Jessica Aguilar: Strength & Inspiration Through AdversityJessica Aguilar has not had an easy start to 2011. The Bellator standout has encountered fight cancellations, lived through a devastating earthquake and tsunami disaster in Japan, and now faces financial stresses due to the lack of prominent sponsors that are available for female fighters in MMA today.

Through this, the Florida native has found strength and inspiration, and she is focused on attaining success in order to help others. Aguilar will return to the Bellator cage this Saturday against All-American wrestler Carla Esparza and hopes that a victory will propel her into a title fight later this year.


As a member of the renowned American Top Team, Jessica “Jag” Aguilar has had an opportunity to train with some of the top mixed martial artists in the world in recent years. She received her biggest opportunity to date in last year’s Bellator 115-pound women’s tournament, but suffered a controversial decision loss in the semi-finals. After a February fight was scrapped, Aguilar stepped in on short notice to face Jewels champion Ayaka Hamasaki in Japan, but found herself in the middle of a tragic situation after a massive earthquake and tsunami devastated the country. The submission specialist will compete for the first time in 2011 when she faces Carla Esparza on Saturday.


As we begin our conversation, Aguilar is making her way to Houston, Texas to visit friends and relatives after attending the Showtime-televised Strikeforce event in Dallas the night before. Just 30 minutes earlier, Aguilar and best friend Jennifer Boronico were driving through raging wildfires in the area, which have forced evacuations and destroyed thousands of homes.

“People are evacuating and it’s just a mess right now,” she says. “I wonder why I keep getting into these situations.”


In March, Aguilar eagerly accepted a short-notice fight in Japan after fellow Bellator tournament veteran Lisa Ward was forced to withdraw due to injury. Aguilar was booked to face Jewels Lightweight Queen Champion Ayaka Hamasaki in a non-title bout at Jewels: “12th Ring.” She had little more than a week to prepare, but was excited to receive an opportunity to travel to and compete in Japan.

Much like the wildfires in Texas, however, Aguilar would find herself in the middle of a disaster when an 8.9-magnitude earthquake struck off of Japan’s coast just hours before she was scheduled to compete. Her attention immediately shifted from fighting to thoughts of family, whom she feared she may never see again, and then turned to how she could aid those who were affected most by the tragedy.

“The first thing that went through my mind was, ‘This is it,'” Aguilar recalls of the moment in Japan when the earthquake hit. “I never thought that I was going to be able to leave, but I just wanted to help. I was frustrated because I didn’t know what to do. I’m now finding ways to help the people in Japan because obviously it’s not over yet. There’s still people there who are going to be suffering from the earthquake for a long time. Every little bit of help counts.”

Aguilar, who will be selling t-shirts at her Bellator fight on Saturday and donating 50% of the proceeds to help the people of Japan, believes that she has found a calling after battling through adversity this year. The wildfire experience this past weekend only reaffirmed that belief in her mind.

“I’m driving with my friend Jennifer, and I told her that this is a sign. I need to find a way to help people. I don’t know why these things keep happening, but I think that everything happens for a reason and it’s a sign. I do want to help as much as I can, so I just need to find a way. I don’t know if I should try to form my own charity or what, but just something. I think that’s my calling right now.”


While her focus is on helping others, Aguilar has faced her own share of hardships this year. Unable to find any full-time sponsors to help to support her MMA career, and with no fight purses coming in due to bout cancellations, Aguilar has been forced to turn down opportunities to compete in Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu tournaments and recently took on a full-time job. Like many other female fighters, including Bellator champion Zoila Gurgel, Aguilar has struggled to make a living as a mixed martial artist.

“My best friend Jennifer owns Boca Tanning Club, which is the largest tanning franchise in South Florida,” Aguilar says. “I’ve been working with them for the past five and a half years, but just recently I got involved and partnered up with them. I’m now taking over the franchise development part of the business.”

