He was born Willie Love Brooks on Oct. 8, 1986 in Chicago. Now 30, “Ill” Will Brooks finds himself in the heart of his competitive prime as one of the top lightweight fighters in mixed martial arts. He transitioned from football to MMA when a knee injury ended his playing career at Harper College, the same school in Palatine, Illinois, that happened to give rise to Ultimate Fighting Championship veterans Mike Rio and Clay Guida. Brooks will carry a stellar 19-2 record into his UFC 210 showdown with Brazilian submission ace Charles Oliveira on April 8 at KeyBank Center in Buffalo, New York. This is the path he took to get there:
JANUARY 22, 2011
Brooks made his professional MMA debut at Xtreme Fighting Organization 38 in Woodstock, Illinois, and needed just 2:09 to put away J.R. Hines with punches. He went on to win his first eight bouts -- seven of them were finishes -- on the regional circuit, his march toward bigger and better things capped by a three-round unanimous decision over Drew Dober. Brooks’ performances netted the desired result: a look from talent evaluators in major organizations.
DECEMBER 31, 2012
The Japanese-based Dream promotion, which rose out of the ashes of Pride Fighting Championships, pitted the undefeated Brooks against former Sengoku champion Satoru Kitaoka on New Year’s Eve at the Saitama Super Arena. Kitaoka entered the ring at Dream 18 with wins over Carlos Condit, Paul Daley, Takanori Gomi and Katsunori Kikuno already in his back pocket, and most everyone viewed him as a serious threat to the upstart prospect. Brooks capitalized on the opportunity and aced his first big-stage test, as the American Top Team standout blitzed and stopped Kitaoka with second-round punches to improve to 9-0, drawing rave reviews across the globe.
FEBRUARY 28, 2013
Adversity knocked on Brooks’ door at Bellator 91 in Rio Rancho, New Mexico, where Millennia MMA’s Saad Awad dismissed him with punches in less than a minute in the Bellator MMA Season 8 lightweight tournament semifinals. Brooks met his surprising but decisive end 43 seconds into Round 1. Awad went right to work, staggering the Chicago native with a pair of concussive right hands. He swarmed with more punches, shut down a desperate takedown attempt with unabated hammerfists and finished Brooks with one final volley of standing-to-ground blows. “Ill Will” took the setback in stride and responded with four straight victories, including a unanimous decision over Awad in their rematch eight months later.
MAY 17, 2014
Brooks replaced an injured Eddie Alvarez on short notice and captured the interim Bellator lightweight championship with a narrow split decision over the world-ranked Michael Chandler in the Bellator 120 co-main event at the Landers Center in Southaven, Mississippi. Scores were 48-46 (Todd Anderson) and 48-47 (Rob Hinds) for Brooks, 48-47 (Larry Ingle) for Chandler. Brooks staked his claim in the third and fourth rounds. In the third, he secured a takedown, moved to Chandler’s back more than once, fished for rear-naked chokes and punished him with heavy ground-and-pound from the mount. Brooks was also the superior fighter in the fourth frame, where he again transitioned to the NCAA All-American’s back and piled up points with effective ground-and-pound. Chandler -- who struck for takedowns in each of the first two rounds -- closed with a flourish, as he staggered the Chicago native with a three-punch burst in Round 5, swooped into top position and threatened with a mounted arm-triangle choke. However, it was not enough to deny Brooks on the scorecards.
NOVEMBER 15, 2014
The interim tag did not stick to Brooks for long. He laid claim to the undisputed lightweight championship by wiping out Chandler in the fourth round of their Bellator 131 rematch in San Diego. A right hand from Brooks in the fourth round sent the Missouri native into a downward spiral from which he could not recover. Chandler exited the scramble in a dazed and confused state, backed himself to the fence and looked in referee Jason Herzog’s direction. Brooks then uncorked another right hand upstairs, followed it with more punches and connected with a knee, as his counterpart spun towards the cage and turned his back in distress. Seeing that Chandler was not intelligently defending himself, Herzog moved in on his behalf 3:48 into Round 4.
JULY 8, 2016
Brooks arrived in the Ultimate Fighting Championship with a 17-1 record and cleared his first hurdle inside the Octagon, banking a unanimous decision against Ross Pearson at “The Ultimate Fighter 23” Finale in Las Vegas. All three cageside judges scored it 29-28 for Brooks, who filled in for the injured James Krause. Brooks excelled in close quarters. The American Top Team standout battered Pearson with standing elbows and crushing knees to the body in the clinch, all while mixing in punching combinations, stepping knees to the body and occasional leg kicks at distance. Pearson did not go quietly. With Brooks showing signs of fatigue in the third round, the Alliance MMA representative wobbled the favorite with left hooks and had him covering up along the fence at one point, slashing away with punches to the head and body. Brooks interrupted his surge with a timely takedown, avoided any real danger and sent it to the judges.
OCTOBER 1, 2016
Alex Oliveira saw Brooks as a springboard and used him as such. The Brazilian wrecked the former Bellator champion with third-round ground-and-pound in the UFC Fight Night 96 co-main event at the Moda Center in Portland, Oregon. Brooks bowed out 3:30 into Round 3, his nine-fight winning streak snapped by a blizzard of punches. Oliveira -- who missed weight for the match by 5.5 pounds -- engaged the American Top Team rep in the clinch, as he won the underhook battle and bullied him in close quarters. Brooks appeared to suffer a rib injury sometime in the first round, and though he rallied by twice taking the Brazilian’s back in the second, it became clear he was compromised. Oliveira took advantage of the situation. He knocked down an off-balance Brooks with a straight right hand in Round 3 and later executed a takedown, his opponent wincing in obvious pain. Oliveira trapped the Chicago native along the base of the cage and unleashed a series of clear-path left hands, prompting referee Herb Dean to act. Afterward, Oliveira made an obscene gesture in his fallen opponent’s direction. Brooks responded by firing his mouthpiece at the Tata Fight Team standout. With Brooks on the rebound for just the second time, his assignment at UFC 210 awaits.