"I don't want to just fight him or go to a decision with him, I want to finish him." - Tim Boetsch
If UFC fights were only 10 minutes long instead of 15, there wouldn’t be this mythical tale about “The Barbarian” who invaded Japan and defeated their hometown hero in one of the most memorable comeback victories in company history. The Octagon’s first foray into “The Land of the Rising Sun” in over a decade, UFC 144 played host to a third round knockout that caught the attention of not only everyone in attendance, but the entirety of the middleweight division. After two rounds of one-sided action from the previously ranked number one contender Yushin “Thunder” Okami, it took less than 60 seconds of the third round for Tim Boetsch to finish his opponent with really his first successful flurry of the fight.
The moral to this story, don’t let “The Barbarian” hit you - ever.
“I knew going into the third round if I wanted to win that fight, I had to finish him,” remembers Boetsch. “That's exactly what Matt [Hume] said, 'you have to finish him.' He told me to be super aggressive. The whole training camp that was what we had worked on: moving forward, closing the distance, and hitting him with big shots. I threw a loopy right hand and he staggered back and I followed up and landed a right head kick at one point that kind of hit his glove. I knew the head kick didn't land clean, but he staggered back, so I knew I had wobbled him. He had certainly been hurt in that exchange and I knew there was blood in the water. I closed the distance and started throwing to finish. Finally, in the third round the training came through and I did what we had been training for three months and it worked out just as we had planned.”
It was about the most serious case of “better late than never”. What transpired in the opening rounds was as much a surprise to the partisan Japanese fans as it was to Boetsch, as Okami displayed a level of speed and crispness with his hands unseen in his other Octagon outings. Okami took the first five minutes with a “shock & awe” striking showcase and took handle of the second five minutes following an ill-timed guillotine choke attempt by Boetsch. The second stanza ended with Boetsch mounted and Okami raining down punches, but the Pennsylvanian was defending and not that fazed by the punishment his near granite chin was receiving.
“I often tell the refs when we're in the locker room before the fight and going over the rules that I have a head like a coconut and can take quite a pounding if need be (laughs),” tells Boetsch. “My mind was very clear the whole time and even when he had mounted me I was deflecting most of those punches. I think only one or two landed clean. I wasn't so much concerned that he was going to finish me; I was more concerned that the ref was going to think I was in more trouble than I actually was. I was trying to make eye contact with the ref to let him know I was still aware, I was still defending, and I was doing what I needed to do to get through that round. That was my only concern that the ref was going to jump in and pull him off when it wasn't really that bad.”
After Okami threw everything and the kitchen sink at him, Boetsch hopped to his feet ready for one more round while his opponent lurched heavily over to his own. Part physically fatigued and part severely discouraged, “Thunder” looked ready to be the beaten man as “The Barbarian” poured on a stand-up assault right out of the gate, which finished Okami only 54 seconds into the third round. Regardless of it not being the flawless victory a fighter hopes for, Boetsch scored a declarative stoppage win over an opponent one fight removed from fighting for the division’s title. It’s a career defining performance that proves he is always ready for a war inside the Octagon and that he’ll likely be the victor and the last one standing at the end of it.
“I think the biggest thing for me is that as long as I'm still in the fight I have the ability to win,” states Boetsch. “Going into the later rounds was a hard part for the beginning of my career where my conditioning wasn't where it is today. I would get nervous when the fight would start to get into the deeper water. Now, I almost want it to go there because my conditioning is so good. Getting the win in the third period over a guy like Yushin is a huge confidence booster. Getting a win in a come from behind way proves to me that maybe I'm even mentally tougher than I thought I was. It's just a huge boost of confidence.”
Three up and three down. The 31-year old Maine native made the decision a little over a year ago to drop from light heavyweight to middleweight and has scored back-to-back-to-back impressive Ws inside the Octagon. First was the bullying of Kendall Grove at UFC 130, second was the outclassing of Nick Ring at UFC 135 in the thin air of Denver, and, most recently in February, “The Barbarian” was only the second man to defeat Okami by TKO in the UFC - the other being some guy named Anderson Silva. As several 185 pounders are jockeying for position for the next title fight, Boetsch was scheduled to take on Michael Bisping while a promotional newcomer Hector Lombard was slated to face Brian Stann, but both Bisping and Stann got injured. Now, Boetsch is Lombard’s UFC welcome wagon.
