Jessica Aguilar (20-8) wanted to be nothing but the best in whatever she did, especially in her MMA career.
Aguilar, a pioneer of women’s MMA who has been competing since 2006, has a resume that rivals some of the sport’s early female stars.
The 38-year-old has been up and down the block in the sport, competing for the UFC, Bellator, and World Series of Fighting, as well as having appearances in vintage promotions like BodogFight and HooknShoot.
A former WSOF women’s strawweight champion, Aguilar holds wins over the likes of the legendary Megumi Fujii (26-3), Lisa Ellis (15-11), Angela Magana (11-10), and former UFC champion Carla Esparza (17-6).
But just because she’s had a long career, which last saw her compete in the UFC, it doesn’t mean Aguilar is going to let anyone tell her when to call it quits.
Signing with the recently-relaunched, publicly-traded Xtreme Fighting Championships, Aguilar will face Danielle Taylor (10-5) on Nov. 11 at XFC 43, the promotion’s first event in about four years and its first event to air on NBC Sports Network.
“Here we are, almost 15 years later, still going at it,” Aguilar told MMA-Prospects. “I’ve been really fortunate and honored to represent the female MMA community. I’m not finished yet. This is unfinished business for me. I had a couple of Ls in the past few years, but I’m not done yet. This is more like unfinished business for myself. I still love it and I still got it, so I’m going to show it on November 11.”
Aguilar says as someone who grew up an athlete, that mission of standing out and being the top dog has been constant in her life. Aguilar — noting that dreams of pursuing athletics as a professional career often end after high school upon entering the “real world” — wasn’t able to finish a collegiate career, but ended up finding that “different” something through jiu-jitsu.
It led her to finding MMA, and while she was defeated in her professional debut against Ellis in February 2006, she had developed a love and passion for martial arts. She figured she could make a living through MMA, and things took off from there, eventually getting to the point where she had done nearly everything she set out to do in the game.
“So, when I found jiu-jitsu and when I found MMA, and I had my first opportunity to fight… I decided, ‘Hey, I can travel, I can make money and I enjoy doing this. I love it. I want to learn more,'” Aguilar said. “Then I decided to take it serious and go for it. I gave myself five years to become the best in the world. And I said, ‘Okay, I’m going to do this for five years.’ I started a little late at 24, but when I started, and I fell in love with it, I was learning some self-defense and I was just traveling and I was getting paid.
“It was new to me, it was fun, and I really loved it, and I really fell in love with it. So I continued doing it, and a little after five years into it, I became the best in the world. I beat Megumi Fujii, and I became the best in the world. That was like a dream come true for me.”
Aguilar defeated Fujii, a Japanese star, twice. Those wins over Fujii came at Bellator 69 in May 2012 and Vale Tudo Japan 3rd in October 2013.
Just over a year later, Aguilar was 3-0 in WSOF and coming off a second strawweight title defense. She had won 14 of her last 15 fights and was riding a 10-fight win streak. Additionally, she won the 2010 Female Fan-Favorite of the Year award and 2011 Female Flyweight of the Year at the Women’s MMA Awards.
Truly, at that point, Aguilar was one of the top female fighters in the sport. She was where she wanted to be — on top of the world. But she wasn’t done yet.
In 2015, Aguilar was granted a release by the WSOF to pursue a deal with the UFC.
When she first started competing in MMA, women’s action was a ways away from mainstream coverage. But Aguilar says she told UFC President Dana White in a 2007 run-in, while she was competing in Pan Ams, that she would be in the UFC one day. This was more than three years before White would make his infamous comment that women would “never” fight in the UFC — and more than five years before the UFC would bring in Ronda Rousey and the women’s bantamweight division.
“I knew that one day I was going to get there,” Aguilar said. “Like, I had seen that before. And so, me signing with the UFC was like another dream come true — another something else that I said I was gonna do and I did it right. I was there.”
Unfortunately for Aguilar, things didn’t go as well for her in the promotion. Between 2015 and 2019, Aguilar accumulated just a 1-4 Octagon record. But her losses didn’t come to write-offs or nobodies; in fact, they included future title challenger Claudia Gadelha (18-5) and current UFC champion Weili Zhang (21-1), as well as battle-tested veterans in Cortney Casey (9-8) and Marina Rodriguez (12-1-2). Her sole UFC win was a unanimous decision over Jodie Esquibel (6-6) in July 2018.
Aguilar claims she ended up going into multiple UFC fights injured, but notes that her choices were her own. She aims to not make the same mistakes in this XFC run.
