For about an 18-month stretch around 2009 and 2010, Will Brooks says he couldn't afford a one-bedroom apartment in the Chicago suburbs.
He often had nowhere to sleep besides his 1993 Dodge Avenger, but that was difficult to pull off in the winter. Brooks says the car had leather seats, which were near impossible to sleep on in colder months.
When desperate, Brooks would sneak into the gym where he trained and slept, purposefully leaving the back door open during practice so he could get in later.
"One of the things we were asked to do was take out the trash if we were last to leave," Brooks told ESPN.com. "I'd take the trash out and leave the back door open. Then I'd get in my car, drive off, act like I was gone and sneak back after everyone left.
"The janitors would come in at night and I'd have to sleep under the ring like an idiot. One of the owners came in and found me once and kicked me out of the gym for three months. I had to train at a YMCA."
But now Brooks is a former Bellator MMA lightweight champion, and on Wednesday he signed a multi-fight deal with the UFC. He says that during that trying time in his life he used to dream of one thing: winning a UFC championship. Not any championship. The UFC championship.
"This journey to get into the UFC began before I signed with Bellator [in 2013]," Brooks said. "This started when I decided MMA was going to be my profession. This has been my plan since Day 1.
"The fight that made me realize I wanted to do this professionally was Georges St-Pierre knocking out Matt Hughes [in November 2006]. I saw how much people respected that guy and I wanted that. And how do you get that? You become the UFC lightweight champion."
It's worth noting all of this as Brooks, who will make his UFC debut against Ross Pearson on July 8, won a 155-pound championship under the Bellator banner in 2014. He's widely considered one of the best lightweights in the game, but his relationship with Bellator was clearly strained at times, even as its titleholder.
Brooks (17-1) accused the promotion of not spending resources on him and the two sides eventually parted ways in the form of a Bellator release in May, even though Brooks' contract wasn't up at that time. He wasn't allowed to sign with another promotion until June 15, per his Bellator deal.
He signed with the UFC on June 15.
Back in 2013, before Brooks originally signed with Bellator, he spoke with the UFC as a lightweight with a 9-0 record, but the timing was off. At that time, the UFC was literally making headlines with its roster cuts. UFC president Dana White promised more were coming.
"I don't know if anybody remembers this, but they were releasing guys in large groups," Brooks said. "They had so many lightweights at the time, there was no room for me.
"The Bellator offer was on the table and I adjusted. I was committed to Bellator, but I said, 'In the future, if an opportunity arises to chase my original goal, I will jump on it.'"
Now fighting out of American Top Team in Coconut Creek, Florida, Brooks enters the UFC under lofty expectations. ESPN.com ranks Brooks the No. 6 lightweight in the world. He is technically looking at a relatively short-notice fight, but says he had been in the gym helping teammate Dustin Poirier for his UFC fight against Bobby Green on June 4.
The fight will mark Brooks' first bout since Nov. 6, when he defended his now vacated Bellator title for the second time against Marcin Held.
"I'm a work horse, I don't take days off," Brooks said. "Of course, I had my sights set higher [than Pearson], but at the end of the day, I have to think about the financial side and being off six to seven months kind of takes a toll on your bank account.
"Ross is a tough, seasoned competitor. He's going to present me with a great opportunity to practice and display some of my skills. He's always going to be moving forward, looking to strike. He's not looking to take you down. After this fight, I'll continue moving forward and get a top guy as soon as possible."