Back in May, it was announced that Bellator MMA would not be renewing the contract of its reigning lightweight champion, Will Brooks (17-1). Instead, Bellator President Scott Coker explained that they would be stripping Brooks of his title, and allowing him to test his value on the open market.
“Will Brooks’ contract is ending, and we made a decision not to renew it,” Coker explained to MMAJunkie.com shortly after this announcement was made. “We’re going to give him a full release, so we’re not going to be in the Will Brooks business any longer.”
This was undoubtedly a bit of a strange move on Bellator’s part, as Brooks was one of the most recognizable fighters on the organization’s roster. Yet given Brooks’ outward desire to test his mettle in the UFC, and Bellator’s unsavory history of refusing to let disgruntled fighters go—see: Eddie Alvarez and Quinton “Rampage” Jackson—it was nice to see them let Brooks depart without putting up a fight.
Of course, Brooks would technically remain a member of the Bellator roster until his contract expired. And so, despite this massive announcement in May, the former champ has spent the last few months waiting.
Yesterday, that wait finally ended. Brooks’ contract officially expired, and overnight, he became MMA’s most sought-after free agent. Mere hours after joining the free agent list, however, the former Bellator champ had already found himself a new home: he is now, at long last, a member of the UFC roster.
When the UFC picks up a high-profile fighter from another organization, part of the fun is often guessing at who the new signee might debut against, and in Brooks’ case, there were plenty of interesting options. Yet UFC matchmaker Joe Silva gave us almost no time to weigh these options, as the details of Brooks’ UFC debut were announced almost immediately.
Brooks will be taking on England’s Ross Pearson (19-10) at The Ultimate Fighter 23 Finale on July 8—just a few short weeks away. He’ll be replacing Pearson’s original opponent, James Krause, who was forced to withdraw from the planned scrap.
In Pearson, Brooks will face a grizzled veteran with a whopping 19 UFC bouts under his belt. And while Pearson, who is currently unranked at lightweight, is far from a world-beater, he still represents a tough welcome for Brooks all the same. The Brit is more than capable of playing the spoiler against his debuting foe.
Then again, Brooks is unlikely to fall victim to the UFC jitters. The 29-year-old is the picture of confidence—and rightly so. Having not tasted defeat since he was knocked out by Saad Awad in early 2013, he is currently riding an awesome, eight-fight streak. During that streak, Brooks defeated a tough veteran in John Alessio, avenged his loss to Awad, won the Bellator title from the highly-hyped Michael Chandler, erased any possibility of a fluke win by beating Chandler again, and most recently, defended his title against credible foes in Dave Jansen and Marcin Held. Needless to say, its easy to understand why he’s got so much hype behind him, and why his UFC debut is such a big deal. Brooks is a fantastic fighter, and an incredible addition to the UFC lightweight division.
That being said, the former Bellator champ joins the UFC lightweight division at a time when it is more stacked than ever. His road to a title shot will be blocked by savages like Dustin Poirier, Edson Barboza, Michael Chiesa, Tony Ferguson, Khabib Nurmagomedov—and of course, Pearson. Any one of these men could stop his streak in its tracks, and so to suggest his success in the UFC is guaranteed is erroneous.
The good news, however, is that we’ll finally get to see what Will Brooks is capable of against top flight foes. Not to disparage the talent of fighters like Jansen, Held and even Chandler, but there are undoubtedly far tougher challenges for Brooks under the UFC umbrella—challenges that are sure to bring out the very best in him. It’s just a question of whether or not the former Bellator king can clear those challenges.
The answer to that question should become a lot clearer when he debuts against Pearson in a few weeks.
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