When an Instagram video of former Bellator lightweight champion Will Brooks appeared last week of him crying tears of joy after being signed by the UFC, it was viewed as a happy occasion. Many fighters go through struggles to achieve their career dreams. Most never come close. For a young fighter who had a high-profile dispute with Bellator before being released who ended up in the place he said he wanted to be all along felt like a happy ending of sorts.
Perhaps it was, but the tears shed by Brooks are evidence of the undulating, difficult road he had to journey to get here. On Monday's episode of The MMA Hour with Ariel Helwani, Brooks detailed his road to the Octagon, which includes incredibly desperate and dark life moments.
"I'll be honest, man. I got home and I broke down in tears. It's been a long time coming. I made a lot of sacrifices and a lot of things i've had to go through in my personal life that not a lot of people know about in the media, the fans and things like that," Brooks said of how he celebrated his UFC signing. "I came home, I saw my fiance, she was jumping up and down, laughing and smiling and so excited. I just grabbed her and started crying. I'm getting emotional right now. My eyes are getting watered up. I did that, broke down, then flipped the switch and was like, 'let's go to work'. I had to go to the gym and get ready."
As Brooks reflected on how he got to this place, who helped him get there and what they had to do to make that happen, that's when the emotions of the moment crept up.
"I've had so many people...," he said while trying to collect himself. "I've had family members give up a lot of their time, a lot of their money. I've had people walk out on me, turn their backs on me during the whole process. I slept in my car for a year and a half just to turn pro when I first started this. Just a lot of ups and downs, man. Battling with different people, fighting through different things, never really thinking it was going to happen.
"I'm so emotional right now, I can't put everything in order. I tell you this: I shouldn't be here right now. I shouldn't be here. Like I said, I sacrificed a lot with a lot of dark times. I thought about putting myself in the ground a few times, but I'm here and it's just a crazy thing. It's time to go to work. There is no more time to worry about any of that stuff. It's time to focus up."
One of the more difficult turning points was the passing of a family friend in 2011 named Laurie, a woman who Brooks said was like a second mother. For him, it's not merely her absence that causes pain, but that she isn't around now to witness the success Brooks has become despite putting in so much effort to shape, grow and nurture him.
"That's all I think about now. Man, I got this brand new baby, I got a house, I got a kid, I'm getting married. She's one of the people I really wanted to have here to be able to witness this."
For Brooks, though, this wasn't merely a difficult attempt to be something once he left the nest of his adult caretakers. He views the present moment as one that began from his earliest days.
"Just some of the things my biological parents have gone through. My dad has been through prison, through the jail system, drugs, alcohol addiction. My mom has been a drug addict, alcoholic, they've been clean for 25 years," he said. "We've been through a lot. My old man, I remember him working three jobs just to keep the lights on in our place. Even still, not being able to feed all of us. Me and my brother and himself, he'd have to sacrifice meals for himself for me and my little brother to eat. There'd be days where the power went and we still had to find a way. It was a lot of ups and downs through everybody in my family. To say that I'm one of the people in my family that's battled through some of the ups and down to be here is...I can't put it into words."
While he's come out a successful professional athlete, Brooks told the story of the time when the pain and misery became so unbearable, he decided he'd try to end his life. In perhaps a shock to some, this event Brooks said took place only three or four years ago.
"There was a time I gave up, a time I tried to walk into traffic," he recalled. "I tried to walk into one of these busy intersections in Schaumburg, Illinois down the road from my gym. Tried to walk into the street and end my life and that was a scary time for me. I've always been a really hard-working guy. I've never really had any thoughts like that, never really thought about giving up, but things got so hard.
"I got kicked out of my gym because I was sneaking into the gym and I wasn't telling anybody and sleeping there and the owner kicked me out. I was like, 'Man, this is all I got'. This is the only thing I know how to do, is compete, endure, just be relentless in everything I do, so when you're built like that, what else do you do? I tried to go to school, that didn't work out. Tried to work a nine to five, that didn't work out. That just wasn't for me. Competing and doing this is what felt right to me. There's a couple of times I thought it wasn't going to happen. I was just like, 'Well, s--t, why am I taking up air?' I flipped the switch in my head like 'Yup, this is the right decision' and tried to end my own life on my own terms.
"The person that was driving the car almost hit me. She swerved, almost hit a pole. She got out of the car and flipped out. I'm standing there just shocked, couldn't believe what was going on because I was thinking at that point I'd be done or run over, in a hospital, something. This woman got out losing her mind, screaming and yelling and asking me what the f--k am I doing.
"I was so embarrassed by it, I was so ashamed of myself that a switch flipped in. How do you go back and tell your family that you tried to do this? So, I just took it and was like, 'You know what? You need to get your s--t together and just lock in.' It didn't get easier from there, but I just stuck. I stuck to it and everything that went on, I just kept going. I think that's why I am here to do. I just refuse to go down."
That perseverance would lead him to a Bellator title, nearly undefeated record and now a signing to the UFC. His stubbornness made his self evaluation skewed, but ultimately steered him in a direction of accomplishment. As he reflected on the entire process, he said he realized the mind can play tricks on people, including him.
Now, however, it's alright. Brooks is set to face Ross Pearson at The Ultimate Fighter 23 Finale in July. He's on the path he always intended. The worst is over and perhaps more importantly, the cost of everything to get to this place made the struggle worth it in the end.
"It's just crazy what the mind does," Brooks admitted. "Sometimes you get to dark places and you think and you're just not one of those people. All of a sudden you find yourself making a horrible decision that you should never do. I'm here now, so it is what it is."