While others Americans were celebrating their New Year's Eve in a more traditional fashion, Will Brooks took a foreign approach to the holiday. He went to Tokyo, where New Year's Eve for the past dozen years has been the night of the biggest fight card of the year.
As an unknown American fighter with an unbeaten record, he was set to face veteran Satoru Kitaoka. It was one of those situations where they brought in a fighter who was inexperienced, but had a record that looks good to lose to their more experienced native star. But Brooks overpowered Kitaoka in both striking and wrestling, pulling off a German suplex that wowed the Japanese crowd, and finished Kitaoka in the second round.
Bellator took notice and the performance led to a berth in an international field as part of Bellator's lightweight tournament, that begins on Jan. 31 in Mount Pleasant, Mich. at the Soaring Eagle Casino and Resort.
Brooks (8-0) is one of Bellator's big newcomers this season, debuting with barely four weeks rest, facing Brazil's Ricardo Tirloni (15-3), who lost in the semifinals of last season's lightweight tournament to Dave Jansen.
"We've just signed a kid named Will Brooks, he's a monster," said Bellator CEO Bjorn Rebney last week before the tournament bracketing was announced. "It's hard to make the comparison, you put guys under pressure with too much hype, but he comes in with what Michael Chandler (Bellator's current lightweight champion) had. He's got an amazing wrestling pedigree, but he uses his wrestling to set up his punches. If you saw what he did on New Year's Eve, you'd be impressed. He's now 8-0. Chandler has less fights when he started with us."
Rebney pegged him as a standout after watching the Kitaoka fight.
"Brooks may do it in this tournament, or in a future tournament. He's a star in the making."
The tournament first round is scheduled to make up the entire two-hour presentation of Bellator's third show on Spike TV.
The other first-round matches pit Canadian Guillaume DeLorenzi (10-1) vs. Brazilian Patricky "Pitbull" Freire (10-4); Brazilian Thiago Michel (10-3) vs. Russian Alexander Sarnavskiy (21-1) and a battle of Americans with David Rickels (11-1) vs. Lloyd Woodard (13-1).
The tournament, which is planned to be completed by early April. The winner earns $100,000 and a lightweight title shot.
Chandler holds the title, and will defend it on Thursday in Irvine, Calif., against Rick Hawn on the company's debut show on Spike. The winner of that fight will first have to defend against the winner of last season's tournament, which has not finished, with the finals being Marcin Held vs. Jansen sometime this season.
DeLorenzi's lone loss was to Jon "War Machine" Koppenhaver while fighting at welterweight. Freire is one of Bellator's most exciting fighters, but needs to rebound after losing three of his last four fights, to Chandler, Eddie Alvarez and Woodard.
Michel, a former kickboxer with a 27-2 record in that sport, lost in the semifinals of the first lightweight tournament of 2012. Sarnavskiy, a striker from Russia, was a hot prospect, but was outgrappled in his Bellator debut, losing a decision to Rich Clementi before rebounding with a win over Tony Hervey.
Rickels is moving down from welterweight, where his only career loss was a split decision over Bellator's current No. 1 contender in that division, Karl Amoussou. Woodard's only pro loss was to current lightweight top contender Hawn.