SUNBURY, Pa. — Tim Boetsch didn’t have much time for chatting on the telephone one recent afternoon.
The 32-year-old mixed martial arts practitioner was otherwise preoccupied with his three young children — and 5-year-old son Christian, 2-year-old daughter Finley and 7-week-old son Benson weren’t concerned about their dad’s interview requests.
“It’s busy right now,” said Boetsch, the Lincolnville native known in the cage as “The Barbarian.”
It’s busy for Boetsch these days not only because of his role in sharing such parental duties with his wife, Jade. He’s also is renovating a nearby house the family plans to move into soon.
And then there’s his recently signed middleweight (185-pound) bout with veteran Mark “The Filipino Wrecking Machine” Munoz set for UFC 162 at the MGM Grand Garden Arena in Las Vegas on July 6.
“Munoz has been up in the top 10 for a long time,” said Boetsch, a seven-year MMA veteran who won four consecutive individual state championships while wrestling at Camden-Rockport High School during the late 1990s. “He started out as a light heavyweight like I did and dropped to middleweight and has had a lot of success, and he also has a wrestling background.”
Boetsch, 16-5 overall and 7-4 in UFC bouts since joining the top-tier MMA promotion in 2008, powered his way into a top-10 world middleweight ranking between May 2011 and July 2012 with four straight victories after dropping from the light heavyweight (205-pound) division to the middleweight ranks.
That streak was highlighted by back-to-back wins over Yushin Okami — currently ranked third among UFC middleweights — and 10th-rated Hector Lombard.
But Boetsch’s march toward a world title fight suffered a setback in his most recent bout, a technical knockout loss to Costa Philippou at 2:11 of the third round as part of the UFC 155 card held last Dec. 29, also in Las Vegas.
Boetsch got off to a quick start against Philippou — a late replacement for the injured Chris Wideman — and controlled the first round, but then the rough-and-tumble world of MMA began to take its toll in some less than routine ways.
First he began to feel pain in his right hand. It wasn’t broken, but the injury quickly minimized his striking game.
Then Boetsch was bloodied by what was described as an accidental head butt to his forehead from Philippou. Soon after that came blurry vision, the result of being poked in the left eye as Philippou tried to deflect a punch during the second round.
As the injuries mounted, so, too, did Philippou’s advantage.
“Philippou and I both knew what happened and we both knew what the outcome was going to be until I was blinded,” said Boetsch. “I was very confident and very excited going into that fight, but things happened that changed the tone of the fight as it was going on.”
Philippou is now ranked sixth among UFC middleweights after the win while Boetsch has been dropped out of the top 10, but nearly three months of reflection have enabled Boetsch to put the frustration of that loss behind him.
“At first it was really hard for me to digest,” he said. “I was upset because I felt I was the better fighter until things started to happen. But as I’ve taken a step back and looked at things, I truly believe that everything happens for a reason, and had I won that fight I would have been very close to a title shot and perhaps at that time I wasn’t quite ready.”
“But in finishing that fight with everything that happened I proved a lot to myself. Sometimes you learn a lot more from a loss than you do from a win, and I think I’m a lot mentally stronger now.”
Boetsch hopes to use his mental and physical toughness to earn a bounce-back victory on Fourth of July weekend.
The 35-year-old Munoz, from Mission Viejo, Calif., is 12-3 but hasn’t fought since being knocked out by Wideman last July — a defeat that ended his own four-match winning streak.
“He’s coming off an injury almost exactly a year ago,” said Boetsch. “A year out of action can be troublesome for some, but he’s been around a long time and knows what he’s doing.”
Boetsch sees the fight against the seventh-ranked Munoz as a means of re-establishing his contender’s status on a UFC 162 card that will be headlined by middleweight champion Anderson Silva defending his title against Wideman, the top-ranked challenger.
“There’s a lot of talent in the division, but if you look at my resume it’s hard to argue that it’s not one of the best resumes in the division,” said Boetsch. “When I’m able to get the victory over Munoz that should stabilize my position for a title shot, and if Silva does what he’s expected to do and beat Wideman, the way I see it at that point is myself and Anderson will be left looking at each other through the cage.”