Al Iaquinta boarded his Qantas flight in New York in 2017, bound for Australia by way of San Francisco. He was heading across the world to help run fighting seminars for a month. He wanted to spread his name. He also needed the money.
By the time he had gone from the East Coast to the West, his new second job required attention.
Iaquinta had taken on his first client as a real estate agent a week earlier and had listed the home for sale just days before his trip. As the wheels touched down in San Francisco, a prospective buyer reached out and wanted to see the house.
During his layover, he set up a showing. By the time he landed in Australia, an offer had been made. He negotiated the price and made his first sale -- with a full-price cash offer -- from across the world.
Iaquinta ventured into real estate because he needed revenue. A knee injury was keeping him from fighting, and he wasn't sure if he'd ever be able to get back into the Octagon. He needed to find a way to set up his financial future while also having the flexibility, if healthy, to pursue a UFC title.
"The real estate -- that's going to be the long-term [plan]," Iaquinta said. "The fighting thing, I have goals in fighting that are going to be within the next five years. Then after that, real estate is where it's going to be."
In 2017, Iaquinta said, his incomes from UFC fighting and real estate sales were similar. Now, entering his third straight headlining bout Saturday night in Ottawa, Ontario, against Donald Cerrone, fighting more than pays the bills.
Iaquinta says he knows he's fortunate to have reached this point. Many other fighters might never. The Conor McGregors, Jon Joneses and Ronda Rouseys of the sport are financially set. Some main-card attractions pull in high-five- to low-seven-figure paydays, but the majority of UFC fighters -- and fighters in other organizations -- aren't as financially stable.
Consider this: A preliminary card fighter might make between $10,000-$30,000 per fight. That fighter competes twice or three times per year -- provided he stays healthy. Take out taxes, gym fees, trainer and manager wages along with normal living expenses, and finances can become tight. Fast.
Though many fighters offer personal training sessions or work in the gyms where they train, separating fight and finance has been the path for others. Iaquinta became a real estate agent. UFC strawweight Emily Whitmire and welterweight Geoff Neal work in the service industry. Stipe Miocic was the reigning heavyweight champion while a part-time firefighter in Cleveland. Aljamain Sterling, a bantamweight training partner of Iaquinta's, has worked as a substitute teacher and recently earned his real estate license. Bantamweight Marion Reneau teaches at a high school, and flyweight Roberto Sanchez is an actuary. Others work as police officers, teachers and construction workers.
All to try to make a living.
"We all know that this [fighting] money is not forever, you know what I mean? Anything can happen," said Neal, who has fought four times in the UFC and also works as a waiter in Dallas, Texas. "So you have to keep more income. Most of the money fighters make, we try to save it. You know, fighting is just such an up-and-down sport, and the business model is hard for normal fighters that have no name to make money.
"We all know. We know. We signed up for it. We know what to expect. That's why we work."
Twice a day for two weeks in late 2015, Iaquinta crutched to his car to drive from Seaford, New York, to the Long Island Real Estate School in Syosset. He hobbled in, sat down and took another class. He had no options. Recovering from a knee surgery and unsure he'd fight again, Iaquinta was watching his bank account dwindle.
He needed to find another option, another way to make money while thinking about his long-term future. He still wanted to fight in the UFC, but it was going to be a while -- a hiatus lasting two years. So he sat through 20 classes to become a licensed real estate agent, approaching it with the same intensity he had in the Octagon.
"I went every day, morning, night, morning, night, weekend. I went two sessions, straight through," Iaquinta said. "I passed, did a 75-hour course in like two weeks, took the test. I had nothing going on, might as well, you know what I mean?"
He had contemplated real estate for years, starting from purchasing his own home in Seaford in 2014. During that process, Iaquinta searched Zillow to do his own research along with using his real estate agent's help, because he knew what he wanted: a decent home with a garage he could convert into a gym for personal training.
He bought the first house he saw in person. When he was on "The Ultimate Fighter," his coach, Urijah Faber, suggested he rent rooms in his home to create income. He did. It was his first foray into the business, at the time a way to add to the bottom line.
