When Will Brooks took his first steps into the UFC’s Octagon in July of 2016, he did so with a Bellator lightweight belt slung over his shoulder, and the scalps of highly respected fighters like Drew Dober, John Alessio, Saad Awad, Michael Chandler and Marcin Held clutched menacingly in his hand. To say he was hyped would be an understatement. In the eyes of many fans and analysts, Brooks’ earning a UFC lightweight title shot was as inevitable as Dana White’s next profanity-laced meltdown.
In the end, however, the former Bellator champ’s UFC career didn’t shake out as expected. After picking up a competitive decision victory over British veteran Ross Pearson in his UFC debut, he lost consecutive fights against Alex “Cowboy” Oliveira, Charles Oliveira and Nik Lentz, and was subsequently released from the UFC.
Despite his disappointing run in the Octagon, Brooks remained a well-respected fighter at the time of his release. As a result, he was promptly scooped up by the Professional Fighters League (PFL), an upstart league hellbent on revolutionizing the MMA industry with million-dollar, playoff-style seasons of competition.
Brooks will debut with the PFL this Thursday, when he takes on M-1, PRIDE and World Series of Fighting veteran Luiz Firmino in the lightweight season’s first round.
Weeks removed from the birth of his second child, Will Brooks is excited to return to form under the PFL banner. As his PFL debut towers on the horizon, he says his training camp has been incredible, and even more importantly, that he’s in a good place mentally.
“Training camp has been incredible, man,” Brooks said on the latest episode of BJPENN.COM Radio. “I know a lot of guys say this after they come off of losses, they’re just like, ‘Man, this is the best I’ve ever felt’, but I’m about to be one of those guys, you know? I genuinely feel like I’m back to the original Will Brooks that came into this sport, my passion, my dedication, my drive, my motivation is there…
“I think for a while there I was searching for it, I was trying to manufacture it and create it and just say that, ‘Yo, I’m just motivated, I’m focused’, and it wasn’t the honest truth,” Brooks continued. “I just feel like I finally turned that corner, and I’m genuinely motivated, and I’m geared up to go. My coaches are geared up to go, they feel my energy, I feel their energy, and that’s really one of the more important parts of this sport is the relationship between coach and fighter. We’re all just geared up and ready to go man, I’m really excited to get back to winning.”
While Brooks has been focused on getting himself back in top form, he’s also given the expected amount of attention to his opponent. He recognizes the skills that Firmino will bring into the cage, but is primarily focused on avoiding making any mistakes himself. Mistakes have cost him in the past.
“He’s a very talented guy, very old-school style, you know, where he has a lot of pressure — that typical, aggressive, move forward, pressure pressure pressure, do the basic things but do them very well,” Brooks said of Firmino. “I think this is a fight that’s very similar to my last fight with my ex-teammate Nik Lentz, and it’s one of those things where, on paper, I’m physically and skill-wise better than he is, but it comes down to just doing the small things right. You have a guy that is very basic, is very limited in his abilities, but does things very well where it makes you get too comfortable. That’s kind of what I fell victim to in my previous fight. I was doing things better than my opponent and I fell victim to the arrogance and feeling really good.”
One of the most interesting qualities of the PFL is its point system, which places significant value on quick finishes. A first-round finish will earn the victor six points, a second round finish will earn the victor five points, a third round finish will earn the victor four points, while a decision will earn the victor just three points.
So far, this point system seems to have had the desired effect. PFL 1, which featured featherweight and heavyweight bouts, was littered with first-round victories, as fighters threw caution to the wind, eager to maximize their point-count even if it meant leaving themselves a little more open to danger than usual.
Do not expect Will Brooks to fight with this kind of recklessness. Although a quick win will earn him a better position in the hunt for the season’s $1 million dollar prize, he’s just focused on winning. Winning, after all, is what got him to the dance in the first place.
“I’m going to go out there and I’m going to take it exactly as my coaches tell me to take it, and just take it five seconds at a time, and win five seconds at a time, and win it one fight at at time,” he said. “All the point system and all that other stuff, I’m going to let it play out the way it plays out, and all these other guys that go chasing the knockouts, chasing the finishes, that may or may not come up with a win, I’m going to let them do what they do and we’ll all approach it in our different ways. At the end of the day we’ll see who comes out on top.”
If it sounds to you like Brooks is a little less focused on money than some of his peers, well, you’re right. While he’d obviously be happy to deposit a million-dollar check at the end of this PFL season, his past financial successes will allow him to fight with a little more patience than most of his rivals.
“[The prize is] definitely important just because that’s the end goal, but financially I’ve done very well for myself,” he said. “Fortunately I’ve been one of those guys that, I’ve been blessed. God has blessed me with an incredible woman in my life who’s just great with finances and just done a great job with making sure that I don’t act like a knucklehead when I get money. She takes all my money, puts it into a bank account, and I can’t really touch it, so we’re taken care of financially. And, you know, the Professional Fighters League really stepped up and gave me a good deal, a little bonus money. They helped me out a lot so I haven’t had to worry about finances and things like that. But you know, being where I’m at, you know, it actually just gives me an opportunity to get ahead once I get out here and win this grand prize, you know? You think about where I’m at financially now, I’m comfortable, but where I could be is like, ‘I like this, let’s go.'”
While the financial stakes of this season certainly make things interesting for Brooks, his main focus, as he says above, is simply making a return to his old form. He wants to reestablish himself as one of the game’s premier lightweights, and really, there’s only one way to do that: by winning.
“I’m just trying to take it one fight at a time and just get out here and win,” he said. “I’m just going to get out there and take it one fight at a time man, and just get out there and be myself and everybody’s going to see the best Will Brooks. I’m going to get back to doing the things that I do best, and that’s getting out there and winning, and that’s flat out it.”
Do you think Will Brooks can return to winning ways at PFL 2 this Thursday?
This article first appeared on BJPenn.com on 6/19/2018.