Jessica Aguilar knew what her future held from the moment the UFC announced the addition of its strawweight division in early 2014.
At the time, she was content in her deal with World Series of Fighting. She wanted to do her job there, but in the back of her mind, she knew the UFC would soon have the world’s best fighters in her division.
Aguilar fought three times in 2014, beating Alida Gray, Emi Fujino and Kalindra Faria. But as 2015 kicked off, Aguilar knew it was time. She wanted to face the best fighters her division had to offer, and they were all in the UFC. So she went to WSOF President Ray Sefo and matchmaker Ali Abdel-Aziz, and she asked them for her release so that she could enter negotiations with the UFC.
“We agreed that it was time for me to face new challenges,” Aguilar told Bleacher Report. “I just wanted to continue fighting the best in the world."
It is not often that a promotion willingly releases a top-ranked fighter, but Sefo and Abdel-Aziz did exactly that. They gave Aguilar the release she wanted, making her a free agent for the first time since 2013.
Since then, she has spoken to UFC matchmaker Sean Shelby—the man in charge of her potential division for the UFC—and received a voice mail from UFC President Dana White. She’s in talks with the UFC, and she is hopeful of finalizing a deal soon. She said she’ll need a two-month camp before her first UFC fight, and then she’ll be ready to go.
In fact, she already has a fight in mind.
If she gets her way, her first fight in the UFC will be for the strawweight title. It makes sense; she has been at or near the top of the division for quite some time, and many still consider her the best, despite fighting outside the UFC. Because of that status, she’s setting her sights on the championship.
"I feel I deserve the title shot. At the end of the day, as long as I get a fair deal, I’ll do whatever the UFC wants,” Aguilar said. "But I feel I deserve the title shot. That’s the fight I want. I want to be the UFC champion. But again, I’m a team player. If we get a good deal and they want something different, so be it. But my priority is going for the title.”
If she doesn’t receive the title shot in her first UFC fight, Aguilar said she’ll face anyone the UFC wants her to. But she has a particular history with former champion Carla Esparza, who recently went on The MMA Hour and accused Aguilar of doping. Aguilar scored a win over Esparza in 2007; she has also defeated UFC fighters Angela Magana (twice) and Lisa Ellis.
Aguilar doesn’t concern herself with Esparza’s fiery accusations, however.
"I feel sorry for her. She has nothing good to say about anyone. I don’t even pay attention to that,” Aguilar said. "I focus on the opportunities out there and the positive things. I try to see what I can do for the community in a positive way.”
Until her UFC deal is done, Aguilar—who grew up in Houston—will keep training at American Top Team. And though she wants the immediate title shot, she realizes there are plenty of opponents to keep her busy in the UFC’s newest division.
"They are all great matchups. The top ladies in my division are a challenge to me,” she said. "I want to keep challenging myself and to show the world why I’m the best strawweight in the world."
Jeremy Botter covers mixed martial arts for Bleacher Report.