"When I was with [Faber, I] stayed with him. He went over all this with me and he told me you want to build equity, put equity down on the house, rent out rooms," Iaquinta said. "The gym is a perfect place. Have a bunch of friends that are living [there]. People come from out of state to rent rooms, and in my house right now there's three people renting rooms and I'm living there basically for free and saving money."
Then he got hurt. The knee kept getting worse. He and Sterling, his then-roommate, flew to Irvine, California, to take a four-day real estate crash course. Both were intrigued. Sterling tried to flip houses. Iaquinta went the realty route.
And that's how "Raging" Al Iaquinta, ESPN's No. 5-ranked lightweight, became Realtor Al Iaquinta, the self-described "hardest-working professional in real estate."
There is a correlation between the fighting world and the real estate world. There are hundreds of thousands of agents out there, like there are hundreds of thousands of fighters. The best just have to find that edge to be successful.
"You have to work hard for your clients. You have to," Iaquinta said. "It's a lot different than training twice a day, getting beat up. If I can do that, I feel like you put me in any situation, I'll be able to outwork anyone you ask me to outwork. You know what I mean?
"That's my mindset. There's no one that can outwork me."
At the start, Iaquinta had to learn a new way to put in that work. He was watching his mentor, Rich Raspantini, make money, but he wasn't having that success.
Then Raspantini told him to text everyone in his phone announcing his job as a real estate agent -- from his parents to women in his contacts with listings like "Rachel from Mulcahy's." He didn't fear rejection. He didn't care. He needed business. Even if it means being in Australia when it happens. That was the start.
When he returned from Down Under, Iaquinta helped his sister, Jackie, buy a home. A friend, Patrick Browne, moved back to Long Island from San Diego with his fiancée, and Iaquinta handled his purchase.
Now he has made 19 deals essentially working part time -- shutting things down when he's in camp for a fight. Most of his sales have been on homes priced between $250,000 and $750,000 all across Long Island. They've come from referrals and cold calls on for-sale-by-owner properties, where he convinced owners to let him represent them.
Some clients, not all, know him as a fighter.
"I think it benefits me because I know a lot of people. I'm visible," Iaquinta said. "If I'm trying to sell [myself], I'm using it in my presentation if I'm trying to list the house -- I have way more followers on social media and the majority of them are Long Island-based. 'I put your listing up on social media, and people comment on it. It's available to so many more people.' I'll do something like that. It's just word of mouth more."
Usually he's working for up to a handful of clients at a time when he's not in training camp. On Monday morning, when he gets back to Long Island from his fight this weekend, he'll get to work again.
It's St. Patrick's Day weekend in Las Vegas in 2018 and it's getting hectic at the Three Angry Wives Pub in Summerlin, Nevada. It's a big money-making weekend, and Emily Whitmire is on her own, frantically working a 10-table dining room, three-table bar area and lounge with high-tops and couches.
It's lucrative, but also a bit insane. A good weekend can bring in $400 per shift. In three shifts that weekend, Whitmire sold $4,000 in product and brought home a payday of more than $1,000. Last year, she worked it alone. This year, she split the weekend with another server, who couldn't believe she had handled it solo in 2018.
"I'm the server they call in when they know it's going to be a s---show and they need someone to do a good job," Whitmire says.
The 27-year-old UFC strawweight has been in the service industry since she was 16 at the now-shuttered Steakburger in Vancouver, Washington. In Oregon, she worked at Prime Time in Forest Grove and Buddies Sports Bar & Grill in Aloha.
Throughout her journey in MMA, waiting tables has kept her afloat.
During a stint on the regional circuit, Whitmire traveled to outposts like Shawnee, Oklahoma, and New Town, North Dakota, for fights. For a trip to St. Charles, Missouri, the flight cost $700. She lost the match and made $500 -- before having to pay fees for the gym, trainers and managers. And living expenses. In victory or defeat, she operated at or close to a financial loss.
