The question was an afterthought. Will Brooks was days away from returning to Bellator for a warm-up fight before taking on either Eddie Alvarez or Michael Chandler for the lightweight title at a later date.
Alvarez and Chandler were set to face-off on the same Bellator 120 card Brooks was on the undercard of. Having won the lightweight tournament, Brooks had earned a title shot but had it delayed to satisfy the promotion's desire to see a trilogy bout between the champion Alvarez and Chandler.
We asked Brooks who he'd rather fight and instead of giving a variation of the standard fighter answer of, "I don't care. I'll be ready for whomever," Brooks pointedly targeted Chandler - and, by extension, the entire Bellator promotion. “I think I have everything it takes to beat Chandler. I really want to create some change. Bellator does a good job of promoting a handful of guys, a handful of favorites,” Brooks told us.
He then went on to call out the promoter for selectively promoting certain guys over others saying that he and the fans were tired of it. Brooks, of course, would end up getting his wish when he filled-in for the injured Alvarez, and fought Chandler at Bellator 120.
Brooks shocked the world by beating Chandler in a tough fight. All of the sudden, Bellator went from having an apparently discontented contender calling them on their promotional inconsistencies and shenanigans to having one of their champions do so.
The thing is, though, that Brooks says he doesn't actually have a problem with Bellator. "I don’t have any issue with Bellator or [CEO] Bjorn [Rebney]," the fighter tells Cagewriter this week.
"They’ve done me solid, taken care of me financially, in terms of making sure I’m always fighting or giving me a couple extra tickets to events. So, I just want to clear that up."
That the fighter has no complaints about his own personal treatment does not mean that he hasn't observed things that bother him, however. "What I was trying to do was speak as a fan and say that, from a fan’s point of view, I personally believe that there are some changes that need to be made in the organization," he explains.
"Changes in the way the tournament gets backed up sometimes, or at least the guys who win them. Changes as far as how some guys get promoted and how some guys are being paid. Me being a fan of the sport and seeing Bellator as an organization that has an ability to get bigger than what it is, I just want it to reach that level. Like with the UFC before it got large – fans could look at it, and say, ‘if the UFC made such and such changes, it could get big.' Same thing with the MLB or NFL at one point in time."
Don't think for a second that Brooks is trying to backpedal from his criticism of Bellator Brooks is simply trying to paint a nuanced picture - one where he is happy but still has irritations about how his bosses have treated others.
"Yeah, I would call it an irritation," he agrees.
"Even though the organization has not treated me poorly, directly, there is an irritation about some things. I mean, you could be working at a job and everything is great but you still see a couple things that could change so you put something in the suggestion box. It doesn’t mean that you hate your job, just that there are some things that need to change."
"The way certain guys are promoted and others ignored, the way the tournament gets backed up. It’s very difficult to be a part of that and watch it. They may not be treating me poorly but a lot of those guys are still my teammates and friends and I want the best for those who I call friends and teammates."
Brooks claims that no one from Bellator has come to him or his management to discuss his comments, one way or another. "I think that they understand that I'm not attacking them," he says.
That said, Brooks would still speak out even if there was a threat of black-listing or being subjugated to the same poor treatment he says other fighters in Bellator have been as retaliation for his critical comments. "I understand why some fighters keep their mouths shut but the way I see it – if I don’t step up and say things, I can’t make things better for myself," he says.
"There are some small changes, some small adjustments that need to be made. I’m not trying to be negative. I feel like if we do some of these small things differently, it will mean more fans of different fighters and eventually more revenue for everyone – even Bjorn and the refs and the event planners, the guys who organize flights for fighters. Everybody."
The 27 year-old champion out of Illinois may have big goals in the sport of MMA, but he also has a desire to build a more significant legacy with his life. The American Top Team fighter understands that those who see themselves as a part of history can't be afraid of sacrifice.
"A lot of fighters get afraid of getting black listed or ignored but my life does not revolve around MMA. My life continues after MMA. I’ve been smart with my money and finances and I have friends and family who support me. At the end of the day, that’s all I need. If someone is going to black list me over something I do that is positive, that’s there decision. There’s nothing I can do about it," Brooks philosophizes.
"How else do you create change if you’re not willing to sacrifice something, if you’re afraid to be the guy who gets shot down? Maybe other guys will hear what I say and one of them might say something, too. Then, all of the sudden, there’s another guy and another guy and there’s a chain reaction. What are they going to do then – just shut out every one? If all the fighters are saying something, they can’t all be shut out because the promoters will be hurting themselves. I know that some guys might be afraid to voice their opinion but I’m just thinking what a lot of fighters and a lot of fans are thinking but who are too afraid that someone will put their thumb on their neck."
If fight world observers were shocked at Brooks being able to upset a top-ten opponent like Chandler, we may be downright speechless that the young man is so outspoken and brazen about leading with his moral compass.
Brooks, like many fighters, is tired of athletes not getting what they were promised by their promoter, tired of athletes not getting compensated well-enough for putting their lives on the line week after week in the partial employ of gigantic multi-national companies, tired of unfair favoritism for a select few of well-behaving fighters.
Conventional wisdom would dictate that this is not a time for Will Brooks to make waves. This would be the time that he kept his head down, continue to beat top guys and look to larger opportunities.
At the end of the day, however, Brooks may be more interested in becoming the Curt Flood of MMA rather than the sport's Babe Ruth.
"We have to realze that when all the fighting is done, we still have to look at our legacies and see what we’ve done with our lives," Brooks concludes.
"I want to do something that is game changing. I want people to remember me not just for fighting."