The new venture may provide Aguilar with extra funding for travel and training down the line, but obtaining sponsors remains her number one focus in the short-term; especially as she prepares for a tough test in her Bellator return. With Strikeforce recently enacting a sponsorship tax, some companies have been frozen out of supporting fighters in the Zuffa-owned promotion, and Aguilar hopes that these groups may turn their attention to Bellator and other organisations.

“I’m still looking for sponsors, so if anyone is interested in sponsoring me, I’m definitely interested in working with new people. Right now, I don’t have any sponsorships. Most of my [past] sponsors have just been small groups that aren’t making anything from it. Really, do companies get their money back from sponsorships? I think that they sponsor fighters more to help the fighter than anything.

“It’s easier [to obtain sponsors] if the show is televised, but Bellator is saying that they’re not sure if my fight [on Saturday] will be televised because they have the tournament going on. It’s strictly a time constraints issue, but I think that my fight will be the swing fight to air if there’s time.”


While other fighters may be upset with not receiving a guaranteed spot on the main card, Aguilar has adopted a positive outlook and is simply happy to have a fight and an opportunity to compete in front of friends and teammates in Florida. Aguilar has not fought for Bellator since September 30th, when she dropped a Split Decision to Gurgel in a tournament semi-final bout that was debated by fans for many weeks after.

“I don’t like talking about how the tournament ended,” Aguilar says. “Obviously, Zoila won it and congratulations to her, but it is what it is. My loss was controversial, but it just makes me stronger and I’ve learned a lot from that. It drives me and makes me more hungry. Right now, my main focus is on fighting Carla Esparza at Bellator 46. I’m not focusing on my last Bellator fight, or on Zoila. That’s in the past and I’m over that.”

Though she showcased much-improved striking in her fight with Gurgel last year, Aguilar is expecting Saturday’s matchup with Esparza to go to the ground, where she is looking to win by submission. Maintaining a balanced training camp that is adaptable to each opponent’s unique style, Aguilar feels that she has the tools to defeat Esparza and will be comfortable wherever the fight may go.

While she is not overlooking the tough opponent in front of her, Aguilar hopes that a win will set up a title fight rematch with Gurgel later this year.

“I think that Zoila will be scheduled to fight again soon, so if she wants to defend her title, hopefully after this win [against Esparza] I can get a rematch and get that belt around my waist,” Aguilar says. “Then, if there’s another fight that comes after that before the year’s over, that would be great. So maybe two more fights after this one on Saturday would be ideal.”

If opportunities present themselves, Aguilar has eyes on matchups with at least two other opponents. After watching Megumi Fujii fall short against Gurgel in last year’s Bellator tournament final, Aguilar would consider it an honour to be able to face Fujii – a woman she lists as her idol and a legend – in the coming year, though she hopes to capture Bellator gold before that time. She is also very interested in returning to Japan for Jewels if a bout with Hamasaki can be rebooked.

“I really want the fight [with Hamasaki],” she says. “I want to go back to Jewels in Japan and get that fight because the fans there were really looking forward to it. I would definitely take that fight this year if I could. I never turn an opportunity down, so if there’s one out there, I’ll take it. Bellator has been really good. They’ve never given me any problems about fighting on other shows.”


Aguilar will appear on MTV Made in the coming months as a coach for a woman aspiring to become a mixed martial artist, but she believes that capturing the Bellator 115-pound women’s title would open new doors and really allow her to make a difference in the lives of others.

“It’s been a rollercoaster for these last seven months, so I just don’t want to be on that anymore,” she says. “I just don’t want to be stressed out, and staying positive is really important to me. When I have problems, I don’t like to be around anyone else because I don’t want to give off any bad energy. People training at the gym look up to me and that is very important to me. I have to keep going to show them that it doesn’t matter what is put in front of you; you can surpass that and come out successful.”

Those interested in sponsoring Jessica or purchasing tickets for Saturday’s Bellator 46 event in Hollywood, Florida can do so through her website.


  1. Good read.
    Good luck Jag.
    I hate zuffa.