Now three fights into her UFC career with a 2-1 record, Whitmire has a career path to follow, but the pay still has a long way to go. Each of her bouts has been the first one on the preliminary card, and her payday is in the thousands, meaning fighting still isn't financially lucrative.
When she moved to Las Vegas to focus on her UFC efforts, Whitmire landed a gig at Hard Rock within 24 hours. After Hard Rock came the Cabo Wabo Cantina on the Strip, where she would avoid questions about why she was in great shape. She lied, saying she was a gymnast or played volleyball. It caught up to her once, when she waited on a table of people in town for a big volleyball tournament.
"I was like, 'Uhhh, I gotta go. I'm really busy,'" Whitmire said. "I'm like, 'I should never use that one again.'"
Now, she avoids the conversation at Three Angry Wives unless she truly connects with a table. Most of the clientele know, though. Other fighters and managers work there. They get it. Before, when a table or employees would find out she fought, they'd say, "Oh, I bet you can kick my ass," or something similarly annoying.
Waiting tables provides a good balance and flexibility. Whitmire waits tables on weekends and trains during the week, although fall Mondays after Patriots games -- Three Angry Wives is a Pats bar -- can be a struggle. Sometimes she holds her breath moving through the smoke-filled lounge. It's better than Cabo Wabo, where she worked five days a week at night, slept a few hours and then trained during the day.
All to keep supporting her other career.
"I'll keep doing it until I'm making, not $100,000 a fight, but if I'm making $60,000 a fight, then yeah, I would probably definitely step away from it," Whitmire said. "One hundred percent if I was making $60,000. Until then, I don't feel like I want to just because after I'm done, I want to set something up where I'm not working a 9-to-5 when I'm done fighting.
"I don't want to be in that rat race every morning. That won't make me happy. That's not my personality. I know that if I keep working hard right now, it'll pay off."
Geoff Neal has been at Moxie's Grill and Bar for about a year, working weekends with the occasional weekday morning shift. His résumé reads like a middle-class TripAdvisor: Cheddar's, Danger's Grill, Texas Roadhouse and, now, Moxie's.
Each switch offered a little different opportunity as the 28-year-old worked his way up in the fight world. On Mondays, Tuesdays and Wednesdays he trains, works out, rests and recovers. He doubles up Thursday workouts and waits tables all weekend, with a Saturday morning training session squeezed in after getting home at 4:30 a.m. from his shift at Moxie's.
"I literally have no free time," Neal said. "People don't understand."
Before the UFC, he'd live fight-to-fight -- often broke by his next bout. UFC money has helped a lot, but he still needs to work. He knows an injury could make the UFC fight purse disappear fast.
Neal's growing fame and television appearances led to a modicum of celebrity at the bar. After he fought in Dallas in 2018, everyone at the restaurant figured out his main gig. People think he's rich and don't understand why he works there.
He doesn't correct the masses -- it's pointless, he says. Whenever he starts a new gig, he's upfront with his bosses about his UFC career to shape his schedule and explain why he might need occasional time off. When he's on the job in his four- to five-table sections, like Whitmire, he doesn't want to take questions about his other job, even if customers sometimes recognize him.
"Most of the time they are like, 'You look familiar,'" Neal said. "I try to veer off that subject because that's one thing I don't want to do while I'm serving is let them know that I fight and I'm in UFC and all that, because then it comes with a million-and-one questions.
"And I have a million-and-one things I got to do for my other tables."
There's no guarantee it'd lead to a better tip, either, so Neal just keeps going -- fighting and serving -- as a way to make sure all the bills are paid. It's something far too many UFC fighters can sympathize with.
"I said it before that I want to wait [tables] until I get a million dollars in my bank account, but honestly, if I have $500,000 in my bank account I would probably stop, you know what I mean?" Neal said. "A million dollars -- I just threw a number out there, like I can have $500,000 in my bank account. If I have enough money to where I'm comfortable and I don't feel a certain type of way when I'm working, then I'll do that. Right now, the money I make, I'm not comfortable quitting, you know?"