After taking out Dan Hooker at UFC 257, Michael Chandler became an instant title contender at 155 pounds.
Will Brooks, one of the few fighters to definitively have Chandler’s number, was watching that performance. With respect to Chandler, he likes their chances if they fight again.
The two former Bellator standouts first met at Bellator 120 on May 17, 2014, and it was Brooks who scored the upset victory via split decision to claim an interim lightweight title. An immediate rematch was booked six months later for Bellator 131, and the second time, Brooks finished Chandler with strikes in the fourth round.
Other than a strange stoppage that saw Chandler seemingly lose sense of where he was and stop fighting after taking a hard shot from Brooks before succumbing to strikes, there was no question that Brooks was Bellator’s No. 1 lightweight.
Seven years later, Chandler is one of the most talk-about fighters of 2021 so far, and Brooks is on the outside looking in, having not competed in over 18 months. Brooks had his own cup of coffee with the UFC, but failed to produce the same results he had in Bellator, finishing 1-3 inside the octagon before being released in 2017.
Brooks recently appeared on MMA Fighting’s What the Heck, and he complimented Chandler on the success he’s had while also suggesting a third fight probably wouldn’t go differently.
“I’ve never wished ill on anybody,” Brooks said. “I want nothing but success for everyone. I’ve beat the guy, but we all evolve, we continue to get better. Things change, especially in MMA, the landscape changes, the timing on when you come in and when things happen for you, you might just hit that jackpot and I think if I’m being completely honest, one of the things that I’ve always respected about Michael Chandler is the people that he had around him. He’s had a really great established team around him. I’m talking about not just in the fighting and training, but he’s had a great business team and people that are kind of navigating and helping him during the politics of all this stuff. How to time this, how to time this, and how to move that.
“That’s one thing that I would say that if I could go back I would change is—not saying that the people that I had around me were bad people, but I just don’t think that they knew how to really balance and navigate a lot of the situations that I came into. And I didn’t know how to do it myself. I’m an emotional guy, so I’m jumping off the cliff on anything. So it would have been nice to have someone be like, ‘Go sit down somewhere and let me do this.’”
Since leaving the UFC, Brooks has gone 2-1-1, with the wins and a draw coming during the 2018 PFL season. He won decisions over Luiz Firmino and Robert Watley, only to be eliminated in the playoffs after battling Rashid Magomedov to a two-round stalemate and failing to advance due to the league’s quirky quarterfinal rules that have the judges pick a winner in the event of a tie. He then fought at a Battlefield FC 2 show in Macau, where lost to fellow ex-UFC veteran Gleison Tibau.
In comparison, Chandler is 10-2 since losing to Brooks, with two more lightweight title reigns added to his resume and a pair of notable victories over former UFC champion Benson Henderson.
The divergent paths are not lost on Brooks, who felt somewhat agitated when he saw all the hoopla around Chandler’s UFC debut. He not only feels he can still beat Chandler, he believes he can compete with the rest of the UFC’s lightweight roster as well.
“Whatever, he’s had success, and hey man, best of luck to him, keep doing your thing, but I tell you what, as a competitor it gets you fired up,” Brooks continued. “You get a little angry, you get a little bitter, you get a little pissy taste in your mouth because I’d beat any of those guys. Especially, you look at a guy like these Dan Hookers that he knocks out, and blah blah blah, as a competitor you’re like, ‘Yo, you just got knocked out by a ‘45er and then you beat up some old man Ben Henderson,’ and you come in and I get pissed at Dan Hooker because I’m like, ‘Yo, that guy’s not hard to beat. He’s not hard to beat.’ I’m sounding like a jerk now, but as a competitor that’s where I’m at. It lights a fire.
“So I’ll tell you what, when I saw that happen, I jumped up off the couch and I was gassed up. I can beat these guys, I know I can beat these guys. I can jump up off my couch right now and beat Chandler and beat Dan Hooker and beat these guys, but I’m not in a position to say that. I can’t get on media and say that, I can’t get on social media and say that, because right now I am Mr. Irrelevant in MMA. So it’s one of those things where you look at it like, well I gotta get to work. Right now I’m trying to get to work, and maybe God puts it in my position where I can get back to the UFC and I can get back some of those wins that I left.”
Brooks is currently under contract with French promotion ARES Fighting Championship, but has received permission to pursue other opportunities with that organization’s operations currently on hold due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
After another opportunity to fight for a regional promotion in Alabama fell through in November, Brooks is taking his time to assess things and not jump at every opportunity as he might have done in his younger days. The end goal is still a return to the UFC and ideally a chance to right past wrongs.
“I haven’t lied to anybody, I’ve been somewhat vocal about it, but then I’ve kind of been in the background,” Brooks said. “One of my biggest goals is to try to get back to the UFC. I’ve had some missteps in trying to make that happen, jumping at things that I shouldn’t have jumped at, like Battlefield FC. Jumping at that, jumping at this, jumping at the next thing, and things just not really working out.
“Now we’re just like, you know what, maybe this COVID situation and this pandemic situation is a time for a freeze in life. Maybe God is trying to tell you, ‘Hey, sit still. Figure yourself out as a man and then we can do other stuff.’ So it’s just kind of hanging back and seeing what happens.”