"I hope people see a more improved version of me. That’s always my goal." - Jonathan Brookins
Jonathan Brookins isn’t the superstitious sort, and his Friday return to the place where he scored the biggest victory of his fighting career isn’t going to necessarily make him sentimental, but heading into an important bout with Charles Oliveira at The Palms in Las Vegas, he’ll take whatever edge he can get.
“I do feel positive vibes when I’m in Vegas, so that kinda adds to my mood,” he said. “I try to keep it positive in places that have been positive to me.”
In his nearly six year career, the small Pearl Theater at The Palms definitely fits the bill as a positive place. It was there that the Floridian scored a come from behind win over Michael Johnson in December of 2010 that earned him the Ultimate Fighter 12 title and a UFC contract, kicking off his career among the best of the best. Friday night, a host of hopefuls, led by finalists Michael Chiesa and Al Iaquinta, will hope to do the same thing. One will earn the TUF Live title, others will get a return call to the Octagon, and some will be forced back to the local scene to work on their craft and hope for another shot.
For Brookins, seeing these prospects at this time in their careers may not make him sentimental or superstitious, but it certainly makes him nostalgic.
“I just love looking at them in that position,” said the 26-year old. “Sometimes I get a little bit envious in a sense, and I’m a little nostalgic, remembering what that was like to be fresh off the show. You’re on such a high at that moment. Not to say that it ever goes away, but it gets a lot more serious after that. It’s nice to watch them in that element, and I got to experience it first hand last year as well, when I was training with Ramsey (Nijem), who was in the (TUF 14) finals. To see how excited how those guys are, and how life changing that whole experience is for them, I’m thankful that I got to go through that as well.”
Life after TUF can take some getting used to. Like Brookins pointed out, it does get a lot more serious in many ways. There’s a target on your back placed there by every veteran who would love to be the one to hand you your first UFC loss. There are more and more media obligations, and the level of competition is amped up with every walk up those four steps into the Octagon. Smooth sailing? Not necessarily, and that goes double for Brookins, who saw April and June bouts get scrapped last year, with his early summer meeting against Jeremy Stephens going by the wayside due to a broken orbital bone. When Brookins did return last September, he lost a near shutout decision to Erik Koch.
Call it a lost year, but Brookins, an optimist at heart, took it as a learning experience. And even though he always appears to be happy and well-adjusted in the glare of the media’s lens, he admits that his “new” life after TUF did take some getting used to.
“It’s not without work and practice,” he said. “If something does upset me or makes me feel one way or the other, I just have to take a good look at myself and kinda step back and refocus and revamp. I’m definitely not perfect by any means and I get riled up and stressed out, but I think it’s how you handle it and how you reflect on it and how you go about making those changes. So as far as anything not affecting me, it really did do quite a number on me, especially in my home life. It became very overwhelming and stuff, and I really had to find ways to center myself and get back to a positive way of feeling that I didn’t want to lose for anything. It’s definitely taken some practice.”
And once 2012 rolled around, Brookins was determined that this year was going to be different than the last, and to prove it, he blasted out Vagner Rocha in just 92 seconds. It was his first finish in an official bout (he had two on TUF12) since September of 2009, and even though he didn’t get to do it standing, the impressive work he did with his hands made the boxing aficionado very happy.
“That was a lot of fun and it was really big for me,” said Brookins. “I never had a finish like that, but it would be wonderful to have one on the feet though, like an old school boxer, just to be able to lay one down the pipe like some of my heroes have done. That’s my whole early career and how I pretty much got started with just studying Sugar Ray (Robinson), and I have yet to come close to mimicking what he did. And that’s all I do is think about those dudes and try to practice and watch what they do. I’ve been lucky to watch (former welterweight boxing champ) Andre Berto, and watching a guy of that caliber really helped open my eyes a little bit to the degree of where my boxing is. So I’m still looking for that one.”
That means plenty of work in the gym as he prepares for Brazil’s Oliveira, a submission artist who has rejuvenated his own career at featherweight after an 0-2, 1 NC stretch at l55 pounds. Brookins, a former lightweight himself who won TUF at that weight, knows the advantages of fighting 10 pounds south.
“It was more of a confidence thing,” he said. “At 155 I never really had to cut that much weight, so it caused me to kinda take my life a little bit easier. It was hard for me to get real focused because I felt soft at 155. When I get down to 145, I get down to fight weight and have to put a little extra effort into my whole life, and change my lifestyle up.”
If the win over Rocha is any indication, Brookins has turned the corner and is ready to rev things up in a 2012 in which he wants to stay busy and show that he’s not the same fighter that left The Palms with a UFC contract a year and a half ago.
“I hope people see a more improved, better version of me,” he said. “That’s always my goal. I hope they see the evolution and the work you put in to progressing as a human outside the cage and that it shows inside the cage that you’re growing up. Sometimes you can tell a lot about a person through their fights inside the cage. So I really hope they look at me and say ‘he’s really growing up well.’”