“I think that's exactly where I want to be,” affirms Boetsch. “I want my title shot. Obviously, to get to the title you have to beat the best guys in the weight class and that's what I'm doing. Yushin was coming off his title shot, Hector was supposedly told he would get a title shot if he won the Stann fight, so I think that is putting me very close in line for getting my title shot. Especially, if I get an impressive win over Hector.”
From “Thunder” to “Lightning”, at UFC 149 in Calgary, Canada, Boetsch will enter the cage against one of the most highly regarded judo practitioners and knockout artists in the sport. At 34 years old with a professional record of 31-2-1 with 1 NC, Lombard is riding an insane 25 fight unbeaten streak marked by a pandemic litany of devastating knockouts and several slick submissions. A much sought after American Top Team product, Lombard has fought for just about every MMA company under the sun since 2004 and will be finally making his Octagon debut in a fireworks guaranteed matchup.
“I think he's a very dangerous fighter,” says Boetsch. “He's super aggressive, he's very powerful, and he’s got quick explosive hands. He's a guy who is going to come out and try to kill you and that's a very different fight than the one I was going to have with Bisping, but it's a fight I welcome. I think this fight puts me very close to being next in line for the title, so I welcome this fight with Hector.”
The bout will be a series of firsts for both fighters, as this is the first fight under the Zuffa banner for the well-traveled veteran Lombard, so “jitters” might not be a factor, but height could be. Neither is a particularly tall middleweight, but this will be a first for the 5’11” Boetsch as a middleweight, as he will physically be looking down at the 5’9” Lombard. But the most important first for him is to hand the Cuban his first loss in nearly six years, since Gergard Mousasi beat him in PRIDE. For the former NCAA Division I wrestler from Lock Haven University, Lombard’s win streak is an interesting factoid, but won’t make a world of difference once the cage door is closed.
“I'm a pretty easy going guy and I don't let numbers and stats bother me,” confirms Boetsch. “People online are talking about how he is unstoppable and this and that. I know what I'm capable of doing and I'm not looking to add my name to that win streak of his. I'm very much looking forward to ending his win streak. I've done it to a couple other guys like Todd Brown had quite a win streak when I fought him and Nick Ring was undefeated when I fought him with 12 wins in a row. Certainly, 20 wins in a row is a lot, but I'm not intimidated by that number. That's all it is to me - just a number. He hasn't fought me yet and I'm very much looking forward to ending that streak for him.”
In preparation for Lombard, Boetsch begins all his training camps at home in Sunbury, Pennsylvania at his own Barbarian Combat Sports. As the bout gets closer, the 15-4 fighter travels to Kirkland, Washington to fine tune himself and the gameplan at AMC Kickboxing & Pankration with “The Wizard” Matt Hume and Brad Kertson. Obviously, Boetsch appears to have made the correct decision in moving to middleweight because he’s closer than ever in his prizefighting career at realizing his dream: being a UFC champion. What stands in Boetsch’s way is a fist missile throwing former Cuban Olympian, and he simply can’t wait to tangle with him.
“Well, I expect him to come out and try to kill me for at least the first minute (laughs),” estimates Boetsch. “I think that's what he does in every single fight he's ever been in. It's going to be an explosive start. I just need to be careful I don't get caught with one of those hard punches early because that could certainly swing the tide his way. I just have to be mindful of those power shots he throws. He's going to come forward hard and it's going to be interesting to see if I can get the guys in the room to get me used to having someone come at me that hard and try to kill me like he's going to. I'm trying to get myself ready for that and I think I will be come fight night. I'm going to be ready to surprise a lot of people and be ready to end this win streak he's got going for him.”
On Saturday in “The Stampede City”, it’s a middleweight melee with malicious intent for the masses as Boetsch and Lombard collide. “I just want people to realize that I really can compete with the best fighters in the world and I can in fact take them out,” emphasizes Boetsch, who is eager to stop Lombard’s win streak before he hopefully gets the opportunity to stop the champion Silva’s. “I want the fans to know that even though I'm fighting the top guys in the world, that those guys need to be worried I'm going to take them out. That's what I want to do in this fight. I don't want to just fight him or go to a decision with him, I want to finish him.”
If “The Barbarian” can silence “Thunder”, maybe he can catch “Lightning” too. That's the stuff legends are made of.