After fighting only twice for the UFC since signing for the promotion in 2015, former WSOF strawweight champion Jessica Aguilar (19-6) was excited to face newcomer Livia Renata Souza at UFC Fight Night: Cowboy vs. Medeiros. However, Souza dropped out due to injury, forcing ‘Jag’ to, yet again, wait on the sidelines. But this Friday, after over a year, Aguilar returns to action against Jodie Esquibel (6-3) at UFC Fight Night: Rivera vs. Moraes.
After a 10-fight win streak spanning Bellator and WSOF Aguilar lost her first UFC fight in 2015. That was against perennial contender Claudia Gadelha. After recovering from a torn ACL, Aguilar faced Cortney Casey in 2017.
Aguilar lost the decision to Casey on the night, but the result was switched to a No Contest by the Texas commission due to Casey’s testosterone levels. After experts criticized Texas’ findings Casey was exonerated by the UFC. The promotion then recommended Texas reverse their decision and award Casey with a victory, which they did. Bloody Elbow’s Iain Kidd followed this story closely and revealed the suffering Casey endured due to what went on in Texas.
As far as Aguilar is concerned the loss to Casey was clean and she told Bloody Elbow that she doesn’t think Casey did anything wrong. “No excuses,” said Aguilar. “She was the better fighter on that night.” Though, Aguilar did tease that there may have been a physical ailment she was working through at that time.
With the Casey fight behind her, Aguilar was itching to get back into competition. She felt great leading up to the scheduled Souza fight only to find out the Brazilian had a hand injury.
“It’s pretty funny. I found out via social media,” said Aguilar. “Somebody tagged me in a post and I think it was saying she was injured or something. But news like that comes out all the time, but then a Brazilian reporter confirmed she was injured. Then I confirmed that with my manager that it was true. I mean, I was bummed out, you go through a camp and I was ready to fight and I felt the best I’ve felt in over two years and I was well prepared, but this is the fight game. Things like this happen all the time.”
Aguilar said the UFC tried to find a replacement to keep her on the card; which was being held in Austin, TX (close to where Aguilar was raised in Houston). However, things didn’t fall into place.
“I thought it was a great match-up,” said Aguilar of the lost Souza fight. “I’d still like to fight her, but you know, it didn’t happen. We’ve taken another fight and I’m more than prepared for Jodie Esquibel.”
Aguilar said the Souza fight falling through was a “gift in disguise” that gave her more time to get stronger and more prepared for UFC competition.
Regarding her opponent Esquibel, who debuted in a loss to Karolina Kowalkiewicz in October, Aguilar said: “She’s a good fight for me. She moves around a lot. She’s aggressive. She has good conditioning. It’s just another challenge and I’m looking forward to it.”
The 36-year-old added that the experience gap between her and the 32-year-old Esquibel would be telling come fight night. “I’ve been in the game a longer time. I just have more experience. My jiu jitsu is much better. I’ve competed against the best.”
Prior to the UFC’s expansion of women’s divisions, Aguilar’s face was one of the most recognizable among female fighters on the planet, certainly at 115 lbs. This was despite, or perhaps because of, her signature walk-out attire that included a range of luchador wrestling masks.
Aguilar, who was born in Veracruz, Mexico, said those masks were an opportunity for her to show off her personality as well as her culture. She wore a mask to the cage for her UFC debut in 2015 (against Gadelha), despite the UFC’s strict Reebok outfitting policy. However, this wasn’t the case in her most recent fight (against Casey).
“I still have them,” said Aguilar. “I think for my last fight they didn’t allow me to wear them walking into the cage anymore because of the Reebok deal, but I still carry them with me and wear them from time to time.”
The UFC’s decision to block Aguilar from wearing a non-Reebok branded wrestling mask doesn’t come as a surprise. The promotion also prevented Angela Hill from donning a Black Panther mask at weigh-ins for the TUF 25 Finale in 2017.
But mask or no mask, Aguilar is heading to the cage this weekend full of confidence. “I’m just looking forward to getting up there and back in the Octagon and getting on a winning streak,” she said. “I’m going to make it a very aggressive fight and I’d like to make it quick.”
You can see if Aguilar, after a year on the sidelines, can finish her opponent quickly by tuning into UFC Fight Pass this Friday night. Jessica Aguilar vs. Jodie Esquibel is the featured Early Prelim. That portion of the card gets underway at 6:30PM ET.