‘Ill’ Will Brooks used to be one of the best fighters in the entire world outside of the UFC. He was so technical, athletic, and well rounded, he had all the skills of an elite champion. He got knocked out in 43 seconds in his tenth professional fight by Saad Awad, a very dangerous, powerful striker. They each had one win in Bellator at that point. Brooks won his next two fights, then avenged his loss to Awad later that same year. This is the point where he started going on a real tear. His next fight came against the 25-1 Alexander Sarnavskiy, who he defeated via unanimous decision.
This was a huge win for Brooks. Sarnavskiy was 4-1 in Bellator with three finishes, 6-0 in M-1 Global, and had only ever lost once via split decision, a fight many thought he won. Brooks won all three rounds against him handily, and even got a 10-8 round from one judge. He then fought Michael Chandler for the first time, for the interim Bellator Lightweight Championship. It would’ve been a vacant title fight, but then Bellator Lightweight Champion Eddie Alvarez was still on the roster. This was an incredibly close fight. Chandler was the former Bellator Lightweight Champion, and he’d only ever lost once, to Alvarez via split decision in their rematch.
Brooks was awarded the interim Bellator Lightweight Championship via split decision (47-48, 48-47, 48-46). It appeared we may get to see him fight Alvarez in a title unification bout, but Alvarez had issues with his contract and was eventually able to leave so he could join the UFC.
This set up an immediate rematch between Brooks and Chandler. After how close and competitive their first fight was, why not? Brooks dominated Chandler this time around, it was almost like Chandler just didn’t show up that night. The fight was stopped at 3:48 of round four via TKO, and we had a new undisputed champion. To handle a guy like Chandler, who was 12-2 at the time, and his only losses were both five round split decisions that could’ve easily gone his way, it was an incredibly impressive performance on Brooks’ part.
Brooks made his first successful title defense against the 20-2 WEC and M-1 Global veteran Dave Jansen, who he defeated via unanimous decision (49-46, 49-46, 49-46). Jansen came out guns blazing in rounds one and two, but Brooks was able to nullify Jansen and adjust his gameplan. His next title defense came against the 21-3 prodigy Marcin Held, who he also defeated via unanimous decision (50-45, 49-46, 49-46). Held just didn’t have an answer for Brooks’ technical abilities. This was Brooks’ last fight inside the Bellator squared circle, he was finally coming to the UFC.
At this point, Brooks was 17-1, and he’d avenged his only loss to date. He was just about perfect, we were all very excited to see him in the UFC. He made his UFC debut against The Ultimate Fighter 9 winner Ross Pearson, who was 2-1 in his last three, coming off wins over Paul Felder and The Ultimate Fighter Nations winner Chad Laprise. Pearson put up a fight and made it competitive, but in the end, Brooks was the one getting his hand raised. He won his UFC debut via unanimous decision (29-28, 29-28, 29-28). It’s a wonder he got someone as low ranked as Pearson honestly.
Normally when a champion from another big organization comes over, they get a title fight or a big fight. Gilbert Melendez got a title shot upon his UFC debut, Nick Diaz was supposed to, but he missed the press conference and was given a fight with BJ Penn instead, his next fight was for the belt after beating Penn. Eddie Alvarez fought Donald Cerrone in his UFC debut, Luke Rockhold fought Vitor Belfort, Ben Askren was given big fights right away, but not Will Brooks. Perhaps that’s a good thing, considering how his next three went.
Brooks next fought Alex Oliveira, a fight Oliveira missed weight by 5.5 lbs for. It was a competitive fight, each man scored four takedowns on the other, but Oliveira out-struck Brooks the entire time, until he eventually TKO’d him in round three. This marked Brooks’ first loss in three-and-a-half years. He came back looking to rebound about six months later against Charles Oliveira, where he was quickly submitted via rear naked choke. His next attempt at securing a second win in the UFC came against Nik Lentz, where he was again submitted, this time via guillotine choke in round two.
Going from 18-1, being Bellator’s last lightweight champion, and having a ton of hype going into the UFC, to being finished three times in a row, it’s gotta sting a bit. It’s not like he just lost three in a row, that’d be plenty bad enough, but he had a tough fight with an unranked veteran, then got finished three times in a row. It’s not something any of us expected. Brooks then signed with PFL, which seemed like a good fit for him. He only competed in the 2018 season, but he won his first two fights before having a draw with fellow former UFC fighter Rashid Magomedov.
Since then, Brooks has only fought once, where he was submitted via guillotine choke by another fellow former UFC fighter, Gleison Tibau. Brooks was supposed to fight Abel Trujillo on this night, but Trujillo was forced out of the bout due to his arrest, and was replaced by Tibau. This is the one that really stings, because it was an early stoppage. Tibau had Brooks in a guillotine choke up against the fence, and the referee prematurely stopped the fight. It’s incredibly unfortunate how that all went down, he was just getting his mojo back and then he gets a fight stopped early on him. That fight was outside of PFL in a promotion called Battlefield FC.
Brooks was never much of a finisher, but he’s always been so technically sound, and he’s always been good at everything. It’s really crazy his career took the path that it did. He was one of the very best fighters outside the UFC according to everyone, then once he was there, he just didn’t make the cut. Now it’s impossible to see where he’s at, and we haven’t seen him in almost a year. At his best he was 18-1 with four wins in Bellator title fights, now he’s 20-5-1. Right around the time this whole pandemic began, Brooks signed a contract with ARES FC.
Brooks has a great frame and everything for his division too, standing 5’10” with a 72” reach, but at 33-years-old, does he have anything significant left to give?