Will Brooks is ready to get back to fighting, and depending how the dominoes fall, an unlikely homecoming could be in order.
A little over three years into his pro MMA career, “Ill Will” burst onto the scene with a Bellator tournament victory and then a split-decision win over Michael Chandler to win an interim lightweight title in 2014. The two met in an immediate rematch for an undisputed title vacated by Eddie Alvarez and Brooks emerged triumphant again, this time putting Chandler away with strikes in the fourth round.
Brooks was a star. However, he didn’t feel that he was necessarily being treated that way and he let Bellator President Scott Coker know about it in a since-deleted Twitter tirade. His beef with management stemmed from the feeling that Bellator fighters like himself and then-light heavyweight champion Liam McGeary were being overlooked in the face of ex-UFC stars being brought into the promotion.
Coker initially said the plan was to continue to find fights for Brooks, but after a pair of successful title defenses Brooks was granted his release in May 2016. Brooks went on to a disappointing UFC stint in which he won just once in four appearances before being released.
During an interview on MMA Fighting’s What the Heck, Brooks reflected on how his Bellator tenure ended.
“When you asked the question of would you go back and change anything, I’ll be honest, I probably wouldn’t change the way that those things played out,” Brooks said. “Because if I’m being completely honest, I felt disrespected. I felt like things weren’t going my way. Would I have been as verbal on social media as I was? I probably would have, but I think I would have been a little bit more professional with the way I was speaking and some of the things I said.
“But I can tell you this much right now, I’m an emotional guy, and if I feel disrespected, I’m gonna disrespect you back, but there’s a limit to it, right? You have to still be respectful and have that, like, watching kind of what you say, but at the same time it’s like, it is what it is.”
Brooks, 34, most recently fought for South Korea’s Battlefield Fighting Championship promotion in July 2019, losing by first-round submission to fellow veteran Gleison Tibau. The loss proved to be the least of Brooks’ concerns as he and several other fighters featured on the show failed to receive payment.
Currently, Brooks is under contract with ARES Fighting Championship, though he’s yet to fight for the French promotion after it was forced to cancel its 2020 plans due to the COVID-19 pandemic. He has been given the green light to seek bookings in other promotions while ARES remains on hiatus.
So is there any chance of a reconciliation with Bellator?
“I’m open to anything,” Brooks said. “We’re in a period of a COVID pandemic. You’ve got to be ready to adjust and jump on anything, that’s just what it is. So yeah, I had my plan of trying to get back to the UFC and looking at that as like, damn it, I left there and I just know in my heart and in my bones that I can do better than what I did. I think there was a couple of little flashes here and there, where I was showing that I could compete and be there, but mentally and emotionally I just fell. I fell apart, I came undone, and you can’t do that in this sport.
“So yeah, I want to try to get back to the UFC, but if that’s not the case and that’s not where God wants me to be, and if God does some weird thing where he’s like, ‘Hey, hey, there’s a window with Bellator just opened up again,’ I’m not shying away from that either. Right now, we’re in a time, these times that we’re in right now anything can happen so you’ve got to be available for anything right now.”
Though Brooks is keeping his options open, his past dispute with Coker remains a sticking point, so he isn’t holding his breath waiting for an offer from Bellator.
“I don’t think it will happen, but I’m open to it,” Brooks said. “I upset ‘Uncle Scott.’ I upset him, I get it, so we’ll see what happens.”