Tim Boetsch knew his telephone would ring soon, though he wasn’t sure he wanted to answer it.
The veteran Ultimate Fighting Championship competitor had just lost by first-round submission to Luke Rockhold at UFC 172 in late April, and only a controversial split-decision victory over C.B. Dollaway in his previous bout separated the Lincolnville native from a four-fight losing streak.
And in the UFC, one win in four fights is grounds for considerable career uncertainty.
“I knew I’d get a phone call, but I didn’t know if it would be a good or bad one,” said Boetsch, who previously was released from the world’s top mixed martial arts promotion in 2009 only to be re-signed a year later after a three-fight winning streak.
Little did the UFC’s 14th-ranked middleweight know that when the phone rang two days after the Rockhold fight, not only was it a call worth answering, but with it came an unexpected bonus.
First, the 33-year-old Boetsch learned he still had a job in the UFC. Then he found out he was being penciled in to fight in his native state — against Brad Tavares on Aug. 16 at the Cross Insurance Center in Bangor as part of UFC Fight Night 47.
“I had made up in my mind that the call I was going to get was going to be a bad one to prepare myself mentally,” admitted Boetsch, 17-7 since turning professional in October 2006. “So to get the call to have another fight and have it be in my home state was a huge relief and definitely a great feeling. I’m going to take advantage of it for sure.”
Perhaps Boetsch’s potential as a selling point for the UFC’s initial foray into small-market Maine — company president Dana White is a 1987 Hermon High School graduate who has relatives in the area and a home in Levant — contributed to the good-news phone call.
But Boetsch sees it merely as a new opportunity to advance his own MMA career as well as providing a boost to a sport that was legalized in Maine just five years ago.
“I had always hoped I’d have a fight close to home,” he said, “but I never imagined actually fighting 45 minutes from where I grew up.”
Not only is he fighting close to home — Boetsch was a four-time state wrestling champion at Camden-Rockport High School before going on to earn All-American honors at Lock Haven University in Pennsylvania — he’s also training in the area under former UFC contender Marcus Davis at Davis’ Team Irish MMA Fitness Academy in Brewer.
“As soon as I heard I was fighting up in Bangor, my mind immediately went to Marcus’ camp,” said Boetsch, who began his workouts in Maine last week. “I’ve trained with him in the past, we get along really well, he’s a great coach, and our styles line up well.
“Marcus spent a very long time in the UFC, so he understands how it works and everything it takes to be successful there. I think it’s a great opportunity for both of us, and because of his lengthy career in the UFC, to get him involved again and have him in my corner is going to be very advantageous for this fight.”
It’s also a transcontinental shift in training strategies for Boetsch, who lives in Sunbury, Pennsylvania, with wife, Jade, and three children (sons Christian, 6, and Benson, 1½, and 3-year-old daughter Finley). He had held previous training camps under highly regarded MMA coach Matt Hume at AMC Pankration in Seattle.
“I’ve always wanted the opportunity to get home and see my folks more and spend more time in Maine, but training out in Seattle eliminated a lot of time away from my family even in Pennsylvania,” said Boetsch, who will stay with his parents Greg and Janice and commute to Davis’ gym until fight week. “To get the opportunity to be back home in Maine and train for a fight just makes the most sense out of everything I’ve done. I’m glad it worked out this way.”
That shift won’t be without adjustments.
“Certainly getting adjusted to new training partners and the training schedule will be a little different,” he said, “but it’s certainly something I’m able to adapt to so I can make sure that we get to fight week totally prepared.
“But I never really backed off since the last fight, I’ve just kept the ball rolling. I was uninjured from my last fight but very disappointed in how that one went, so training camp hasn’t really stopped for me since my preparation for the last fight. I really feel like I’m the most ready I’ve ever been coming into this fight.”
The change in training regimens will be philosophical as well as geographic for the fighter known as “The Barbarian.”
“Marcus embraces my raw style of fighting more than what I got in Seattle,” Boetsch said. “He appreciates the brutality that is my style of fighting, and his knowledge of boxing and the striking game and the way he works pads with me is a little different than what I’ve done in the past.
“Matt Hume is probably the most technically minded coach in the sport, and while I have an appreciation for technical ability, and certainly that’s something you need, there’s no substitute for that brute force end of things, imposing your will on somebody and just being mean.”
Boetsch sees being true to his nickname as pivotal to reinvigorating a career that saw him emerge as a UFC middleweight contender two years ago thanks to a four-fight win streak highlighted by victories over Yushin Okami and Hector Lombard.
“I think I lost some of that meanness over the last couple of years, so I’m definitely embracing that again,” he said. “Honestly, I was thinking too much. Knowing all those techniques and going in there with a 15-step game plan is good for some people, but for me I think the less I think about it the better — just get in there and do it.
“My wife has been telling me that for a long time, and finally I listened to the voice of reason,” he said.
He hopes that attention to aggression and a productive training camp will help make the difference in what he anticipates will be a challenging bout against Tavares, a native Hawaiian who will have a 2-inch height advantage over the 5-foot-11-inch Boetsch.
Boetsch sees the stakes involved with his return to Maine as much more than a single stop along the professional trail.
“This fight is do or die, this is the one to keep my career moving along or this one could pack me up and send me on my way,” he said. “I don’t want to do that in front of the hometown crowd.”
A win over Tavares also could result in Boetsch making Maine a more permanent training camp base.
“Certainly if I win this fight, my career is going to keep going, and I think Marcus being part of that would also continue because of the fact I want to get home more often, spend time in Maine with my family and get the family I have in Pennsylvania up here more to spend time with their grandparents, my parents,” he said.
“It just makes sense because really the biggest sacrifice I’ve made over six years of training in Seattle is the time away from family, and my kids are getting to be the age where they really need dad at home or to be in the picture at least. I can’t keep leaving for two months for training camps, so I think making Marcus’ camp a big part of what I do is a very good move career-wise and family-wise.”
For this fight, Boetsch said his wife and children will come to Maine the week of the bout, though they will stay with his parents while he stays closer to the fight venue.
“It’s not exactly a family vacation,” he said.