Excuse "Ill" Will Brooks for saying "I told you so."
Eleven months ago, the American Top Team lightweight was thrust into the spotlight, a late replacement for Eddie Alvarez after Alvarez had to pull out of his much-anticipated trilogy fight with Michael Chandler on Bellator's first pay-per-view event.
Brooks knew the MMA world by and large seemed less than impressed with the new matchup, and he let everyone know what he thought of their reaction.
"If you watch, you watch," Brooks said at the time. "If you don't, you're a damn fool."
Reminded of his quote nearly a year later, Brooks let out a hearty laugh. "I told you all," Brooks said in a recent telephone interview with MMAFighting.com. "If you want me to say I told you so, I told you so. Y'all didn't know me back then, but y'all know who I am now."
Can you blame Brooks for having a little swagger? Not only did he back up his talk by going out and winning a decision over Chandler on May 17, he followed with a fourth-round finish in their November rematch. Now the undisputed Bellator 155-pound champ, Brooks is back in action Friday night, as he headlines Bellator 136 with a title defense against Dave Jansen on the campus of the University of California at Irvine.
"Nothing has changed about me," said Brooks (15-1). "It's people's perceptions of me that have changed. I'm staying true to the person I was on my way up."
An ancient fight sports saying holds that staying at the top is more difficult than getting there, but thus far, Brooks disagrees with that assessment.
"You just have to keep doing your thing," the Chicago native said. "Don't change just because you've gotten a little bit of fame. All you have to do is look around you and see guys who got to the top, and let it get to their head, and didn't work as hard as they used to, and then they're gone as soon as they got here," Brooks said. "I look at guys like Anderson Silva and Georges St-Pierre and how hard they worked to stay on top. Or in Bellator, look at how Ben Askren did it when he was here. Or Douglas Lima, the way he kept with it as long as he did and it finally paid off. That's the type of thing that motivates me."
In Jansen, Brooks will meet a veteran who plugged away for a long time before finally getting such an opportunity. The 35-year-old Oregonian is a WEC veteran who has been in Bellator for four years. His title shot is one of the last remaining promised shots under the old Bellator tournament format. Jansen (20-2) won the season seven tournament in 2013, then had to wait while the Chandler-Alvarez and then Brooks-Chandler sagas played out.
Not exactly known for trash talk, Jansen has directed some eyebrow-raising words in Brooks' direction, saying in a recent interview, "I think the best for Will Brooks is a lesson in humility, and I'm happy to oblige giving him that lesson."
Appraised of Jansen's comments, Brooks bristled. "I don't know what he means by that," Brooks said. "I think the thing here is that Jansen is just kind of a quiet guy, a basic fighter, so he has to go make something out of me in his head and turn me into something I'm not, in order to pump himself up. I understand that, because I did that with Michael Chandler. I realized they were portraying him as a hero and I decided to embrace the villain role. But with Dave Jansen, I don't need any special motivation to beat him."
Indeed, Brooks predicts the finish of Friday night's bout could look similar to the last Chandler fight, which would offer him another chance to say "I told you so."
"I'm going to finish him," Brooks said. "In the first round or maybe the second. I used to get criticized for going to decisions, but that's because I was trying to get through those tournaments. You saw what I can do when I finished Chandler, that's the fighter Will Brooks can be and what you're going to see from now on."