Let's get this out of the way from the top. Will Brooks never asked for the sort of luckless fate that befell poor Bjorn Rebney, a strangely apathetic exile which booted the former Bellator boss straight from the penthouse to the outhouse while the masses engaged in their own public revelry. Still, if ever there was a man who called his shot, it was Brooks. Here is the ultimate party spoiler, the thorn who burst the "most anticipated" trilogy bubble and never once toed the company line in doing so.
He was there in the lead-up, seizing his pay-per-view opportunity by the scruff of its neck and preaching about a perceived inequality in Bellator's ranks while the rest of the pack was just happy to be there. He was there after he won, too -- that win that was never supposed to happen -- only now his murmur grew into rallying cry, buoyed by the 10 pounds of gold around his waist. Change needed to come, he declared, and wouldn't you know it, change just so came less than a month later, only it was bigger than Brooks could ever have imagined.
Now Rebney, the man who propelled this whole unlikely rise from ESPN Deportes to the Big Time, is out, ousted by those whose who'd soured in the ways of the tournament. Former Strikeforce maestro Scott Coker is the new floor general of Bellator's march to take over the world, for better or worse, and who's to say whether Brooks played a small part in the revolution?
"I'm just really excited about being a part of the change," the interim champ told MMAFighting.com. "For me, I thought it was time for a fighter to step out and not just complain about what was going on, but actually step out and give ideas, give suggestions. Give your thoughts in an organized and controlled manner, and get the fans into it. Not just complain about how they're not doing this for me, they're not getting me this, but instead stating what you like and what you dislike and giving your ideas on how to fix it.
"I think there's a lot here with Bellator that can be made into an organization that really threatens the UFC and build a real competitor. I think we have the talented fighters and I think we have the people in the background to do it. And now Scott Coker is here."
From his very first press release, Coker established that his own brand of nuanced match-making, rather than Rebney's belief in the eight-man bracket, would be Bellator's savior. Brooks himself is a veteran of two tourneys, the first which delivered him his only loss, the second of which awarded him one-hundred grand, so he has a better perspective on the shift than most.
Ultimately, Brooks understands the value a tournament can lend for an up-and-coming young fighter looking to make a name for himself. After all, not long ago he was that guy, and the grind of three fights in three months sculpted him in a hardened veteran with a quickness nothing else could have provided.
But then what?
"There's no point in me going back into the tournament," Brooks offered as an example for why the format stagnated over the past few seasons. "It just wouldn't make sense, especially since I think guys started to realize, there's a hidden strategy to the tournament. Once you get a bunch of veterans into it, it's not as exciting because they're gotten a little bit of a strategy put together.
"What happens is we all kind of know each other, so we know who's a good wrestler, we know who's not a good wrestler. We know who's a good striker, we know who's not a good striker, so it kind of just makes it hard to see as many knockouts or finishes. The rotation of the same guys, the same faces, it's hard to do anything new, it's hard to do anything different if you know exactly what everybody's going to do.
"Then a bunch of guys (who already won) start to pile up on you," Brooks added, reflecting on his own situation. "Now it's just like, man, what do we do next? It just starts to back up on you. I think that's kind of one thing that was happening, things kind of got backed up. Different situations put a lot of stress on the organization, a lot of stress of Bjorn, a lot of stress on the tournament format and what direction they should be going. It was just a lot of different things going on, but I don't know, I think now that Coker is here, it's a little bit of a fresher start."
The glut of previous tournament winners was and still is a puzzle that Coker must now solve, especially in the case of Brooks' loaded lightweight division. Strikeforce's guru may have inherited a talented roster at 155 pounds, but the ramifications of past promises, delayed gratification and one obviously unnecessary interim title has effectively led to a standstill.
Brooks holds one belt, Eddie Alvarez the other. The specter of Michael Chandler, Alvarez's contract, and the "most anticipated trilogy in MMA" looms over all, while poor Dave Jansen waves his oversized season-seven tourney check like a teenager on Thanksgiving begging for someone to gaze over and graduate him to the adults' table.
Alvarez recently implied on Twitter that Bellator officials were pressuring him into another bout against Chandler, despite Brooks' interim champion status and relentless online campaign against the match-up. But that was before Rebney's departure. Brooks says now that while he has yet to personally speak with Coker, he's hopeful the old captain will see it fit to unite the two lightweight belts, as per custom when two fighters claim conflicting hardware.
"I'm just like everybody else, I'm still kind of waiting to see what happens with that whole thing," said Brooks. "... That's all I can do right now. It's fatiguing to be in that conversation with this confusion of what's going to happen next. It's mentally and emotionally fatiguing, so I did what I thought would be best and that's stepping back and getting out of it.
"[Coker] has been in the combat sports game for a very long time and I'm sure he knows how things work. And that's, you have an interim belt, you have the actual belt, you unify the belts. That's what is typically done in other organizations."
Of course typical has never been Bellator's modus operandi. From the early days, the traveling roadshow of painted buses and 12-week sprints around the nation, to the end-of-time declarations of "dick riding," which will forever live in pay-per-view infamy, Rebney's Bellator always sought to differentiate itself from the cookie-cutter landscape that dominates mixed martial arts.
So for all of its pitfalls -- and yes, by the end there were plenty -- Brooks believes Rebney's quest to be unique, in and of itself, was something to be admired.
"I think people miss some of the positives that happened," he reflected. "If it wasn't for Bjorn, people wouldn't have a Michael Chandler, they wouldn't have an Eddie Alvarez, they wouldn't have a Will Brooks. We wouldn't have these different faces here to step in and give us something else to watch. I think a lot of people don't want to have mixed martial arts, or any sport, be monopolized. I don't think people like that idea of just having the UFC controlling everything. They've done a great job, I'm not trying to be negative about what they've done. But I think Bjorn stepped in and recognized what the people wanted and tried to bring a different mix to the whole thing, bring the tournament format. I think he did a lot of positive things, and I think people miss that, because as human beings we get our emotions mixed up.
"You start to create a sort of negative bomb, and it kind of blew up on Bjorn a little bit. It blew up on some of the fighters. Different emotions from the fans, the fighters and the promoter got mixed up in the whole thing and people lost track of the big picture, that something great has been given to the fans. Something special has been given to the fans, and it's very exciting to see where it goes from here. Bellator is something that, I think, has a lot of building room, a lot of areas to evolve and grow and really give the fans something that they haven't really seen from other promotions. Something different. I think Bjorn set that up for everybody, and now it's really up us -- all the fighters, the fans, Coker, the guys at Spike, the rest of the team at Bellator -- it's up to us to try to pick up the ball and run with it, take it across the goal line."