If not for the fickle hand of fate and the concrete hands and feet of Jose Aldo, things might have turned out a little bit differently for The Ultimate Fighter season 12 finalist Jonathan Brookins.
“I knew at the time that it was me or him,” said Brookins of his November 2008 bout with the current UFC featherweight champion. “I really felt like that night the planets aligned, and with Mike Brown fighting Urijah Faber and Leonard Garcia fighting Jens Pulver that night, and also me and Aldo, I felt a sense of a six man tournament. I thought that the WEC brought in six of the better 145-pounders around, and that between me and Aldo, we had a great chance of running up that ladder.”
Brazil’s Aldo was entering his second fight in the WEC’s featherweight division, and Brookins, 8-2 at the time, was making his debut in the organization. 45 seconds into the third round, Brookins had pushed the future champion, but he didn’t beat him. Aldo went on to earn a place on the pound-for-pound list; Brookins went back to the drawing board, but there is no bitterness when it comes to the result of the fight that night in Florida.
“I felt that if I beat Aldo that night, I would have run up that ladder,” said the Oregon native. “But he was the better man and once I watched what he did after he beat me, I realized that he was more deserving of that win that night and of continuing on the path that he did. And it worked out exactly the way that it was supposed to. I felt like I was very capable of winning the fight that night, but I’d rather enjoy the way it worked out because I’m very proud of the way Aldo has handled himself in the ensuing fights.”
In a nutshell, that’s the Jonathan Brookins that viewers around the world got to know over the last 12 weeks. Humble, classy, and marching to the beat of his own drummer. There is no chest beating, no outrageous antics, no need to fit in as the “typical” pro athlete. It’s refreshing, and it comes from a desire on his part to continue his evolution – not necessarily as a fighter, but as a human being.
“A lot of it comes from the mistakes that I’ve made,” he said. “I’ve made plenty and I’m not very proud of them, and I kinda strive to cut down on those. I think when you lose track of the things that you can fix, you kinda lose track of yourself and you boast and brag, rather than really tell yourself, ‘wow, there’s a lot I can work on.’ Each day there’s something you can work on to better the next day. A lot of times, people are like ‘Jonathan, you’re self-loathing,’ and it’s not that; I just like to be a little bit better, and it’s my attitude toward things. I’m a young man really trying to grow up and it’s just the state of mind that I’m in.”
Following the Aldo fight, Brookins put together three wins without a loss, two of those victories coming by way of submission, and when the list of competitors for the 12th season of TUF was released, many instantly put him at the top of the favorites list based on his skill set and that his only loss in his previous five bouts came to Aldo. But once the fighters got to the competition, Brookins didn’t feel that he had a target on his back.
“I never really felt like the favorite, and I knew what the other guys were capable of, but I also knew what I was capable of and I just tried to keep that in mind,” he said. “And the way the world turned, it ended up in my favor and I was really thankful for that.”
Again, he’s being modest, because his four fight run to the finals was one of the most impressive stints in recent TUF history, as he defeated Ran Weathers, Sevak Magakian, Sako Chivitchian, and Kyle Watson in emphatic fashion. Now he takes on Team GSP squadmate Michael Johnson, and not surprisingly, the two developed a friendship over their six weeks in the TUF house.
“Michael’s a great opponent, a great athlete, and I really got along great with him in the house,” said Brookins. “I’m excited that I’m fighting such a great competitor.”
Stylistically, it’s an intriguing showdown, one of those where the slightest edge can become an enormous one come fight night. And one apparent advantage for Brookins is that he already knows what it’s like to be under the bright lights in a big show, something Johnson can’t claim. Brookins isn’t so sure though.
“I don’t know if there are enough times walking under the bright lights to really prepare you for that,” he said. “Each time it’s gonna be surreal, it’s gonna be exciting, and we’re both gonna be inside the same cage. So it’s gonna be a pretty level playing field.”
If Brookins sounds like an old soul, he is. He’s not giving his opponents any motivating fuel, not building himself up at the expense of others, and he’s just focusing on the task at hand. That’s rare stuff from a 25-year old, and perhaps even rarer is a look at the heroes section on his UFC bio, which lists boxing greats Jack Johnson, Joe Louis, and Sugar Ray Robinson.
“I’m really partial to those guys, their stories, and what they fought for,” said Brookins. “I just think that they had some of the most beautiful accomplishments that I’ve ever seen. Jack Johnson didn’t really handle himself as well as I would have liked to see, but given where life was at the time, he really did break so many barriers and I’m proud of him for that. Joe Louis was kind of the antithesis of Jack Johnson and he moved it forward, and he was just a beautiful champion. And things didn’t really end up well for him, but then you move on to Sugar Ray and nobody mastered the sport like him and I haven’t really seen a fighter like him since. If there’s ever a fighter that I would aspire to master the craft like he did, it would be Sugar Ray. I’d be honored if I could ever master a craft as well as he displayed it at the height of his career.”
That’s good stuff from a rising star in the fight game, and though he plans on putting together a winning performance on Saturday, Brookins wants to make it clear that he’s still a work in progress.
“I’m embarking on a change process that is proving to take longer than I anticipated, so I think the best of me is still yet to come,” he said. “I still think I’ll display a wonderful amount come the finale, but I’m really excited to give the fans a real growing process. If they bear with me, I’ll give them a nice journey, and it definitely won’t peak out at the finale. It’s gonna be a nice ride and I hope that everybody can come along with me.”
Brookins A Talented Work in Progress
"I’m really excited to give the fans a real growing process. If they bear with me, I’ll give them a nice journey, and it definitely won’t peak out at the finale. It’s gonna be a nice ride and I hope that everybody can come along with me.”