Bellator giants Eddie Alvarez and Michael Chandler were set for Bellator 120 to compete for the lightweight title. Alvarez vs. Chandler 3 was stopped just a week in advance when Eddie Alvarez suffered a concussion in practice and “Ill Will” Brooks stepped in for the interim title shot. After surviving Michael Chandler’s flurry of takedowns in the first two rounds, Will Brooks won the five round war for the lightweight interim title. Scott Coker gave the go ahead for the rematch for the lightweight strap and fans will see if “Ill Will” can repeat the same outstanding performance. We talk pre-fight rituals, training preparation, and the path to MMA with the champ himself.
Scifighting: What was it like making the transition from college football into MMA? What got you interested in the sport?
Brooks: When I first started training in mixed martial arts I was playing football at Harper College in Illinois. I ended up taking a nasty injury in football and went on a little bit of a hiatus from competitive sports. I took more of the everyday route and started going to school with a high school buddy of mine. He knew I was still fired up about competing and invited me to go check out a mixed martial arts gym at Midwest Training Center. I got my fire to compete back and stuck with MMA, especially because I had a wrestling background. Life kind of took its twists and turns and here I am.
SF: What was it like to compete internationally in Japan in Dream for the first time?
Brooks: It was incredible. I had just signed with my manager maybe two weeks before I got the offer to go and take that fight. At the time I was planning on taking time off and focusing on training and getting better. Then, my manager called me up and said “Want to go to Japan?” At the time, I thought I was going to Japan to be a training partner, but then he told me who I was going to be fighting and it was like “Wait, you mean compete!?” It took a few minutes to get my mind wrapped around the fact that I was fighting regionally and within two weeks of having a manager I was going to be fighting in Japan. It was surreal. The culture was amazing. Just being there, being around the people and trying the food was incredible. It was truly a blessing.
SF: In your last fight against Michael Chandler, did you expect him to wrestle so aggressively in the opening rounds? It looked like he was determined to take you to the ground.
Brooks: I think part of it was the way that I approached that training camp. I was completely focused on getting better as a striker and evolving my game regardless of whoever I was going to be fighting. That’s what my mind was set on, but his wrestling aggression did catch me off guard. If you watch his fights leading up to that one, he was very aggressive with his boxing and his striking. It did catch me off guard and I was very prepared to strike with him. When he went for the takedowns, I thought he was trying to be more dominant and rely on his collegiate level of wrestling. We both took the fight on a week’s notice so we both had to create new game plans quickly.
SF: There was a huge shift in momentum when you were able to set up your jabs and head kicks. What have they done at American Top Team to improve your striking?
Brooks: I’m working very closely with my striking and Muay Thai coach Steve Bruno, who has really helped me understand what does and doesn’t work well for me. He’s done a good job at bringing me back to the basics and trying different things. He teaches that sometimes you have to swallow your pride and ego and understand that some techniques just don’t work for you. We took that mindset to every section of my game for hitting the bag and even wrestling. Taking that mindset has really opened me up to a lot of different things in the cage, so we’re using a skill set that includes all the techniques that I’m comfortable with. It’s just the way my coaches approach everything. They’ve taken what I can naturally do and they added a few things to it.
SF: How did you get involved with Feeding South Florida as a sponsor?
Brooks: They aren’t a sponsor, I’m more of an ambassador to them. I come from a family where food banks and things like that were a big part of our lives. I wanted to take an opportunity and be part of it to give back to the people that helped me at the time. Again, life just lead me there. It’s an amazing thing and I was very blessed to have an opportunity to work with them. I hate to say it, but I haven’t been able to do as much as I’d like to, but I will be working more closely with them when I have the time. I’m love being able to work with that organization.
SF: That’s a great cause to contribute to, especially because they helped someone like you become who you are today.
Brooks: A lot of people forget that they don’t have to donate a bunch of money. Even basic things like donating food can have a huge effect on someone. I think have having that one less stress on your plate makes another opportunity for people in need to find financial stability. It opens up a lot of other doors for kids and their parents too. This person we see in need today could end up growing up to be somebody who could change the world for everyone. It’s only right for us to give everyone a fair opportunity to impact this world in a positive way.
SF: You were called for an illegal knee against Michael Chandler in Bellator 120. In the clinch against the cage, his hand was touching the canvass which made technically made him a “downed opponent.” What are your thoughts about how this rule can be improved? Do you think it should stay in place?
Brooks: I was originally aiming to hit him in the shoulder when I threw the knee. But when you’re fatigued and the time starts to kick in, it’s a little bit harder to control your legs. After seeing the replay, I see how some people could think that it looked like I intentionally hit his face but I thought I was going to hit his shoulder. As far as that problem goes, I think it’s going to be very difficult to fix. Maybe they could make an adjustment like the 12-6 elbow rule and apply the same thing with knees. If you hit on the side of the head or to the chin, maybe that could be a clean strike. Who knows? I think that would be a good idea to make the change, but I’m not the rules maker.
SF: You said in a recent interview that you have to coordinate your outfit for training as a pre-fight ritual. Do you have any other pre-fight superstitions or rituals?
Brooks: That’s not a pre-fight ritual, it’s everyday. I gotta be matching and my clothes have to be coordinated, that’s just how I was raised. My dad was a military man so everything had to be ironed, coordinated, matched, clean and looking professional. That was just something that we had to do in my family. As far as pre-fight ritual or superstition, I don’t really have anything. I show up and I’m ready to go. Everything is in place when I get there, I just show up to work. If you get to the fight and you feel like you need a ritual or something like that, it makes me feel like you didn’t do something you needed to do during training camp.
SF: What are you expecting for this rematch? Are you going to try to change anything from your first game plan?
Brooks: Honestly, I’m not going to change anything. The only thing I would change is maybe starting a little bit quicker. I think I came out a little sluggish with the takedowns in the first and second round. Overall, I think I came out with a great game plan and did a great job taking advantage of things he didn’t do well. I need to be very opportunistic and just be better than Michael Chandler. That’s it. I have to be more dynamic, more explosive, faster, and more intelligent. That’s one thing I don’t think he has the ability to do. I was evolving as the last fight went on and he stayed the same. That’s the one huge advantage I think I bring to the fight. Not just my skill set, but the fact that I’m able to evolve as the fight goes on. He doesn’t have that ability.
SF: Do you have anything else to add for our readers?
Brooks: Make sure to check out Bellator 131 on Spike TV. It’s going to be a busy night of MMA, but there’s a lot of talented fighters that are going to be on this card. There’s a lot of other guys that are going to put on some really great fights on Saturday.