Jessica Aguilar felt a true sense of accomplishment last May when she beat Megumi Fujii, who for years had been known as the best pound-for-pound fighter in all of women's MMA.
It was a year prior to that that Aguilar had defeated future Invicta champ Carla Esparza in Bellator, and with five wins in a row overall, she was positioned as the No. 1 fighter in the world at 115 pounds.
Despite these accolades and accomplishments, Aguilar's phone didn't start ringing off the hook with new fight offers or competitors hungry to challenge her in the cage. Months passed by as Aguilar continued to train and work, just waiting on the call to come.
But it never came.
"After my last fight, we were trying to find another fight and for one reason or another, things didn't happen. So I'd say after about the sixth month or seventh month, I had to find a job. I started working and I worked for about six months until I got the confirmation for this fight. It's been a little frustrating, but I'm not sure the main reason why I can't find a fight," Aguilar told Bleacher Report on Monday. "I'm just happy I have a fight Thursday, March 28."
Being the best in the world doesn't always mean that a truckload of money just arrives at a fighter's front door. Aguilar had to return to her full-time job to help make ends meet, but she's already dedicated too much time and energy to just give up on MMA because things got rough.
"There's a frustration, but I'm too far into it already. It's addicting, it's my passion, I can't stop. I don't feel like my career's over yet. I just became No. 1 in the world last year, and I think I still have a few years in me," said Aguilar. "I'm too far into it now. It's not like it's my first year in MMA and me feeling this frustrated and I say, 'You know what, I think I should do something else.'
"I'm seven years into the sport and ranked No. 1 in the world. It's not easy just to say, 'I think I'm done' and 'let's just find another career.'"
Aguilar has been with Bellator for a few years now, and when she first arrived there, the promotion was heavily committed to women's MMA. It signed Aguilar, along with Fujii and other top-ranked women's competitors like Zoila Gurgel.
The first tournament produced a women's champion, and it appeared the promotion was ready to make a serious push into the growing market. Unfortunately, Bellator women's champion Zoila Gurgel suffered a serious knee injury that kept her out of action for over a year, and the promise of another women's tournament continuously got delayed.
Now with Aguilar and a handful of other women under contract to Bellator, the promotion still hasn't decided what will come next or when a tournament might happen. For her part, Aguilar is just happy to fight and handle the things that are within her grasp to control.
"I don't have control of it. What I have control over is myself and my training and how I present myself, and how I perform. That's what I have control over and that's what I try to do. I try to stay positive, but there is a lot of frustration about No. 1-ranked fighter in my weight division and still struggling," said Aguilar.
"You can just focus on what's in front of you and what they present to you. You can't control anything else."
Negativity has a tendency to pull anyone down when that's all they hear, and Aguilar is no different. Whether it's the fact that she's on the preliminary portion of the card instead of fighting on Spike TV or having no idea when another title might get introduced following the loss and exit of Gurgel from Bellator, Aguilar just wants to remain positive. And she hopes the results will follow.
"I have hopes and I try to stay positive," said Aguilar. "Look forward, keep pushing forward."
Damon Martin is a Featured Columnist for Bleacher Report and all quotes were obtained firsthand unless otherwise noted.