When Bellator Fighting Championships first decided to add a women's division, American Top Team fighter Jessica Aguilar was on the short list of competitors that Bjorn Rebney and the matchmakers at the promotion targeted as a key addition.
Aguilar then went 5-1 during her time at Bellator, where she also picked up a win over former women's top-ranked pound-for-pound fighter Megumi Fujii. The victory bumped Aguilar up to No. 1 in the world in rankings at 115 pounds, and she's held onto the spot ever since.
On Tuesday, however, Aguilar officially said goodbye to Bellator. The promotion issued her release, as it has opted to move away from pursuing a women's division for now.
Aguilar was the latest fighter to exit Bellator, along with fellow women's fighters Jessica Eye and Felice Herrig, who were also released from the promotion this week.
Aguilar admits that getting the call from Bellator that she was being released was tough, but it wasn't anger or angst that she was feeling—it was a bit of sadness.
"It's bittersweet only because I started with Bellator on day one at the beginning. I was out there with Bjorn (Rebney) going to TV stations and radio stations doing interviews with him and Eddie Alvarez. I was there since day one, and what a journey. They employed me and I was very happy with them," Aguilar told Bleacher Report on Tuesday.
"They were the vehicle that made my dream possible of being No. 1 in the world and getting the fights I always wanted. I'm thankful for everything they did for me, and I'm just excited for the future.
"I'm sad to leave Bellator because I started with them, and they were so good to me. I'm ready for the next chapter for my life, and I'm excited about what it holds for me in the future."
Bellator was committed to the women's division starting with its third season on television. But after crowning a champion in Zoila Frausto-Gurgel at 115 pounds, everything was put on old when the newly crowned title holder suffered a knee injury that forced her to the sidelines for over a year.
While Gurgel was away, Bellator continued to put on women's fights sporadically, but it never launched another tournament to try and restart the division.
Aguilar kept getting fights, and her ranking kept getting higher and higher. But with Bellator now moving on without a women's division, she's excited to find a new fight home and continue to pursue her dream to be known as the best fighter on the planet.
"Everything happens for a reason. There's a perfect time for everything. I'm where I need to be right now," Aguilar said. "I am just excited for the future, and I want to continue, and I will continue to defend my ranking. I will continue to put on exciting fights for the fans and continue to be an ambassador for the sport as a female athlete."
Aguilar is in a very unique position of being a free agent as the No. 1 fighter in her weight class. Beyond her ranking, she not only has a win over Fujii—who was ranked at the top of the division for years—but also holds a victory over current Invicta women's strawweight champion Carla Esparza.
In other words, Aguilar is not only the top fighter in her weight class, she's also already beaten the next top two contenders.
So now Aguilar enters free agency for the first time in years, but she says her motto is "smile and believe." And she's sure there are good things coming.
"I'm always going to be ready. Whenever we make a deal with the prospects out there, and whoever is the best choice and makes sense for me and my team, and that's where we'll be. I'll be ready whenever the opportunity comes in the next couple of months," Aguilar stated.
"I'm a free agent. I'm the No. 1 fighter in the world at strawweight, so I'm very excited and looking forward to the future."
Damon Martin is a Featured Columnist for Bleacher Report, and all quotes were obtained firsthand unless otherwise noted.