10 hard-hitting questions for Houston-based MMA fighter Jessica Aguilar

Don't miss the action this Wednesday night!Photo via: XFC

The co-main event of XFC 43 will feature Houston-based fighter Jessica "Jag" Aguilar returning to action against Danielle Taylor, Wednesday night at The Tabernacle in Atlanta. The two women will throw down at 115 pounds. This will mark the first XFC card in more than four years as the fighting world attempts to seek out fighters for the next generation of MMA.

Aguilar grew up in Pozarica Veracruz, Mexico, made her professional fighting debut in 2006 and has served as a pioneer for women's MMA while fighting in WSOF, Bellator, UFC and now XFC. She has rung up 20 wins worldwide during her reign as strawweight champion. Aguilar is not only an inspiration to female MMA fighters, but a leader for the LGBTQ community.

Wednesday will mark Aguilar's first fight in two years since signing an exclusive, multi-year contract with XFC in October. The two parties are confident it will be a successful partnership.

"Jessica Aguilar is a true icon of MMA, and we couldn't be more excited to see her back in action in the XFC Hexagon. Jessica has accomplished so much, but she came to us hungrier than ever. She's going to be tested as a world-class athlete at XFC, and we believe she'll once again rise to the occasion," XFC President Myron Molotky said.

Aguilar has been training with Bob Perez, co-owner of Main Street Boxing and Muay Tai in Houston. SportsMap caught up with Aguilar for a quick 10 questions before Wednesday's bout.

SportsMap: Was it your dream as a child to become a professional fighter?

Jessica Aguilar: Never in my wildest dreams. It's a wild story that I just fell into place, and I became a world champion! I did dream of becoming a professional athlete, doctor or movie star.

SM: Where do you find the drive to continue to fight at 38 years old?

JA: My love for this sport drives me! It's that feeling you get when you're in the ring. It's the best feeling ever.

SM: Is professional fighting your only job?

JA: Yes, currently. However, I also teach self-defense classes, commentate and just got my licenses to do EP work (executive protection).

SM: What are the ups and downs you've faced being a pioneer for the LGBTQ community in MMA?

JA: There are so many ups. One of those is getting awarded by GLAAD (Gay & Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation) in NYC for being me. As for the downs, I ignore them and use it as fuel which led me to becoming the best in the world. I'm just honored to be representing the LGBTQ on my platform.

SM: What does your training day schedule look like?

JA: Monday-Saturday. 6-10 hours a day. My training consists of Brazilian jiu-jitsu, boxing, Muay Thai, wrestling and strength and conditioning.

SM: What do you eat on fight day?

JA: A good hearty breakfast followed by a clean lunch with good carbs and protein. I also snack on fruit throughout the day.

SM: What unfinished business do you have to take care of on November 11?

JA: The unfinished business is to show myself that I still got “it" by finishing my opponent in a dominant fashion.

SM: Favorite takedown move?

JA: The single leg takedown.

SM: What does your body feel like the day after a brutal fight?

JA: Like a truck hit me.

SM: How have you managed to avoid cauliflower ear?

JA: I have small ears and I am very good at protecting them.

You can follow Jessica Aguilar on Twitter @jagatt and watch XFC 43 LIVE on NBC Sports Network this Wednesday night.

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The Astros will have some new rules to adjust to in 2023. Composite image by Brandon Strange.

If you are savvy enough to read next week’s column, you will be doing so with spring training underway in Florida and Arizona. Hip, hip, hooray! Astros pitchers and catchers have their first workout scheduled for next Thursday, with the full squad due early the following week ahead of games starting February 25. Spring training baseball is not meant to be exciting, but the major rules changes that will take effect this season will be in full effect in the Grapefruit and Cactus Leagues, making spring games more interesting to follow.

The biggest change is the death of infield shifts. As reminder or to get up to speed, the first and second baseman must now always be aligned on the first base side of second while the shortstop and third baseman must both be on the third base side of second. Plus, all infielders must have both feet on the dirt of the infield.

There are legitimate points to be made as to why shifts should be allowed, and also why modifying the rules makes sense. I get the argument that if hitters can’t take advantage of an open side of the infield, shame on them. However, taking advantage of a shift is not as easy as it looks.

The best argument against shifts is that they clearly more penalized left-handed hitters. You think Kyle Tucker and Yordan Alvarez will miss losing some hits on balls smashed on one hop 30 or 40 feet into the outfield only to have a second baseman make the play? If once every other week Tuck or Yordan picks up a hit that the shift would have taken away, over 500 at bats, that’s about a 25 point difference in batting average. Defenses couldn’t shift in the same fashion against right-handed hitters because unless the batter/runner has Martin Maldonado or Albert Pujols level (non)speed, throwing guys out at first from 30 or 40 feet out in left field is not viable.

Welcome the pitch clock. There will be griping from some pitchers and hitters. Suck it up buttercups! Adapt or die. In the minor leagues the pitch clock knocked off 20-25 minutes from the average game length. The average big league game should not take more than three hours. For darn sure a 3-1 or 4-2 game shouldn’t take more than three hours.

With no runners on base a pitcher has 15 seconds from when he gets the ball to start his motion, with runner(s) on base 20 seconds. Failure to comply is an automatic ball. It’s called the pitch clock but batters are on notice too. There is simply no need for batters to be stepping out of the batter’s box to contemplate the meaning of life every pitch or two. Batters not in the box and ready when the clock gets down to eight seconds get an automatic strike. There are several exceptions, such as a batter gets one timeout per plate appearance,

The bases themselves are 20 percent larger. Instead of 15 inches square they are now 18 inches square which serves a couple of purposes. There will be a bit more space for infielders to avoid baserunners at the bags. That’s sensible. We’ve all heard “Baseball is a game of inches.” Legendary General Manager Branch Rickey is credited with coining the phrase. Rickey is also the guy who brought Jackie Robinson to the Major Leagues, and the guy who basically invented the farm system.

Anyway, back to game of inches. The larger bases shorten the distance between first and second, and second and third base, by four and a half inches. A massive change it is not, but a meaningful change it is. Think of the close calls on stolen base attempts, or a runner going from first to third on a single. It’s not mastering advanced calculus to get that a shorter distance between bases makes it easier to successfully get to the next one. Anything that increases the value of speed in the game is a good thing.

Base stealing will also be impacted by the new pickoff limitations rule. Say Jose Altuve leads off with a single. Up comes Jeremy Pena. The pitcher gets two “disengagements” during Pena’s at bat. Pickoff attempts and stepping off the rubber both count as “disengagement.” A third disengagement not resulting in a pickoff is an automatic balk. Does Altuve take a huge lead to draw pickoff throws knowing that after two non-pickoffs he gets a big advantage?

Might any unintended consequences result from the rules changes? Let’s find out.

Can I interest you in an Astros podcast?

Stone Cold ‘Stros is the weekly Astro-centric podcast I am part of alongside Brandon Strange and Josh Jordan. On our regular schedule it airs live at 3PM Monday on the SportsMapHouston YouTube channel, is available there for playback at any point, and also becomes available in podcast form at outlets galore. Such as:

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