iaquinta would not disclose his reason for canceling the fight.
It appeared as though Iaquinta, who hasn't always seen eye-to-eye with UFC brass, was back in the promotion's good graces after he accepted to fight Khabib Nurmagomedov on 24 hours' notice in April. While he ultimately lost the fight via unanimous decision, the UFC quickly booked "Ragin' Al" in the main event of the Nebraska card against the fan-favorite Gaethje. Prior to that loss, Iaquinta (13-4-1) had won his last five in a row.
"I can't question Al's heart," Gaethje's manager Ali Abdelaziz told ESPN Wednesday night, "but at the end of the day, when you fight Justin, people have to think about it. I got nothing against Al, but it's a tall order to fight Justin. When you go in there, you leave a piece of yourself in the cage. Some people don't want to do that. If I'm a fighter I don't want to fight that guy. I don't know if this is a negotiation tactic from Al, but he is out.
"For the record, he called out Justin, Justin took the fight and then he pulled out. It's his business. UFC will find someone else to fight Justin, and it will be an exciting fight. It doesn't matter who fights Justin, it could be a chair in there, it will be exciting."
The event will take place at the Pinnacle Bank Arena and will mark the UFC's first event in Lincoln.