Will Brooks made one hell of a debut on the international stage.
Stepping extremely far outside of his comfort zone, he took on Japanese veteran grappler Satoru Kitaoka at the special Dream 18 New Year's Eve event less than a month ago.
Brooks shook off the jitters and steamrolled him via second round TKO, finishing a fighter that had gone a full 25 minutes with Shinya Aoki at the prior year's Dream event.
It didn't take long for organizations to start fielding him offers and within a week, he had signed with Bellator Fighting Championships. He'll be making his promotional debut tomorrow night (Jan. 31, 2013) at Bellator 87 against Ricardo Tirlono in the season eight lightweight tournament quarterfinals.
The Illinois native spoke to MMAmania.com about his incredible performance in Japan, the big changes he's made recently and his debut with Bellator in this exclusive interview.
Check it out:
Brian Hemminger (MMAmania.com): Let's start with recent events. You just burst onto the scene. You were 7-0 fighting in the local scene and you go out to to the Dream show last month and just brutalized Kitaoka, slamming him to the ground and blasting him with punches. Can you start with what that experience was like, stepping out of your comfort zone and heading to Japan?
Will Brooks: It was just like you said, going outside of my comfort zone. I trained at a different gym, headed out to American Top Team and it was the first leaving my training camp in Illinois at the Midwest Training Facility and just going out of the country. It was my first time going out of the country and I was going against a guy in Kitaoka who was really highly respected and a talented fighter. He'd beat guys like Paul Daley, Carlos Condit and Takanori Gomi in the past. It was just a great opportunity and I'm glad I got a chance to do that.
It was a big boost to my career. I'm really focused on letting people know who I am and getting my name out there. I think I opened up a lot of people's eyes
Brian Hemminger (MMAmania.com): I read a rumor that you were originally going to fight Shinya Aoki. Was that true or just random internet musings?
Will Brooks: Oh, actually I don't know if it was a rumor or not. It was the first fight that was mentioned to me by my manager Monte Cox but it was also at the same time, he also let me know there was a possibility I could be fighting other guys like Kitaoka. I was really looking forward to an opportunity to fight Aoki but it didn't happen. You take what you're given and you make the best out of it.
Brian Hemminger (MMAmania.com): Let's talk a little bit about what's happened since then. Had Bellator been talking to you before your appearance in Dream, or did their ears perk up after you beat Kitaoka and then got the ball rolling?
Will Brooks: Well, my manager deals with all that stuff, but he was making inquiries about Bellator and being in a potential tournament but I was focused on my upcoming fight in Japan at the time. When I came home, what had happened when I got home was what happened. Fortunately, I signed a Bellator contract that had been sent to me on my fax machine and we got right into it.
Brian Hemminger (MMAmania.com): Is there any concern for you that you'll be fighting in this tournament a month after your last fight and if everything goes well, you'll be potentially fighting four times in four months?
Will Brooks: No man, I think for me, that actually plays into my skill-set. I'm a rhythm type of guy and I fight better when I've fought recently. Once I get into a rhythm, I find myself getting more comfortable and I become a much bigger threat. I look forward to doing this fight, doing back-to-back fights and moving forward in this tournament and going after that belt.
Brian Hemminger (MMAmania.com): In my research, it seemed like MMA gave you your purpose. You were just floating around, not really doing much in life and then bam, you discover MMA. Can you talk about what martial arts has done to help you out in life?
Will Brooks: Yeah, I was just drifting around, hanging out, not sure what I was going to do next. I was a former football player but gave it up after an injury. I've always been an athlete and once I wasn't able to compete anymore, I was just lost. I needed to figure out how to get back into competing and I trained mixed martial arts and then made the decision that I was going to pursue this career full time.
This whole thing has really helped me center myself as a person and focus on the more important things in life. The fighting and competing and the winning is all important and it's really made me care more about the simple things. We only get one life and we put so much time in the gym and take our jobs so seriously that some of us end up missing other things. With MMA, it's given me an opportunity to really do what I do best which is competing and getting back into a positive environment and getting in my comfort zone.