The time to reflect was only a moment or two. Tim Boetsch had just received the phone call fighters either embrace or dread. Manager Monte Cox was on the phone with a proposition: did he want to fight the last man to challenge for the UFC middleweight title, Yushin Okami, in a UFC 144 bout in Japan?
“When I first got the call and Okami’s name came up, I had that moment of ‘holy cow, he just fought for the strap; am I ready to step up to that level?’” recalled Boetsch. “All those thoughts ran through my mind, but before the end of the conversation with Monte, we were like ‘this is the perfect fight for us, and we’re gonna take this guy out and it’s gonna jump us way up the ladder.’”
It wasn’t the way Boetsch had pictured things happening for him at 185 pounds, at least not yet. A career-long light heavyweight, the former Lock Haven University wrestler made the move down to middleweight and 2011 and immediately found success, decisioning Kendall Grove and Nick Ring in successive bouts. It was a strong start for “The Barbarian,” but to go from there to fighting the former number one contender was an unexpected gift, and one he was not about to refuse.
“I had been thinking I want to take it slow and ease into the middleweight division and work my way up at a slow, steady pace, but when you’re given the opportunity to fight Okami, you definitely should take it,” he said. “And I think it’s an absolutely great matchup for me, and I’m looking forward to taking him out.”
Getting the fight and winning the fight are two different things though, and as soon as Boetsch agreed to meet up with “Thunder” at Saitama Super Arena in Saitama, he began his crash course in all things Okami, with graduation day scheduled for this Saturday night.
“I hadn’t been thinking about him until Monte called and said they were looking for an opponent,” he said. “After I sat down and watched the video real close, it’s a great fight. Okami’s a tough guy, and the one thing that comes to mind is he’s not gonna give up in there. He’s a guy that’s gonna grind out the whole fight and he’s gonna be there bringing his best. He’s not one of these guys you can lean on a little bit and they’ll quit. So it’s gonna be a tough fight, and that’s why I trained so hard. I’m ready to get in there and put it on the line.”
Boetsch sounds genuinely excited about the matchup, and after years of paying his dues, it appears that he’s found his home at middleweight. Of course, even though he’s only 31 years old, you have to wonder whether he thinks about what could have been if he made the move earlier.
“Not really,” he said. “I think life has a plan and I certainly think being a light heavyweight for the beginning of my career was part of that, and cutting weight is very difficult, so I think had I started making 185 when I first started, I might be getting burned out at this point.”
3-3 in the Octagon as a 205er, Boetsch made the call to drop 20 pounds after a 2010 loss to Phil Davis. A little over a year later, it’s like he has a new lease on his career.
“That was part of the decision to drop down. In my mind, it would be like a fresh start, and I’ve taken that feeling ever since,” he said. “It’s really been a change, and I feel like a completely different fighter at middleweight than I did at light heavy, and I’m able to do things better. So it’s definitely a fresh start and I consider myself undefeated and I’m looking to keep that streak alive.”
He’s also dumped the reckless in-fight habits that hurt his cause early on and also caused coach Matt Hume his share of heartache. Now, Boetsch is making a concerted effort to stick to the gameplan carved out for him at the AMC Pankration gym in Washington, and everyone’s happy.
“When you go in there and fight and don’t do the things you trained to do for two or three months, coach definitely gets upset (Laughs), so I want to keep coach happy and do the right things.”
As for that gameplan, it’s a simple one.
“My gameplan is to finish everybody,” said Boetsch. “That being said, even though I’m sticking to a gameplan and ultimately want to get a ‘W’ in the end, I’m certainly looking to take the guy out early. Against Kendall and Nick, I didn’t finish those guys, but the gameplan was to finish them and just stick to what we trained to do. And if I execute the gameplan properly, I should be finishing guys and not letting fights go to decision. And out of that comes exciting fights. My style is a high-pressure style, and I’m moving forward trying to land big shots, so I think sticking to my gameplan is exciting.”
What may be even more exciting for Boetsch though is the reality that a win over Okami will propel him into the ranks of middleweight contenders sooner than most get there. Of course, that reward comes with plenty of risk, and while he’s no stranger to rolling the dice, with his 2007 IFL bout against Vladimir Matyushenko (one taken on three days’ notice) being a prime example, is there any resistance from his wife Jade when he takes on assignments like this?
“She’s used to me, and her dad (longtime coach and former wrestler Wade Fatool) is a lot like me as far as thinking he’s the toughest guy in the world (Laughs), and I’m pretty sure he is one of the toughest guys in the world, so I really lucked out with my wife and she kind of expects that type of mentality and behavior out of the men in her life, I guess.”
Guess that answers that, but in all seriousness, Boetsch knows that he’s in a sport where who dares wins, and despite the odds, he’s daring to be great this weekend in Japan.
“For me personally, it’s just the challenge,” he said. “I’ve been the underdog in a lot of fights, and I never feel that way. I don’t take a fight unless I know I’m gonna win. And I’ve never backed down from any fight.”
Tim Boetsch - Who Dares Wins
By Thomas Gerbasi February 24, 2012