Will Brooks has not yet found his place in the Ultimate Fighting Championship -- a surprising twist in a career that saw him capture the Bellator MMA lightweight crown and win 19 of his first 20 bouts.
Brooks will seek to snap a two-fight losing streak inside the Octagon when he faces Nik Lentz in a UFC Fight Night 121 prelim on Saturday at Qudos Bank Arena in Sydney. The 31-year-old Chicago native enters the cage on the heels of back-to-back defeats to Alex Oliveira and Charles Oliveira, the latter resulting in a standing rear-naked choke submission at UFC 210 in April. Brooks operates out of American Top Team in Coconut Creek, Florida, and has put together a strong resume that includes victories over “The Ultimate Fighter 9” winner Ross Pearson, Polish leg lock aficionado Marcin Held, Elevation Fight Team’s Drew Dober and former Sengoku champion Satoru Kitaoka. He has delivered more than half (10) of his 19 professional wins by knockout, technical knockout or submission.
As Brooks prepares for his pivotal three-round battle with the cagy Lentz, here are five things you might not know about him:
1. He was a multi-sport talent in high school and college.
While he has a wrestling background, Brooks was also a standout football player at Warren Township High School in the Chicago suburbs and went on to play at Harper College in Palatine, Illinois, before a knee injury ended his career.
2. He belongs to an exclusive fraternity.
Brooks is one of only four men who have held the Bellator MMA lightweight title. Eddie Alvarez, Michael Chandler and Brent Primus are the others. He won the promotion’s Season 9 lightweight tournament to earn his shot at the championship, defeating John Alessio, Saad Awad and Alexander Sarnavskiy in succession during a three-month period in 2013. Brooks succeeded Chandler on the 155-pound throne.
3. Though he has become a well-rounded force, he remains true to his roots.
Despite his 1-2 record inside the Octagon, “Ill Will” has put his tried-and-true wrestling skills to effective use. He has completed 51 percent of his attempted takedowns and denied 81 percent of the takedowns attempted against him, according to FightMetric. Both figures rest well above the Ultimate Fighting Championship averages of 41 percent and 59 percent.
4. He has all but abandoned what was once a signature piece of his repertoire.
Brooks won four of his first six bouts by submission -- two via rear-naked choke and two via armbar -- but has not tapped an opponent since he choked Ryan Bixler at a regional event on Oct. 15, 2011.
5. The road to prominence has not been easy, outside of a few notable exceptions.
The 18 men he Brooks defeated during his career -- he beat Chandler twice in Bellator -- have combined for 321 victories between them. However, even Brooks has faced a few cupcakes along the way. J.R. Hines, the fighter against whom “Ill Will” debuted in January 2011, currently owns a 2-21 record.