The UFC has signed 11 women strawweights for a TUF season, and the winner will become the first 115-pound UFC champion, but that doesn’t mean they will crown the best fighter in the world.
Considered by many to be the No. 1 fighter in the strawweight division, Jessica Aguilar enters the World Series of Fighting cage for the first time on Jan. 18 to take on undefeated Alida Gray for the 115-pound title, and she doesn’t care if she’s not joining the other fighters to the UFC.
"First of all, I’m very grateful to WSOF for believing in me, allowing me to continue to do what I do and showcase my skills inside the WSOF cage on the NBC network," Aguilar told MMAFighting.com.
"It’s a privilege for me. My plan for this year at WSOF is to win the title on Jan. 18 and travel with my belt to Mexico, Brazil, Japan, and continue showing why I’m the best in the world, the No. 1 strawweight in the world. I can’t wait to start off my 2014 with my world title. I want to stay busy and keep evolving my game."
All of UFC strawweights came from Invicta FC, including its champion Carla Esparza. Aguilar, who defeated Esparza in 2011, is confident that she will still be considered the No. 1 after the UFC crowns their first champion.
"I don’t think I am the best, I am the best," she said. "I beat the best in the world. She can have the No. 2 spot, she can have her UFC belt, whatever she wants. I don’t even think she’s going to get it, I think Claudia (Gadelha) is going to beat her, but that’s another conversation. I don’t think I am the best, I am the best.
"I’m very humble, but I think I need to start talking the truth. I put a lot of hard work and dedicate a lot of time to be where I am today. This is my title. I am the No. 1 strawweight in the world. It doesn’t matter if someone has the UFC belt, but they don’t have the best in the world. The best in the world right now is with WSOF."
As the UFC grows its attention to the female fighters, Aguilar could be the next to join the UFC, but that’s not her focus right now.
"I have a contract here and I believe I’m in the right place right now," she said. "Everything happens for a reason. Later, in the future, when I win more fights, we’ll see what happens. But now I’m very happy with the WSOF, and very happy for those that the UFC has given an opportunity. It’s a great thing. But I’m going to continue winning and proving why I’m the No. 1 strawweight in the world and then we’ll see what happens. But, right now, my goal is to be the WSOF first strawweight champion."
To maintain herself at the top of the division, Aguilar needs to beat the 4-0 judo specialist at WSOF 8, and she’s not underestimating Aldia Gray.
"I’m very comfortable wherever the fight goes," she said. "I train for everything, this is MMA and you have to be prepared for everything. Obviously, my strong point is the ground but I’m very confident. I trust in my stand up as well, so I’ll be ready for anything she brings. I'm not going to let her bring it, I’m going to bring it to her. It’s going to be an exciting fight.
"I know a lot of people keep saying it’s her fourth fight, but she more experienced than I am. I only have seven and a half years in combat sports and everything. When I started MMA in 2006, I had a week to train for my first fight. She has been in combat sports since 1993. She has a lot of experience. Obviously, she’s new to the MMA circuit but she’s very familiar to the combat sports. I think she’s going to be ready."
Gray, an alternate on the 1996 U.S. Olympic judo team, has won three of her four professional MMA fights via knockout, and Aguilar believes her jiu-jitsu could be the best way to get the win.
"I do feel this one is my time to come back with my submission work and get my first world title," she said. "I’m going to bring my jiu-jitsu back and give everybody a good fight.
"In jiu-jitsu and MMA, you can never know everything. Every day I go to the gym I learn something new, whether it’s a small detail, moving my head or stepping my foot. Any little detail, every day I learn something new. The way that I changed, every day I evolve my game even more. My timing is better. I have seven and a half years in the sport and I’ve reached to this level, but I’m still learning and have a lot to learn. You will see the technique and my game have evolved on the ground on January 18."
In the biggest fight of her career, fighting for her first title, the American Top Team product brings no extra pressure to the cage.
"There’s no pressure. The pressure was where I had to prove myself. Now, this is all fun," she said. "The hard work it the training and getting to where I am today. Obviously, I still continue working as hard as I did. I even work harder, but there’s no pressure. I’m having fun. I love what I do. When it’s time to train hard I put pressure on myself, but for the fight there’s no pressure. I prepare myself.
"For every fight, I train really hard, but I had a really good training camp. I train with the best team in the world, American Top Team, the best coaches in the world, (Ricardo) Liborio and all the coaches there are amazing and have been working with me to prepare for this fight. The camp has been very hard, but very good."