“I made some bad choices while I was in the UFC,” Aguilar recalled. “Sometimes, I shouldn’t have gone into fights injured. There’s no excuse to this; those are my choices. But it is what it is. I had so many injuries and so many surgeries while I was signed with the UFC. But I learned from those experiences and I had fun while I was there, but I feel like I’m better than that. I’m better than what I showed in the UFC. It was a great ride I had, the experience. I was there with a lot of my teammates and my team. The people working for the UFC were amazing.
“I had a good time; it was more frustrated with myself and my body while I was in the UFC. It was more of what I was going through in my personal life that was affecting my MMA career while I was in the UFC. But, hey, it’s you live and you learn, right? That’s the past and I want to let that go. I want to know that ‘Hey, you did it and let’s still keep having fun, you still have another opportunity, and, (expletive), we can still keep fighting and collecting names and having fun. So, I’m just happy. I’m just excited to get back in there and just show that I’m not done yet.”
And that’s what ultimately led her to the XFC. Aguilar said she received multiple offers from promotions this year, but she found the offer from the XFC the most attractive, as it would allow her to continue her competitive career while also allowing her to keep an eye on life after the in-cage work is done.
Additionally, she loves the fact that fans — and fighters — can own stock in the promotion, akin to the NFL’s Green Bay Packers.
“XFC just made more sense. It’s a company owned by the fans,” Aguilar said. “They talked to me about possibly doing commentating with NBC Sports when I’m not fighting. There was just a lot of things, and the President [of the XFC, Myron Molotky] also spoke to me about an executive position after my career. So there was just a lot of good things that they brought to the table.”
Aguilar’s first XFC opponent will be Danielle Taylor, who started her career 7-1 in King of the Cage, winning their strawweight title, before jumping to the UFC. Like Aguilar, Taylor had her own struggles in the Octagon, picking up wins over Seo Hee Ham (23-8) and Jessica Penne (12-5) amid losses to Maryna Moroz (10-3), J.J. Aldrich (8-4), and Zhang before being cut in 2018.
Taylor recently had a two-fight stint in Invicta, defeating Montserrat Ruiz (9-1) by decision at Invicta FC 33 before dropping a split decision to Juliana Lima (10-7) in the first Invicta Phoenix Series tournament.
“She’s tough, she’s strong… she moves around a lot, but nothing that we’re worried about,” Aguilar said of Taylor. “This time around, I’m just going to be myself. I’m going to stay focused and I have the experience. I’ve been there 28 times, I’ve seen it all, I’ve felt it all, I’ve done it all. It’s just about being staying in the moment. I just want to be present, have fun, and whoop a**. I’m just going to dance in there.
“I want to do that again, you know? I want to go in and just have fun. But, obviously, the plan, always, is to win. I never go in in a fight thinking I’m losing. I know this was in the past, but before I was always thinking like, ‘Oh, I’m injured,’ or ‘This is happening.’ It was always a doubt in my head, and this time I’m going in clear, I’m going to be present, I’m going to have fun and I’m going to kick her a**.”
The fight with Taylor will also mark Aguilar’s first fight since her last time in the Octagon, a layoff of over 18 months.
“[The layoff has] been really good for me; it’s just given me more time to kind of think about things and think about why I’m doing this and kind of recharge,” Aguilar said. “It’s been good for me, this time off, and it hasn’t been time off due to injury or anything. It’s just been time off because of what’s going on in the world and me looking for my next home.
“I relocated to Houston, so, that’s something new for me as well — a new team here just closer to my family. And I’m really excited about just getting in there, signing with XFC, and getting back to the mix on Nov. 11.”
Regardless of how her the twilight stage of her career ends up, Aguilar is happy she’s doing things her way. Not to mention, she’s honored to have helped lead the way for women’s MMA, having seen the role of females in the sport grow as the years have gone by. And that, she’ll always be able to hang her hat on.
“It’s grown so much and it’s pretty cool to have seen the growth of women,” Aguilar said. “I’m so proud to be one of the pioneers. I fought through the biggest promotions, Bodog, and then we fought for Bellator, went to Japan. I mean, just to see how much the sport has grown and how well the women are doing and now headlining shows, the biggest cards of biggest promotions in the world, that’s pretty amazing.”
XFC 43 takes place on Nov. 11 at the Tabernacle in Atlanta, GA. It will air on NBC Sports Network and FITE at 9 p.m. ET. Prelims will air at 5:30 p.m. ET on FITE.