Although Bellator is often viewed as a second-tier promotion by MMA fans, it’s become clear there are some high-level fighters under its banner. One needs look no further than Bellator lightweight champion Will Brooks to find a perfect example.
Brooks made his second title defense at Bellator 145 last week against dangerous submission artist Marcin Held. Although Brooks was the clear favorite heading into the contest, the fight didn’t start off well for the champion. The challenger was able to take the first round on two of the three judges’ scorecards and nearly caused the fight to end early.
“My knee popped in the first round,” Brooks said following the fight. “It’s a little tender and sore, but overall I feel good. Once the adrenaline wears off, I start to feel it a little bit more.”
Unbeknown to viewers at home and in the arena, Brooks toughed it out with the damaged wheel. He was able to land takedowns seemingly at will, while maintaining a heavy top game to wear down his foe. Held was a game opponent, threatening with multiple submission attempts in nearly every round. But the champ’s top game was too much for Held, who was barely able to stand on his own heading into the final round.
Although Brooks was able to take a lopsided decision by utilizing his wrestling, that wasn’t the game plan heading into the fight.
“We were prepared to go wherever the fight went, but a big part of what we wanted to do was keep it on the feet,” Brooks told Combat Press post-fight. “I had a very slow start and that’s something I have to work on.”
Regardless of his intentions pre-fight, it was a heck of a performance by Brooks. The Bellator champion’s performance against Held was Jon Jones-esque in execution. That’s not to say Brooks and Jones are on the same level, though. Brooks still has quite a way to go to catch up to the perennial pound-for-pound great. However, it is similar in that Brooks took on his adversary in his realm and not only won, but dominated. That’s similar to how many believed Glover Teixeira’s best chance at winning against Jones was in the clinch or Daniel Cormier’s best method to victory was his wrestling, yet Jones dominated those aspects in those respective bouts. Brooks knew Held’s only real method of winning the fight was on the ground and he still took the fight to the mat. Sure, he may have not had many options after the early injury, but that doesn’t negate the fact that Brooks dominated a grappler in the grappler’s own realm. And that’s with only one leg.
Questions of who Brooks will face next were abound following the champion’s victory. Michael Chandler is a name that many were bringing up despite Brooks holding two previous victories over the ex-champion. The two men have a history and mutual discontent with each other, something the entertainment-driven Bellator would surely like to exploit. There are also the Pitbull brothers. Patricky Freire recently made his return in August after nearly a year away from the sport to defeat Saad Awad and his brother, Patricio, is coming off a hard-fought decision loss to Daniel Straus at Bellator 145. The brothers have a genuine rivalry with Brooks, which would make a fight with either of them an easy sell, regardless of recent records. The aforementioned Awad has a victory over Brooks as well, and should he be able to put some wins together, he could put himself in position for a rubber match with the champion.
Regardless of his next opponent, it’s evident Brooks won’t be an easy man to defeat. Entering his athletic prime at 29 years of age and without the wear and tear of an MMA veteran, Brooks is in a position to make a great run before hitting free agency. Brooks has already stated that he plans on testing the market once his Bellator contract is up. He can watch his market value skyrocket by continuing to put on dominating performances, even if he only needs one leg to do so.