Will Brooks seems to have all the pieces of the puzzle needed to become a big star.
The right pedigree? The Bellator lightweight champion trains at the American Top Team, among the most elite of the sport's gyms.
Willingness to take on all comers? "Ill Will" not only stepped up and accepted his big career break by defeating Michael Chandler on just over a week's notice, but he also went into Chandler's adopted hometown of San Diego and finished him in the rematch.
Accessibility? Brooks is one of mixed martial arts' most outspoken and real fighters on social media, expressing what's on his mind and engaging with the fans on a regular basis.
If someone steps to Brooks, he won't back down, as he proved again on Thursday when he went at it with featherweight champion Pitbull Freire during a conference call in the latest chapter of their ongoing feud.
Add in the fact Brooks is a proven winner -- he's won 16 of his 17 pro fights, and avenged his only loss in the process -- and it seems like Brooks has everything necessary to become a crowd favorite.
And yet the Chicago native, who makes his second defense of his Bellator belt when he takes on Friday night at Bellator 145 in St. Louis against Marcin Held, has yet clicked with the audience to the degree you'd think someone with his skills and mindset should.
Brooks himself acknowledges he hasn't quite put all the pieces of the puzzle together, and he has a theory as to why.
"I know how it is, and why it is," Brooks told MMAFIghting.com. "The thing is, my timing was bad. If you look back at the time that I first really started to break through, that was when the fans had a really low opinion of Bellator and the way things were run."
The man has a point. Brooks made his rise through the ranks, winning Bellator's season nine lightweight tournament, at a time when Eddie Alvarez's contractual situation, which played out in the courts and in a very public manner, dragged Bellator's name through the mud.
Brooks stepped in for an injured Alvarez to fight Chandler at the company's first PPV, Bellator 106 in May 2014, right around the time disgruntlement with the company peaked.
"So I come in there, and there were a whole lot of people who didn't like the way [former Bellator CEO] Bjorn [Rebney] ran things, and I step into that and win the title," Brooks said. "The people are smart, they knew that there was something wrong the the company, and I feel like because of the timing, I sort of got associated with all that through no fault of my own."
Brooks' second win over Chandler came on the now-legendary night of Nov. 15, 2014, the night previously retired Tito Ortiz and Stephan Bonnar instantly changed perceptions of what draws big ratings in mixed martial arts in this day and age.
But while Bellator's had more buzz and attention in 2015 than at any point in its history, save for a low-key title defense against Dave Jansen in April, Brooks has by and large been on the sidelines while new names and old have gotten the spotlight.
Brooks railed over social media the night of the combined Bellator/Glory card in San Jose in September, essentially claiming Bellator's mainstays were being shoved aside for newbies, but as he prepares for his next fight, he's not about to rehash those thoughts.
"It's just the way things have played out, you know?" Brooks said. "That's just how it's been. You have to roll with these things in the fight business and stay ready and stay sharp."
So Brooks is simply focused on what's in front of him. That starts with Held, one of the final competitors to get a title shot earned during the old Bellator tournament system. Held is more or less considered a one-trick pony who does his one trick -- a super-slick submission game -- very, very well. Just 23, he's already fought 24 times, and has earned 12 of his 21 wins via tapout.
Brooks, for his part, doesn't seem to be sweating the details.
"Yeah, he's good on the ground," Brooks said. "I'm not worrying about that. He's got submissions, but can he wrestle? I'm not afraid to go wherever the fight's going to take me."
If Brooks beats Held, you have to wonder what's next. He's taken out nearly everyone at 155, including two wins over Chandler. Of course, John Thomson, the former Strikeforce champ and a favorite of current Bellator boss Scott Coker, is now with the company, and that could offer just the sort of big-name opposition which could put Brooks on the map once and for all.
"They're all names to me," Brooks said. "Sure, I'll fight Josh Thomson. I'll fight whoever they tell me to fight. If the fans come around, great, but if not, I'm just going to keep being me."
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