Saturday, Dec. 4, 2010 | 11:17 p.m.
When filming began for the twelfth season of the reality series “The Ultimate Fighter” earlier this year, Jonathan Brookins knew that in the eyes of many fans, he was nothing more than “the guy who fought Jose Aldo once.”
And despite winning over UFC brass on the show and emerging as the TUF 12 winner with a gutsy decision win over Michael Johnson at the finale Saturday, Brookins says not much has changed.
“I don’t go many days without somebody bringing that up,” Brookins said. “I think I’m still the guy who fought Jose Aldo.”
It’s been more than two years since Brookins (12-3) lost by TKO to the current UFC featherweight champion on a WEC card in Hollywood, Fla.
Aldo has mowed down a total of eight fighters in the WEC, but for whatever reason — it might have something to do with his recognizable long, blond hair — Brookins has been the one fans remember most.
It’s a fact Brookins has accepted and even learned to enjoy.
Actually, he says, it probably helped him get to where he is today.
“I made a decision not more than a couple hours after that loss that it would be the best learning experience for me,” Brookins said. “It’s turned out to be a positive. I wouldn’t have even made the show if it weren’t for people saying, ‘That’s who fought Jose Aldo.’ It’s ironic how things work out.
“I’m kind of happy I haven’t shook that stigma yet.”
Brookins' ability to take punishment but not quit was already no secret thanks to the Aldo fight. He took so much damage to the legs that night, he remembers, it took weeks for the blood to drain from them.
That heart was on display again in the first round of Saturday’s finale, when Johnson dropped him to the mat with a huge right hook.
Even after Brookins recovered from that shot, he took another right uppercut under the chin that knocked his head back and had him clinching for his life.
Stephan Bonnar, who won in the night’s co-main event, later said the beating Brookins took reminded him of the one he fought through in his famous fight with Forrest Griffin in the first TUF finale.
“I thought Jon was out of there,” Bonnar said. “He showed heart and determination. It kind of reminded me (of the Griffin fight.) I came back after I had ate a lot of punches.”
Brookins might still be the guy who fought Aldo, but he’s certainly added a few other titles now.
Following Saturday, Brookins is the guy who rallied from a beating in the first round to a unanimous decision victory over Johnson. He’s the guy who won the twelfth season of TUF.
The guy who’s got a shot to make an immediate impact in two UFC weight divisions.
“It’s a crazy journey I’ve been on since that (Aldo) fight,” Brookins said. “I don’t want to be my hardest critic, but I see so much I have to improve on. I feel like there’s a little bit more pressure to step up and perform.
“I think that’s where my sights are set now — improve on the areas that are necessary and be a competitive factor in the UFC. I know me and Mike have future fights here. Now it’s up to us to pull the trigger and make our way up the ladder.”
Brett Okamoto can be reached at 948-7817 or firstname.lastname@example.org.