However, prior to beginning his MMA career, Brooks says he was living with indecision about what he would do with his life. A former high school football player and wrestler, Brooks says he was lost without an avenue for his competitive nature.
“All I’ve ever known is how to compete, and for a little bit, that was taken from me,” Brooks recently told Sherdog.com. “I was watching a UFC rerun on Spike, and they were showing Matt Hughes and Georges St. Pierre. I remember somebody saying how wrestlers can transition into this sport.”
Brooks, who had previously trained in MMA “off and on” while competing as an amateur, decided to commit himself to maximizing his potential as a mixed martial artist. In two years, the 26-year-old racked up an 8-0 professional record, recently signing with veteran manager Monte Cox and joining the vaunted American Top Team.
Shortly after inking a deal with Cox, Brooks booked his first fight on a major stage, taking on former Sengoku champion Satoru Kitaoka at Dream 18 on New Year’s Eve. Brooks put forth a masterful performance, continually cracking the Japanese talent with straight shots while slipping under Kitaoka’s looping power punches. Still, Kitaoka managed to grab a heel hook in the second round and held on for all he was worth. Unable to finish the technique, the ex-Sengoku king ate a multitude of heel kicks to the face before finally releasing the hold, at which point Brooks finished the game competitor with a controlled flurry of ground-and-pound.
Though Brooks says he was “very happy” with his performance, “Ill Will” nevertheless noticed small mistakes in his effort that required correcting.
“[I wanted to improve on] my striking a little bit. I could have opened up a little more earlier in the fight,” said Brooks. “Even allowing him to get into a position where he could leg lock me [made me] a little disappointed in myself, because I knew exactly what I needed to do to defend. I’m always critiquing my [performances], because I want the best out of myself.
“Overall, I felt like I went in there and stuck to the game plan that my coaches put together,” Brooks continued. “I did exactly what I wanted to do, which was make sure that I was a dominating presence and let people know that I was coming in there to win. It put me in a position when I came back home to get this opportunity with Bellator. I’m just excited about where this whole thing is going, and I’m really happy with where my career is right now.”
In a matter of hours, Brooks will square off with veteran Ricardo Tirloni in the Season 8 lightweight quarterfinals, locking horns with the Brazilian at the Soaring Eagle Casino and Resort in Mount Pleasant, Mich. In Tirloni, Brooks faces a resilient foe who has already competed in two Bellator tournaments, recently falling via split decision to Dave Jansen in the Season 7 semis.
“I know he’s a really tough opponent, and he’s not just going to lie down and let you walk all over him. I like that, and I want that type of fight,” said Brooks. “I want to see how I hold up to going back-to-back fights against guys who are tough opponents. That’s the only way that you find out if you’re really ready for this. I think this is really my time to test my character as a person and as a fighter.”
Though it is likely that Brooks’ fight will be seen by more than half a million viewers on Spike TV, the lightweight is only concerned with what transpires inside the cage. Though “Ill Will” is excited to participate in what he expects will be sustained growth from the Viacom-owned Bellator, the fighter is nonetheless solely focused on Tirloni at the moment.
“At the end of the day, if you’re [fighting] in somebody’s backyard with nobody watching at all, you’ve still got to go out there and compete and win. Being on Spike, I’ve still got to go and take care of my business,” said Brooks. “Bellator is going to go on without me, whether I win or I lose, so I don’t have time to think about all these people watching and Bellator doing this or that. My job is to come in and compete, and that’s what I’m about to do. I’ve been competing my entire life, and I don’t worry about who or how many people are watching. The viewers don’t win the fight for me. I have to go in there and win.”