With the proliferation of MMA across all media distribution outlets, it can be hard to tell who is relevant or of note.
Now that Bellator MMA has placed itself firmly in the number two position promotionally, its stars are shining brighter and it is easier to pick out the diamonds in the rough.
Bellator MMA Lightweight Champion, Will Brooks (15-1) commandeered the world’s attention when he bested Michael Chandler not once but twice in the same year to secure his position as champion. However, growing up in and around Chicago, Illinois, Brooks had early obstacles to overcome.
“I had a very up and down childhood,” said Brooks. “ I dealt with two parents who battled drug and alcohol addiction. My Dad wound up getting help probably before my Mom was able to make the right decision to go and get help. Just bouncing back from household to household my Dad having my youngest brother, my sister and me for the weekend, my Mom having us at one point. Just a constant battle between them two and after a while my Mom ended up getting into a few legal problems.”
Without his mother in the picture, Brooks and his sibling moved in with his father who was still a recovering addict. The role of father battled with the chemical urges caused by his disease. The effect on Will Brooks is still evident.
“My Dad gained custody of me and my youngest brother and we tried to operate with my dad in the picture as the guardian for a long time and it was very difficult because my Dad wasn’t educated on being a single father and he was dealing with recovering from drug abuse and alcoholism,” said Brooks.
“I ended up having personal issues between me and my father and we had to go our separate ways for a long time. Lived with one of my very best friends; he’s like a brother to me, I lived with his family for the duration of my high school career and they’re still part of my family. Just had a very interesting road (laughs) to where I am today and I definitely appreciate everything that has happened in my life.”
Sports acted as a salve for Brooks during this time of tumult and before the 5-ounce gloves were discovered the pigskin was firmly on his mind and in his hands.
“All my life I’ve been a pretty athletic kid; I was always being outside throwing a football around, playing football, playing two-hand touch,” said Brooks.
“In Chicago there’s not many areas where you can find football fields and we were playing concrete football in the street while cars are going through and stopping the game for the cars to come by and people getting tackled and pushing the cars, that’s really where my passion for football came about. I just really fell in love with the game and once I moved outside of Chicago and found more opportunities to play on some football teams.”
Football allowed Brooks realize his physical and mental limits, which unlike combat sports are infused with a team.
“I actually started out as a kicker because I had a lot of athleticism, speed and agility but my physical ability didn’t develop with me mentally so everything was happening too fast.”
“Over time I started to mature a little more and started recognizing the game and being able to see the game and ended up moving on to playing defensive back in high school and a little bit of running back. I was able to put a lot of passion and focus into football just because it was a huge escape for me because me and my father we’ve had a very sensitive relationship so it was an opportunity for me to get out the house.”
Brooks developed into a defensive star raking up accolades and the attention of the country’s premier collegiate football programs. However, a mix of academic shortcomings and a deeper reflection into the potential pitfalls of the sport eventually steered him away.
“Fortunately, I was able to be an All-Conference and All-American Defensive Back in high school and recognized by a lot of bigger schools as a top prospect but I didn’t have the grades to go to a big school. I sat down and had meeting with Michigan State and the University of Illinois and different places like that but I ended up having to play at a two-year college at in Schaumberg, Illinois.”
“During that time I started as a freshman and ended up suffering a knee injury and I didn’t know if I wanted to play football and go through those damaging injuries and not being able to have a healthy life and a future so I made the transition over to mixed martial arts. I had a wrestling background too so that made it easier to make the transition over to mixed martial arts.”
Brooks wrestled three years in high school: all freshman and sophomore year then was kicked off the wrestling team during his junior year. However, his senior year he returned and was able to make it to the High School State Wrestling Championships. Unfortunately, he lost my first match at State but it set him up for the next chapter in his life.
After going 7-0, Brooks was invited to fight Satoru Kitaoka on the Dream 16 card in Saitama, Japan where he won by TKO via strikes/punches in the second round.
“It was a very weird scenario. I had just signed with my management company, Team Extreme Management with Monte Cox, two weeks before getting an offer to fight in Japan. When I signed with them I was expecting them to get me a couple of more regional fights before trying to reach out to the UFC, Bellator or one of these bigger promotions. The first call I got was lets go to Japan and I had to take a step back. Took a while to process that in my mind but once I did, I have back to what I do best which is going out there and competing. I carried myself as if I belonged on an international level and once I came back I continued to carry myself where people had to appreciate that I deserve to be on the highest levels of mixed martial arts.”
Brooks has become a champion and his star is starting to shine even brighter now. Tonight he enters the cage to defend his belt against Dave Jansen (20-2), currently on a 7-fight win streak tonight live and free on Spike.
But coming from the childhood he had, his most difficult fight was faced outside of MMA, and we're all glad to see that he made it through victoriously so he can extend that victory streak inside of the cage and inspire others.