Will Brooks has spent the better part of four years working towards one goal: becoming the Bellator lightweight champion. In 2014, he succeeded, taking a split decision over Michael Chandler to capture the Bellator interim title, then cementing his reign with a fourth-round knockout of Chandler in the rematch. Back-to-back title defenses over tournament winners Dave Jansen and Marcin Held have since strengthened his standing as one of the top lightweights in the world.
And now Brooks is ready to move on to his next professional challenge.
"I'm going to be honest with everybody, when I first got into this sport, I wanted to be a UFC lightweight champion," Brooks said Monday on The MMA Hour. "That's what I wanted to be, and I cannot lie about that. Earlier in my career, that opportunity didn't present itself but the opportunity to fight for Bellator did, so I flipped my goals.
"I flipped the mindset that I was in at that time, and I said, ‘listen, I'm going to be the best fighter that I can be for Bellator, I'm going to be a Bellator lightweight champion.' I accomplished that goal. That was a goal I set. I accomplished that goal, and now I want to move on to my next goal if that opportunity presents itself."
Brooks' decision does not come as much of a surprise. It is no secret that the 29-year-old has publicly butted heads with Bellator, at times verbalizing his gripes with lengthy postings on social media.
However with a newborn daughter on the way, Brooks has committed himself to turning over a new leaf, both in his public dealings with Bellator and the way he plans to approach his remaining time with the promotion.
"I've never pretended to be a perfect person," Brooks said. "I think that's one thing that the fans have always appreciated about me, I've never pretended to be perfect. I know I make mistakes in regards to the way I relay things. But do I apologize for the way I think and the way I feel about things? No, I don't. Do I apologize for the way that I relay things? Yes, because the way I relay things is based off of emotion, based off of allowing different situations to force me to react, when really that's me giving up control of things.
"I will not be one of those guys who goes out of his way to disrespect the organization in that fashion, go and try to do things behind their back, just because I recognize the fact that other guys may have tried to do that and things did not work in their favor, things did not work out well for them. I am not going to be that guy. I've said it before, I signed with Bellator, this is the organization that I fight for, and that's what I'll continue to do until that contract is up or whatever happens in the future."
Brooks (17-1, 9-1 BMMA) said his current Bellator contract is expected to expire on July 15th or after two more fights, whichever comes first. At this point, though, Brooks would be surprised to see himself fight twice more under the Bellator banner considering the fact that the division appears to be moving on without him.
Of the other top-three lightweights on the Bellator roster, Benson Henderson is already scheduled to vie against Andrey Koreshkov for the welterweight title, while Chandler and Josh Thomson both eschewed title fights for a tentpole match-up against each other on May 14. Brooks understands where they're coming from though, and doesn't begrudge his fellow division-mates for their decisions.
"It is what it is," Brooks said. "Again, I can't control any of that. I think it is one of those things where I have to be honest with you, and I've said it before and I know everybody is probably going to turn it into something where I'm critiquing Bellator -- I get it -- but do I think it's one of those things where they're like, ‘well, shoot, what do we do?'
"'We have a guy who's ready to go into free agency, so what do we do with him? Do we put all our money, put all our time into the guy who can possibly leave? Or do we put our energy into the guys who are here? The guys who are trying to prepare to have a long career here, the guys who are signing multi-year, multi-fight contracts?' And I respect that. I get that. If I was running Bellator, I would do the same thing.
"If I had a guy that I knew what probably not going to be with us, who doesn't feel like he wants to be there anymore, I don't think I would spend the energy on that guy either, especially if I have other guys who I need to put that energy into. I need to build these other guys. So for them to make the Thomson-Chandler fight, that makes sense. Chandler is a guy who just signed a brand new contract. Thomson just signed a contract and he's trying to be in [Bellator] for the rest of his career, he's trying to build the organization and I respect all of that. So it's just one of those things where I'm just kind of hanging out and seeing what happens."
Brooks said that Bellator recently offered him a new contract for "really good money," however he ultimately declined in order to follow his "own personal goals" that he has laid out for himself.
Brooks isn't sure if that means he will be sidelined until his current deal runs out in the summer, though he reiterated that he trusts Bellator to make the best decision for all parties involved. And regardless of what that decision is, he won't complain.
"I would like to (fight one more time), but that is also another thing that I can't control," Brooks said. "It comes down to what Bellator decides to do. It comes down to what Scott Coker decides to do. It comes down to if they have somebody to fight me, you know? It's a whole mix-up of contenders, everybody is looking to somebody else. All of the guys who were screaming about title fights and wanting to fight me, all of a sudden they decided they want to fight other guys. Hopefully somebody figures out exactly what they want to do. I'll be here."