Brooks: McGeary denied 'champion moment'


In the long run, Bellator MMA lightweight champion Will Brooks doesn't really care that much about post-fight victory speeches.

Bellator's treatment of one last weekend, however, just happened to be the final straw on Brooks' back.

Brooks, 28, created headlines among MMA media on Saturday when he took his employer to task on social media for its handling of a post-fight speech for light heavyweight champion Liam McGeary, who defended his title against Tito Ortiz at Bellator: Dynamite in San Jose.

After the championship fight, Bellator commentator Jimmy Smith asked McGeary a question as part of the Spike TV broadcast. McGeary provided a short answer, at which point Smith turned to Ortiz -- who ran with the opportunity. As McGeary looked on, Ortiz spoke about the fight at length and thanked his team and family. Once Ortiz was finished, McGeary's next title challenger and Bellator newcomer Phil Davis was brought into the shot so the two could square off.

McGeary, who is not particularly chatty, looked unfazed by it all, but Brooks found it to be infuriating -- and symbolic of Bellator's current stance toward some of its longest tenured fighters.

"It's not so much being able to talk, it's about that 'champion' moment," Brooks told ESPN.com. "That is your time. It's a time of celebration -- all that hard work you put in during a 12-week training camp to win a championship fight. You're due that.

"I feel like that was a disrespect toward Liam McGeary and no one made an effort to fix it. He should have had that opportunity. Bellator bringing in these ex-UFC guys and pumping guys like Tito Ortiz, Kimbo Slice -- these guys who have been with Bellator since the tournament days are being pushed to the side."

Brooks (16-1), who is scheduled to fight Marcin Held on Nov. 6 in St. Louis, said Bellator's marketing strategy is just one of a handful of grievances he has with the promotion. He said he has tried to settle matters behind the scenes, but frustrations have continued to mount in what should be a career year after he won the Bellator title in November.

In May 2014, Brooks won an interim lightweight title by upsetting Michael Chandler at Bellator 120. According to Brooks, he and his management negotiated a bump in pay at that time, but his bargaining power was somewhat limited by the fact it was an interim title. His expectation was that he and then-Bellator CEO Bjorn Rebney would revisit the matter if and when he won the official title.

But one month later, Bellator replaced Rebney at the head of the company with former Strikeforce CEO Scott Coker. Brooks, who went on to claim the official title by knocking out Chandler in a rematch, said he has tried to renegotiate his contract with the new regime to no avail.

The result, Brooks said, is that he's an official Bellator champion, minus a champion-level contract. His reported purse for a successful title defense against Dave Jensen in April was $72,000, which included a $36,000 win bonus.

"I understand the idea of champions only fighting twice a year, but people need to understand that I'm a brand new champion," Brooks said. "All I know is my contract and right now, financially, it just doesn't work for me to sit six or seven months to defend my title. I made $72,000 for my last fight but people forget, I pay state taxes. Then you turn around and put money aside for your other taxes and costs of training. I'm not walking out of that building with $72,000.

"It gets frustrating when you hear, 'You're going to be fighting in August.' Then it's, 'Oh, August doesn't work. Now it's September.' That turns into, 'Wait that doesn't work either, October -- then November.' Now I have to sit back and say, 'Oh, shoot. Money is getting thin. What bill do I have to pay right now? Which one can I wait on? That's frustrating because I've been carrying that for a while now."

Those feelings of being overlooked at the bargaining table circle back to Brooks' thoughts on the preferable treatment of the new Bellator talent. The promotion signed Davis in April of this year. Another UFC veteran, Josh Koscheck, signed a deal in June. followed by Josh Thomson in August.

Brooks says he doesn't hold anything against the influx in talent, but if Bellator has the funds to acquire additional athletes, how about fixing the situation of one of its existing champions?

"I understand they have certain steps they need to take as a business -- I definitely understand that," Brooks said. "But I feel like at the same time, I'm a pretty talented guy. I've done a pretty decent job, especially early in my career, of showing people my skills. I was expecting a little pat on the back. Like, 'Hey man, we will take care of you.' I feel like I'm the champion and I've put my work in. I'm not the only guy who feels this way. I'm just the only guy who is saying it out loud."

Three is no question that Bellator as a promotion is currently in a transitional phase, separating itself from what it was used to be and developing into what it eventually hopes to become.

Brooks says he's fine with the direction the promotion as a whole is taking. He questions sometimes whether the appeal of what he referred to as a "circus" main event between Kimbo Slice and Ken Shamrock in June is really the appeal Bellator should be striving for, but also recognizes that event drew the highest ratings in Bellator history. The business side of the sport is not lost on him.

What his hope is, and what his social media outburst was directed at, is Bellator starts to show a similar level of enthusiasm in the athletes who have been a part of the company for years.

"As fighters, we have to appreciate that we are a vital part of this sport," Brooks said. "We've been manipulated into thinking we're not a vital part of it and made to believe we're easily shuffled in and out.

"I typically don't talk about my contract but right now, I feel like, 'Why not, man?' Why should we be so afraid? We're vital to these organizations, yet we're afraid to speak our minds and say we're upset. We're supposed to stand in line with a uniform and our shirts tucked in. I feel like if we're going to do that, you should do the right things by us and that hasn't been reciprocated."