Making his UFC debut on three weeks’ notice against a 20-time Octagon veteran, Will Brooks performed about as well as one could hope.
The former Bellator lightweight champion racked up an early lead on the scorecards and then held on to take a unanimous decision over Ross Pearson in a featured lightweight scrap at "The Ultimate Fighter 23” finale on Friday night at the MGM Grand Garden Arena in Las Vegas.
"I feel pretty good overall. There was more I wanted to do, but I only had three weeks to prepare, so did the best I could,” Brooks said. “I'm happy, I'll get better. I had a nagging thumb injury. I jammed my thumb during training and jammed it again during the fight. Fighting tonight was an incredible experience. I had a lot of fun with it. But now it's time to move forward and get on track to fight for that UFC gold.”
While wrestling was Brooks’ calling card in Bellator, the American Top Team product was only able to land one takedown against his English opponent. Instead, “Ill Will” had success landing offense at range and in the clinch in rounds one and two, often beating Pearson to the punch.
“The striking is something that me and my coaches have been working for a while now,” Brooks said. “That’s part of the reason why I took this fight with Ross Pearson because I knew he wouldn’t want to wrestle. He wouldn’t give me an opportunity to look for a takedown, so I had no choice but to try to strike with him. He did a phenomenal job beating me to some of the takedowns. It just shows how talented he is.”
“The Ultimate Fighter 9” winner finally found his offensive rhythm in round three, but by then it was too late. Pearson needed a finish to win, and that moment never arrived.
“I could have been a little more active with my boxing. I kind of respected his pressure as a wrestler ,but I could’ve been more active with my hands and let it flow,” Pearson said. “I kind of feel like my work rhythm would take him out eventually. I found that my pace was way faster than his. I was getting after him, but I needed a little less rhythm and more combinations.I was just [wary] of his wrestling at the beginning; I was just cautious of that. I knew he didn’t want to stand with me.
“If I had believed in my own wrestling a little more and just went off and let my combinations go I feel that I would have taken him out.”
Brooks was granted his Bellator release in May after the California-based promotion elected not to renew his contract despite an eight-fight winning streak. He later signed with the UFC and replaced original Pearson foe James Krause at the “TUF 23” finale. Brooks admitted to having a few Octagon jitters on Friday night.
“It was amazing. It took a little bit to get loose. You feel the vibrations from the crowd in the cage. You’re trying to block out some of the noise,” he said. “You look down and see the UFC logo, you’re like, ‘Man, alright, I got to get to work.’ But it was amazing, man.”
Now that he has gotten past that initial feeling of awe, Brooks, who has won 18 of his 19 professional bouts, plans on making some noise in the UFC’s lightweight division.
“It’s been a long time coming. There’s been a lot of sacrifice on my part, my family, my coaches. It’s just been a hell of a ride,” he said. “This is just the beginning of my journey in the UFC.”
That includes journey could include a future meeting with a fellow Bellator veteran who scored a career-defining victory just one night earlier.
“Eddie Alvarez, hold on to that belt for a little bit,” Brooks said. “You got away from me in the other organization. I’m here now. I want to take that.”