In a crowded UFC middleweight division, every fight is potentially a career crossroads for Tim “The Barbarian” Boetsch.
The 33-year-old Lincolnville native is coming off an up-and-down 2013, with back-to-back losses to Costas Phillippou and Hector Munoz followed by a split-decision victory over C.B. Dollaway in his most recent bout at UFC 166 in Houston last Oct. 19.
With plenty of new talent making its way to the upper echelon of the UFC 185-pound circuit, along with several seasoned veterans rated ahead of him, the 11th-ranked Boetsch knows his place within that hierarchy will depend on his fight against No. 6 Luke Rockhold on the UFC 172 pay-per-view card Saturday night at the Baltimore (Md.) Arena.
“There are a lot of fights going on in this division, things are shifting a lot,” said Boetsch, who lives with his wife and three children in Sunbury, Pa., and trains under well-known MMA coach Matt Hume at AMC Pankration in Kirkland, Wash.
“For me it’s very important to win this fight to get back into the top 10 and then go from there.”
A former four-time state wrestling champion at Camden-Rockport High School in Rockport who went on to compete collegiately at Lock Haven (Pa.) University, Boetsch used a four-fight win streak to climb as high as sixth among UFC middleweights in late 2012 before the back-to-back losses dropped him from the top 10.
And many among the UFC cognoscenti thought he lost to Dollaway, too.
“I’m not sure what happened there, but I did what I had to do and got the win,” said Boetsch, an eight-year professional MMA veteran.
Boetsch is considered a heavy underdog against Rockhold, a former Strikeforce middleweight champion who bounced back from a loss to Vitor Belfort in his UFC debut last May with a convincing first-round stoppage of Philippou at UFC Fight Night 35 in January with a kick to the liver.
The 29-year-old product of Santa Cruz, Calif., has a professional record of 11-2, 1-1 in the UFC.
“He’s one of the best guys in the weight class,” said Boetsch, who was slated to fight Rockhold at UFC 166 until Rockhold pulled out due to an injury. “He’s as legit as they come.”
Boetsch (17-6 overall, 8-5 UFC) is known for his grinding style, knockout power and resilience in the octagon. He’ll have to use all those assets to deal with an opponent who stands four inches taller than his 6-foot frame.
“He’s one of the taller middleweights around and he’ll have a distinct reach advantage, but that’s something I’m used to,” said Boetsch. “My first fight at middleweight was against Kendall Grove, who was the tallest middleweight in the UFC at that time at 6-6, so I’ve dealt with it before.”
Boetsch expects Rockhold to attempt to capitalize on that reach advantage, and not just with his striking game.
“I really think he’s going to bring a lot of hard kicks, which will be a different look,” said Boetsch. “He finished his last fight with a hard body kick, and I need to make sure that doesn’t happen.”
UFC 172 will be headlined by a light-heavyweight title bout between champion Jon “Bones” Jones — the brother of New England Patriots defensive end Chandler Jones — and undefeated Brazilian Glover Teixeira.