It’s no secret that Michigan has produced some fantastic talent over the years. Whether talking about a famous actor, like Burt Reynolds, or some of the best athletes in history, such as Floyd Mayweather or the Williams sisters, many popular figures have emerged from the Great Lakes State.
MMA veteran Jarred Brooks was not born in Michigan, but was born and raised about 35 miles south in Warsaw, Ind. He was surrounded by the fight world growing up, and he started wrestling at five years old.
“My whole family pretty much has been like street fighters and just fighting on the street,” Brooks told Combat Press. “And, you know, let’s just say my family doesn’t take disrespect too well. And then the UFC came out the year I was born. So I’d just been watching it. My dad had tapes from, like Kevin Randleman, Bas Rutten, and, you know, the old Shooto fights with Wanderlei Silva and stuff like that. You know, those are my heroes. Everybody was looking up to Michael Jordan and stuff, and I was looking up to Bas Rutten, Tito Ortiz, all those guys.”
People from Northern Indiana can end up carrying different identities. Some will identify as being from Chicago. Others will say they are from Michigan or Ohio. And, of course, many identify as Indianans. Whatever the case was for Brooks, he eventually went to Indiana Tech and Notre Dame College for a college wrestling career, but that didn’t last long.
“I left after a year,” said Brooks. “I just started to talk to one of my managers, and he was just like, ‘dude, you have one chance at this,’ and I knew that this is what I was going to do after college anyway. And there’s only one time to make money. I knew, and I believed in myself that I could be a star one day and make real money doing this.”
It’s no wonder that Brooks was seeking out a better life. While he had the privilege of an athletic scholarship to go to a prestigious, expensive university, he definitely came from a different background than your average Notre Dame student.
“[Growing up] was harder,” Brooks admitted, “It wasn’t like a like your typical, you know, United States of America. We kind of lived a savage, savage life. My dad and my mom – I mean, don’t get me wrong – they gave me all the necessities to live out a good childhood. But yeah, it’s not like we were living the best, best life, and you know, we got savages like living with my brother and my dad, who were just on my ass constantly. And they would just try to beat me up as much as possible and try to toughen me up.
“I’ve never been hardcore Catholic. I’ve never been really religious. Besides my mom and dad – they’ve always pushed me to go to church, and stuff like that. But besides that, no, I wasn’t into that. It was more of like my wrestling repertoire that Notre Dame was looking for. And you got a private college, and they give full rides. So, I had a full ride. And yeah, I’m kind of dumb for taking that away, but I just believe in my mixed martial arts career more than anything else. I got to ride with myself – in my beliefs.”
Brooks left Notre Dame early to focus on a career in MMA, but that was not just some whimsical move. This is something he had already been training for much of his life, and formally since he was not yet a teenager.
“I was doing it at my dad’s gym, because, I mean, we didn’t have a lot of money, but he pretty much paid this guy at Absolute Fitness,” said Brooks. “He was just paying this guy one hundred dollars a month for us to just come there and train. And my brother and I would have – it was when I was in middle school and he was in high school – every Monday, we would just have people come over from the high school. They would either fight each other, and, if they were too good, then they would fight us. But, my brother and I would end up just fighting each other every other Monday.”
Once Brooks decided that he was going to focus in MMA for a career – a big leap of faith for a guy with a full ride to Notre Dame – he eventually crossed the border into Michigan to begin training in his current home.
“I train usually at my coach’s house in his basement,” explained Brooks. “I call it ‘The Dungeon’. It’s just really me and Justin Scoggins. Scoggins is one of the best strikers in the world. And, that’s something that I lack. I mean, I don’t lack in striking, but compared to Justin – the guy’s amazing. He’s Stephen Thompson in little form. I train with Justin about every day.
Brooks’s head coach is James Lee, a former longtime King of the Cage light heavyweight champ, and veteran of the UFC, Pride and Pancrase. Lee was a large part of the Mash Fight Team in the Detroit area, and he’s currently training fighters under what Brooks informally refers to as “James Lee’s Mash Fight Team.” The two met through Brooks’s manager.
“I was in South Carolina training with Justin and I didn’t have a corner, because Justin and I were fighting around the same time,” said Brooks “And my manager Chaz, he’s really close with James, and he was just like, ‘hey, we need somebody to go to Chechnya with Jarred.’ So, he came, and ever since then, we created a bond and he was just like, if you need a real coach, then I’m. I’m here for you. And yeah, it was history. Since then, we’ve bonded like a son and father. That’s for sure.
“I’ve never been to the Mash gym in Detroit. I’ve never been there, but James is pretty much the OG and the creator of Mash. It’s just like, you know, litigation problems, stuff like that behind it.”
In addition to training with Lee and Scoggins, Brooks rounds out his training with Alex Hodi and Detroit Jiu-Jitsu, former NCAA Division I wrestler Freddie Rodriguez, and also his boxing and strength-and-conditioning coaches. All of this has led to a very successful career thus far.
