Will Brooks has made American Top Team his full-time training home. | Will Fox/Sherdog.com
Will Brooks has made some changes.
Seven months after suffering a 43-second knockout at the hands of Saad Awad that ended his Season 8 lightweight tournament hopes, Brooks believes he now stands poised to correct his mistakes in Bellator’s Season 9 draw after making alterations to both his personal and professional life.
Brooks’ first step toward redemption begins Friday night at the Moda Center in Portland, Ore., where “Ill Will” takes on John Alessio in the lightweight quarterfinals at Bellator 101.
“Mentally, losing that fight [to Awad] helped me step back and look at everything going on around me and eliminate some people in my life who weren’t giving me the best advice,” Brooks told Sherdog.com on Wednesday. “We had to rebuild everything -- the group of people around me, my personal mental [outlook] and my physical [preparation].
“I learned a lot from that fight -- to not get too caught up in my own ambitions. I was very focused on getting to [Bellator lightweight champion] Michael Chandler rather than focusing on fighting one fight at a time. I’m very much focused on that this time around. I was very ahead of the game and the whole tournament [in my mind], and it caught up with me.”
Following his defeat, Brooks relocated to Florida from Illinois in order to train at American Top Team full time. Whereas previously he had only traveled to the vaunted gym for his training camps, Brooks believes his decision to invest in a new, “bare bones” lifestyle will pay fruitful dividends in his fighting career.
“Before, I was just flying out to Florida for training camps and then flying back home. I think that makes it too easy to get comfortable. I just decided to move out to Florida and get away from some of the things I had distracting me back home,” said Brooks. “Mentally, I had to take more responsibility for my career and my own personal decisions. I don’t go out. I go to the gym and go home, and that’s it. I’m not concerned with anything other than winning and getting to where I believe I belong.”
Brooks then returned to the cage on July 31, taking on King of the Cage vet Cris Leyva at Bellator 97. That night, both fighters were forced to battle not only each other, but the 5,282 feet of elevation, as well. As a result, Brooks made a point of pacing himself during the bout in order to maximize his efficiency.
“I’m not trying to be disrespectful, but it felt like he didn’t have a lot of power in his strikes, so I didn’t feel like I needed to waste the energy by running or avoiding [the punches],” said Brooks. “Fighting in New Mexico -- it’s very hard fighting at that altitude. It’s hard to keep a high pace, and I noticed I couldn’t catch my wind as fast as I wanted to. I had to adjust some of the things in the fight, and one of them was to not use too much energy and to force him to engage. I was focused on saving my energy and looking for the kill.”
Brooks found the finish in the third frame, hitting the last of several takedowns that night before pounding out his foe with punches on the mat -- his 10th victory in 11 career outings. The 26-year-old now finds himself paired with Alessio, a man who holds nearly five times Brooks’ pro experience.
While Brooks is aware of the former UFC and WEC title challenger’s highly-regarded resume, the prospect nonetheless plans to approach Alessio as he would any other man who stands between him and his goals.
“The way I see it, John Alessio is just like me,” said Brooks. “He’s a human being who bleeds and sweats and goes through things in life. I try to never get too focused on [my opponent]. I try to focus on what I can do as a competitor.
“As far as his great amount of experience, I can’t change that. All I can do is go in there and do what I do best and take that experience and make that a weakness for him -- maybe take some of the things he’s seen and take them to a different level with my athleticism,” Brooks continued. “I don’t think he’s fought anybody who can keep the pace that I can and moves the way I move. I just have to be a step ahead of anything that he’s seen, and that’s where my focus has been.”