While most fighters in Bellator MMA dream of winning $100,000 and a chance at the championship, Will Brooks looks at the promotion as a way to pass on his uplifting message about the "champion's mindset." Brooks, who will face Saad Awad in the lightweight semifinals Thursday during Bellator 91, once made the typical mistakes so many youths in challenged neighborhoods make.
"When I was younger, I went through a lot of different things," said Brooks, 26, from Schaumburg, Ill. "I had my own personal issues with my father. ... We bumped our heads. I was very, very rebellious and just put myself in positions where I was getting mixed up with the wrong people and just not really doing anything with my life. I was completely heading down the wrong path."
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"They're all winners. They're all champions," he said. "But I don't think people pay attention to the qualities they're promoting. What makes them champions is being a positive role model, giving back to the people, being a good leader.
"These are things that I want to relay to people. We don't all have to be an athlete to be a champion. ... You can be a champion in your everyday life ... and put out a positive influence on other people and cause a chain reaction just because you have a championship mindset."
Brooks, who discovered MMA while he recovered from a knee injury sustained in college, is an emerging star. He is 9-0, including his last two victories over Satoru Kitaoka in December's Dream 18 event and Ricardo Tirloni in the Bellator lightweight tournament quarterfinals last month. Brooks' next opponent, Awad, is 13-4 with wins in his past five fights.
"Not to take anything away from my opponent, but I feel like this is my time,' Brooks said. "Nothing against him, I think he's a very talented fighter, but I just don't see anybody being able to keep up with me right now, especially where I'm at mentally and with the drive and commitment that I'm putting into what I'm doing."
The Awad-Brooks winner will face the winner of Thursday's other semifinal, David Rickels vs. Jason Fischer, later this year.
The event, at the Santa Ana Star Center in Rio Rancho, N.M., is headlined by Christian M'Pumbu's first light heavyweight title defense. M'Pumbu won the championship at Bellator 45 in May 2011. He was defeated by Travis Wiuff in a nontitle bout last year, his only fight since he won the title.
M'Pumbu's opponent, Attila Vegh, defeated Wiuff last August to win the light heavyweight tournament during Bellator's 2012 summer series.
Bantamweights Ed West and Josh Montoya will open the televised card, which can be seen on Spike TV at 10 p.m. EST/PST. The preliminaries, at 8 p.m. EST/5 p.m. PST at spike.com, include: bantamweights Adrian Cruz vs. Nick Gonzalez; light heavyweights Anton Talamantes vs. Liam McGeary; heavyweights Josh Appelt vs. Josh Lanier; bantamweights Felipe Chavez vs. Russell Wilson; lightweights Blas Avena vs. Lenny Lovato; women's bantamweights Holly Holm vs. Katie Merrill; and middleweights Brennan Ward vs. Vadiano La Luz.