After a 13-0 amateur career, which started in July 2010, Brooks made his pro Aug. 2014. He won his first 13 pro fights with six of those by finish. The 13th win was his UFC debut, in which he beat Eric Shelton by split decision in July 2017. He went to suffer his first career loss to current UFC flyweight champ Deiveson Figueiredo by split decision, and he dropped his next one to Jose Torres, which was due to a slam where Brooks hit his own head, leading to a finish. He bounced back with a win in his fourth UFC fight, but was still released.
After a no-contest in his next outing, followed by back-to-back wins to finish 2019, Brooks was effectively benched, like many fighters were, due to the COVID-19 shutdowns. He sat out all of 2020, but by the beginning of 2021, a fantastic opportunity presented itself, as he was signed to ONE Championship.
“I didn’t stray off the path,” Brooks elaborated. “That’s for sure. My mind has always been, you know, fight first. But there was a point in time to where [COVID] did get the best of me, like it did everybody else, and I was just like, ‘holy shit, I might have to go back to college and get a degree in something and try to live the regular life.’ And that’s no disrespect to people working, you know? But as soon as I got signed to ONE, man, I was super ecstatic.
“Before that, one of my best friends [Chris Ramsey], unfortunately, passed away. He actually got murdered. But he was telling me, ‘Dude, ONE Championship is where you’re going to be. And, ONE Championship is where you’re going to be the champion.’ And it was like two months after that is when he died. And then I got signed literally the month after that. So yeah, it makes me actually a little bit sad to think about that.”
Brooks finally made his ONE debut when he faced Lito Adiwang in Nov. 2021. The Filipino fighter has been a ONE mainstay since the ONE Warrior Series in 2018, and was definitely tracking toward a title shot. However, Brooks effectively ended those chances when he choked his opponent out in the second round. He followed that up with a decision win over Hiroba Minowa in January.
“I think that ONE didn’t expect me to get past Lito,” said Brooks. “And, I got past him, and in good fashion. And then they wanted to give me somebody that, you know, had good jiu-jitsu. At the end of the day, ONE wants what they want. But now they want me to be the champion. They didn’t want me to be the champion at first, because they thought I was just some boring wrestler. But now I’m coming in and cleaning house.”
Brooks’ successes have led him to his next bout, which takes place Friday, Apr, 22 at ONE 156: Eersel vs. Sadiković. He will be taking on Bokang Masunyane. The South African Masunyane is currently undefeated at 8-0, and, like Brooks, has one finish and one decision win under the ONE banner. The two are set to square off on the main card, before the back-to-back title fights, which serve as the co-main and main events.
“Man, I want to go against Bokang,” said Brooks. “I want to finish him in spectacular fashion, so there’s no questions or they can’t deny me. At the at the end of the day, ONE has treated me like a king. I get steak every day while I’m there, because I don’t cut weight. You know, there’s a nice pool. We just chill out the whole week, and they pretty much just put me on a pedestal now. So it’s really, really great to be where I was and where I am now.”
As for Masunyane as an opponent, Brooks feels that he knows enough to pull off a victory. While there is only so much reading-up he can do, he knows his job is to execute.
“I’ve done my good research on him,” said Brooks. “I know that he comes from EFC. He’s training with guys like JP Buys. Now he’s training at MADfit. I don’t see anybody around his size besides, like, a blue belt in jiu-jitsu. And, he’s been out for about a year and a half, so I know he’s hungry. I know that he’s wanting to get to those higher echelons, but, unfortunately, you got to go against somebody like me, that, one, has wrestling caliber. I don’t think that he’s gone against anybody that has wrestling. And, two, just somebody with the punch power and the finishing repertoire that I can bring to him. And, I don’t think he’s ever been on his back. I think that’s what’s going to be his demise.”
At ONE 156 on Apr. 22, Brooks will be looking to string together his third win in a row inside the ONE Circle. He has big visions for his future and his reasons for doing what he does run very deep.
“My main motivation is to build my family and build pretty much just build up the characteristics of a kid that didn’t have too much can make,” Brooks said. “You know, it’s kind of like Conor McGregor story, man. I mean, he was on welfare. I’m not on welfare or anything like that. I always work for my keep. It doesn’t matter, even right now. I usually take a month out before my fight to not work. But usually, I’m I’m working four days a week, and that’s ten-and-a-half-hour shifts. So, I’m just working, and I want to get to a place to where I can motivate younger kids as well. And just knowing that if it’s not even fighting, then you can do whatever you want to do and whatever you put your mindset to.
“I want to beat Bokang in a fashionable way, and I want to fight [ONE strawweight champion] Joshua Pacio in November, and be the ONE championship strawweight champion. And, then, who knows, man? They might put me up against Rodtang, and that would be a cool superfight. They just got to pay me.”
ONE 156: Eersel vs. Sadiković airs live on the ONE Championship website with the lead card starting at 5 a.m. ET, followed by the main card at 8:30 a.m. ET. Check below for full results.
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