Will Brooks officially captured lightweight gold at Bellator 131. | Dave Mandel/Sherdog.com
After a year in which he often felt disrespected and underappreciated, Will Brooks can no longer be overlooked.
That’s what back-to-back title bout victories over Michael Chandler will get you. Now that he is finally Bellator MMA’s undisputed lightweight champion, Brooks only plans on solidifying his place atop the division following a breakout 2014 campaign.
“[I plan on] making sure people understand this is not something that just happened,” Brooks told Sherdog.com. “This is a long story; I’m going to be around for a very long time, and I’m always going to get better. This is just the beginning for me. People are going to see not just what I do in mixed martial arts, but what I do outside of mixed martial arts.
“I think over the next few years, people are going to recognize me not just as one of the best lightweights in MMA, but as an icon.”
When Eddie Alvarez bowed out of Bellator’s inaugural pay-per-view offering last May, Brooks was tabbed to replace the Philadelphian in an interim 155-pound title tilt against Chandler. Many questioned whether he deserved the bout, but “Ill Will” proved he belonged by upsetting his favored foe via split decision.
Still, the contentious nature of the verdict allowed the skeptics to linger, and when Alvarez bolted for the UFC, Brooks had to prove himself all over again in a rematch with Chandler at Bellator 131. In addition to receiving second-billing behind the Tito Ortiz-Stephan Bonnar headliner, Brooks felt slighted because the interim crown he captured under the previous Bellator regime was not acknowledged in the marketing of the fight.
“...They’re still promoting him as if he’s the champion -- as if I’m challenging him for the title,” Brooks said prior to the Nov. 15 bout.
Rather than continue to stress about factors beyond his control, Brooks went out and authored a much more emphatic fourth-round technical knockout victory against Chandler at Bellator 131. Now, there is no doubt as to who is the promotion’s top lightweight.
“I guess it showed people that when I say I’m gonna do something, I’m gonna do it,” Brooks said. “I think I’ve always carried myself in that kind of mindset. If you’re going to open your mouth and demand something and you want to expect a certain treatment, be ready to earn it. Don’t just rage about it. I think I went out there and did that.”
Brooks’ first official title defense will come in the Bellator 136 headliner at Bren Events Center in Irvine Calif., on Friday night. The evening’s main card airs on Spike TV beginning at 9 p.m. ET.
Jansen enters the bout riding a seven-fight winning streak under the Bellator banner, but thanks in large part to an ACL injury that sidelined him for roughly 19 months until a successful return against Rick Hawn last October, has escaped the spotlight’s glare.
Brooks, who received little fanfare prior to his first meeting with Chandler, can relate.
"I know that when I was put in the position of being able to fight for the title, it brought out something different out in me. It’s something I can’t really put words to, but it’s something different in me,” said Brooks, who carries a six fight winning streak of his own into the matchup. “I see that in Dave Jansen. He’s gonna come out there and be like I was, just highly aggressive and willing to take advantage of this opportunity. It’s gonna bring the best out of him. I’m going to have to bring my A game from the opening bell.”
The tables have turned from last year, however, as Brooks enters the championship scrap as a heavy betting favorite and world-ranked lightweight. That’s just fine with the American Top Team product, because his view isn’t simply confined to Bellator. Instead, Brooks sees fighters from all promotions as his peers, and he feels he has the skills to compete with anyone.
“Overall I see myself as one of the best. I don’t look at organizations. I see myself, who I am, I look at the big picture. I focus on what I can control, and I study these guys and I watch and recognize. I have the skills to beat anybody,” Brooks said. “Physically and mentally, if I’m put in a situation where I’ve got to fight a guy like Anthony Pettis or [Rafael dos Anjos or [Justin] Gaethje, or anybody in these different organizations, I believe that I can beat [them].”
Brooks worked hard to emerge from obscurity to earn his spot atop the mountain last year. Now it’s all about staying there.