Jessica Aguilar could be on the verge of a UFC strawweight title shot. | Dave Mandel/Sherdog.com
Jessica Aguilar has no doubt that if she defeats Claudia Gadelha at UFC 190, she is the strawweight division’s clear-cut No. 1 contender.
“Of course,” she said matter-of-factly during a recent interview on the Sherdog Radio Network’s “Beatdown” show.
Aguilar’s strong sense of self-belief didn’t arrive overnight. The former World Series of Fighting 115-pound champion -- Sherdog.com’s No. 2 ranked strawweight -- was making bold predictions many years ago, at a time when women’s MMA barely had a foothold in the sport.
“It’s so ironic and so surreal that in 2008 I was competing in the Pan-Ams and I met Dana White at Gold’s Gym . We were cutting weight, my teammates and I. At that time Dana White said there wouldn’t be any girls [in the UFC], and he had his reason why: the depth was not there,” Aguilar said. “My teammates at the time, Jorge Santiago and those guys, were talking to him and they introduced me.
“I gave Dana White my business card and I said, ‘One day I’ll be your champion.’ This is my vision. I always said since I started my career that I was going to be the best, that I was going to be No. 1. Now we’re here 2015, seven years later, and one step closer to that dream, so it’s pretty cool.”
Aguilar called her shot at a time when it appeared to be completely farfetched. Now she has to follow up on the rest of her prediction. Beating Gadelha, who dropped a narrow split-decision to reigning strawweight queen Joanna Jedrzejczyk at UFC on Fox 13, would seemingly put her on a collision course with the hard-hitting Polish star.
While Aguilar likes Jedrzejczyk, the American Top Team product believes that the strawweight titilist is still unproven, despite lopsided victories over then champion Carla Esparza in March and against Jessica Penne in June. Aguilar claims that she has maintained the No. 1 spot in the world at 115 pounds ever since she vanquished Japanese standout Megumi Fujii twice in a little more than one year’s time.
“I think she’s a great champion. I am No. 1 in the world because I beat the No. 1, Megumi Fuji -- first in  and then again a couple years ago. I just didn’t give myself that ranking,” Aguilar explained. “I think she’s a great champion. I think she has a lot of skill and when I said one-dimensional, I didn’t mean [that] disrespectfully -- we just haven’t seen her on the ground. She has great standup. That’s her strong point; she’s been doing that for a long time. I like her. She has power; she moves well and I like her personality. She has really good energy.”
Few 115-pounders are as accomplished as Aguilar: In addition to a pair of title defenses in WSOF, “Jag” posted a 5-1 record in Bellator before parting ways with the promotion. Her resume is part of the reason she is jumping straight into deep water against Gadelha at UFC 190. Making matters more interesting is that the fight takes place on her opponent’s home turf, at the HSBC Arena in Rio de Janeiro.
“I love it,” she said. “Those are the fights that I want. I want to fight the best, and I want to continue proving why I’m the best. I don’t want any cupcakes.”
Aguilar has previous experience competing against Gadelha, albeit in a grappling tournament. She expects things to look quite different in the Octagon come Aug. 1.
“I remember I was a blue belt and she was a brown belt and she was about 145 pounds and I was about 125. And not much happened,” Aguilar said. “She pulled guard and she was trying to attack from her guard but nothing happened. So since she was attacking they gave her the match. My game has changed a lot. I’m a brown belt now; it’s five years later. I’m a totally different fighter and this is not a grappling match. This is MMA, so you’re gonna see punches and there’s just going to be a lot of different dynamics going on.”
Aguilar’s skills have progressed over the years, but so has the state of women’s MMA since she made her proclamation to the UFC boss years ago. Aguilar never wavered on her journey, even when others doubted the sustainability of a fighting career.
“People would tell me, ‘You’re crazy, what are you doing?’ That’s who I am. I’m always going to do what I want,” she said. “Here I am. I’m really happy that I followed my instinct and my gut and did what I wanted to do.”