Comebacks in the mixed martial arts world are nothing new for Lincolnville native Tim Boetsch.
But few who follow the sport expected what took place in the Saitama Super Arena near Tokyo, Japan, on Feb. 25.
The 31-year-old Boetsch not only lost the first two rounds of his middleweight bout against home country hero Yushin Okami, but most observers in attendance thought he had taken a considerable beating in the process.
But Boetsch didn’t feel that way, and ultimately his was the only thought that mattered.
“I knew Yushin Okami was going to be super-tough, and when he showed up he was even tougher than we expected,” said Boetsch on Thursday while reflecting on his third-round technical knockout of Okami, a victory that has pushed the former four-time state high school wrestling champion from the former Camden-Rockport High School into the upper echelon of the Ultimate Fighting Championship’s 185-pound weight class.
“He hit me with some jabs and a straight left and at the end of the first round my face was a little beat up, but in looking at the video the round actually was fairly close,” Boetsch said. “And my right hand was pretty sore from hitting his face, so I thought I had a decent round.”
The second round didn’t go as well, as Okami put Boetsch on his back and went on the attack.
“I went for a guillotine choke but he came out on top of me and stayed there for most of the round and got in some punches,” Boetsch said. “I knew going into the third round I was probably down two rounds to none so I probably had to do something big to win the fight.”
Armed with that sense of desperation, Boetsch landed a damaging right hand to Okami early in the third round, then came with two more shots to the head before ending the match with a series of uppercuts that resulted in a stunning, sudden victory at 54 seconds of the final five-minute round.
“My coach Matt Hume told me before I went out for the third round, ‘If you can get to him you can beat him,’ and that I just needed to go out there and be super-aggressive,” Boetsch said.
The win improved Boetsch’s overall mixed martial arts record to 15-4, including 6-3 in two separate UFC stints.
Boetsch, who lives with his wife Jade and children Christian and Finley in North Umberland, Pa., initially was a social worker after graduating from Lock Haven (Pa.) University, but at the urging of a college roommate he embarked upon a mixed martial arts career in 2006.
A year and a half later, and after winning six of his first seven fights in several minor-league promotions, Boetsch signed with UFC, the world’s top MMA organization.
He made his debut as a late replacement on the UFC 81 card in Laredo, Texas, with a first-round technical knockout of David Heath on Feb. 2, 2008.
But a 2-2 record wasn’t good enough, and after Boetsch dropped a unanimous decision to Jazon Britz at UFC 96 in March 2009, he was released from his contract.
Yet Boetsch wasn’t finished with the sport, so he returned to the minor leagues and scored three straight victories, all by knockout or submission, to earn a second contract with the UFC.
“I had to fight my way through the lower levels to get back to UFC,” Boetsch said. “I had been cut before, and I didn’t know if I’d get another chance.”
Perhaps the biggest move in Boetsch’s UFC comeback was his decision last year to drop from light heavyweight (205-pound maximum) to middleweight.
Boetsch is 3-0 in his new weight class, a run highlighted by the upset of Okami, a top-five-ranked middleweight who was coming off a loss to world champion Anderson Silva at UFC 134 in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, last August.
“The biggest difference is with my cardio,” Boetsch said. “Even though I was behind I went out for the third round against Okami with a full tank of gas left, and that’s what won me the fight. When I was fighting light heavyweights, I’d run out of gas in the second round, but now I can go the full 15 minutes and be just as strong in the last round.”
In the aftermath of his win over Okami, Boetsch is ranked seventh among UFC middleweights, according to the Sherdog Official Mixed Martial Arts Rankings.
“That jumped me into the top tier of fighters for sure,” Boetsch said. “I think my next fight could be for the No. 1 contender’s spot to face the winner of Silva’s next fight.”
Boetsch expects to return to the octagon toward the end of summer, and talk in UFC circles suggests that next fight might be against fourth-ranked Englishman Michael “The Count” Bisping (22-4).
If Boetsch is successful in his next fight, a bout against Silva — a UFC legend who has held the promotion’s middleweight crown since October 2006 — could be in the offing, perhaps as soon as early 2013.
“After my last fight I had two black eyes, but no other damage at all,” said Boetsch, who has battled a cold in recent weeks. “I’m ready to relax a little bit right now, but then I’m looking forward to get back into training.”