Jessica Aguilar Fighting to Remain Relevant at UFC 211

When Eric Winter, Senior Vice President and General Manager of UFC Fight Pass, left the UFC in January, knowing fans raised concerns about the future of the UFC’s online platform.

Winter had done a sensational job of moulding Fight Pass into a dream package for any committed fight fan. Under his stewardship the Fight Pass prelims that preceded every UFC event had their own headliner, and typically, those headliners were better than good.

Subscribed fans were treated to quality tussles that often overshadowed bouts further up the card. In the events leading up to Winter’s departure we saw Alex Oliveira vs. Tim Means; Eddie Wineland vs. Takeya Mizugaki; Lando Vannata vs. John Makdessi; and Jim Miller vs. Thiago Alves.

Since then even the biggest UFC cards have paid no respect to the Fight Pass main event
spot. Pay-per-view offerings have hung Fight Pass out to dry, with Ryan LaFlare vs. Roan Carneiro, Tyson Pedro vs. Paul Craig, and Gregor Gillespie vs. Andrew Holbrook doing little to encourage anyone to renew their subscription.

To suggest that the upcoming UFC 211 offering between Jessica Aguilar and Cortney Casey is any sort of return to Eric Winter’s streaming wonderland would be disingenuous, but it is at least a future-defining contest for both fighters. It means something, and that is at least, something.

Aguilar was once considered the number one strawweight in the world. From 2010 to 2014 the American Top Team fighter won 10 straight, including winning and twice defending the World Series of Fighting strawweight championship.

More importantly, Aguilar defeated Carla Esparza once, and Megumi Fujii twice. Esparza would go on to be crowned the UFC’s inaugural strawweight champion. Fujii’s legacy was even more meaningful, losing only three of 29 career contests spanning almost a decade. Fujii spent most of it considered the best in the world.

As a result, Aguilar sat atop the unified women’s mixed martial arts rankings at strawweight. By the time the fighter was granted her release from World Series of Fighting and signed with the UFC in 2015, “JAG” still believed she was the best in the world.

Then came Aguilar’s chance to prove that she was. Her UFC debut was set against Brazilian warrior Claudia Gadelha. At the time Gadelha had only one defeat on her career resume, and that was a questionable decision loss to Joanna Jedrzejczyk.

A win over Gadelha would tell a UFC-centric audience that Aguilar’s claims were legitimate. Yet Aguilar could not find one.

Over three rounds the former WSOF champion was outclassed by the best offensive wrestler in the division. Gadelha won all three rounds, and moved on to a UFC title rematch against Jedrzejczyk. Aguilar meanwhile sunk down the rankings, and left fans who had not seen her before wondering why she was so highly regarded.

There were mitigating circumstances. For a start, being unable to beat Claudia Gadelha is far from shameful. The Brazilian is head and shoulders above everyone in the division not named Jedrzejczyk. This fight said as much about Gadelha’s brilliance, as it did Aguilar’s own shortcomings.

On top of that, Aguilar broke her foot ahead of the UFC 190 bout. Her camp was far from ideal, and the injury was carried with her into the octagon in Brazil.

Almost two years on, UFC fans have not seen Aguilar fight since due to injury. UFC 211 will change that, and offer the fighter a shot at redemption.

Aguilar’s opponent, Cortney Casey, is at a different stage in her career. At her best a hard-hitting, exciting finisher capable of putting opponents away when they bring anything less than their best. Just ask Cristina Stanciu and Randa Markos, who were both finished inside a round by the four-year pro.

At 115 pounds Casey is one of the bigger fighters in the division. Her future probably should lie at flyweight once the UFC introduces that division, potentially later this year. Until then Casey remains a dangerous opponent for all but the absolute best at 115. And that is after all what Aguilar told the world she was, the absolute best.

Aguilar has 24 fights on her record, Casey only 10. There was a time when the underdeveloped prospect would have been taught an in-cage lesson by the savvy veteran. On Saturday night we will find out how far time has moved on for both fighters.

Casey will be desperate to regain the momentum she lost in an educational decision defeat to Claudia Gadelha in November 2016. For Aguilar, avoiding defeat means so much more.

If Aguilar can’t find a way to win this could be the end of the road. UFC fans will never have had the opportunity to see who “JAG” really is as a fighter. Her impressive record and most notable wins achieved outside of the confines of the UFC’s octagon will be forgotten.

The 115 pound division has moved at a frantic pace. UFC 211 is Jessica Aguilar’s opportunity to prove it hasn’t left her behind.

Stephen Rivers

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