"My eyes are still glued on the prize. I want that belt." - Tim Boetsch
“When you’re in the cage with a guy that you can throw your best stuff at, and even if it lands, he absorbs it and keeps moving forward, that’s gotta be a terrible feeling for somebody,” said the Pennsylvanian.
That hypothetical opponent? Himself.
“That would be one heck of a knock down, drag out battle,” he laughs. “But the answer is, no, I wouldn’t want to fight me.”
It may sound like a throwaway question, but it’s not. When you’re known for going above and beyond the call of duty in the Octagon, when shots that take other fighters out just bounce off your chin, you have to wonder how the other half lives, if Boetsch’s opponents want to dig that deep to get their hand raised.
Most of the time, Boetsch outlasts his foes. If you think you’ve got the upper hand, enjoy it and capitalize, because otherwise he’ll beat you if you let him stick around. But just because Boetsch makes every 15 minutes for his opponents a rough 15 minutes, that doesn’t mean he avoids the same fatigue and gut checks they go through.
“It’s quite a process getting prepared,” he said of the longest 15 minutes in sports. “Sometimes you’re in there and if your mind isn’t firing correctly and you’re not in the moment, the fight can fly by and you haven’t done the things you’ve trained to do. And other times, for instance, I remember early on in my career, when I would gas out early in a fight then the 15 minutes certainly seem like an eternity. So time can be pretty relative while you’re in the cage.”
Legendary Green Bay Packers coach Vince Lombardi famously said “Fatigue makes cowards of us all.” But what happens when you’re in a sport with no cowards, when the gas tank is empty and you still have time left to fight? Boetsch has been there before, first with Matt Hamill in 2008, and most recently in his July 2013 loss to Mark Munoz.
“In that fight I came out, felt strong for maybe a minute (Laughs), thought my head was in it for about a minute, and things were going well for the first 60 seconds, but then it quickly turned the other way. I wasn’t going to quit – I don’t have quit in me - but I ended up taking a pretty good beating.”
Boetsch lost that bout via unanimous decision, marking the first two-fight losing streak of his eight-year pro career. So entering his UFC 166 bout with CB Dollaway last October, the heat was on. And while it wasn’t his greatest performance, his split decision victory put him back in the win column and kept him in the middleweight mix, with a UFC 172 main card bout against the man he was supposed to face at UFC 166, Luke Rockhold, the result. But he’s still looking at this fight as one in which his back is up against the proverbial wall.
“That (the Dollaway fight) was a do or die situation, but I believe this is too,” he said. “People have expectations when you’re competing at this level, and to keep moving forward, a win here is absolutely necessary. Career-wise, where I want to go, I need to get this win.”
Rockhold is another in a series of killers Boetsch has shared the Octagon with, including Dollaway, Munoz, Costas Philippou, Hector Lombard, Yushin Okami, and Phil Davis. That’s a rough lineup. So when was his last “easy” fight?
He pauses…for a while.
“The last easy one?” he laughs. “It’s been a long, long time. I actually can’t remember my last easy one.”
That probably isn’t a problem for a guy like Boetsch though, right?
“I’d have it no other way.”
And he’s prepared accordingly, not just physically, but mentally.
“In preparing for 15 minutes in the cage with Luke Rockhold, I know that I have to stay sharp the entire time from start to finish, whether it goes the distance or not because he’s capable of finishing the fight,” said Boetsch. “He’s a very rangy fighter with very powerful kicks, and if I allow him to land those kicks, it’s not going to go well for me. So preparing mentally and just understanding what you have to do for 15 minutes just to survive the fight is very important.”
He’s been there and done that. Sometimes it worked; sometimes it didn’t. But when they call the 33-year-old’s name, he puts on the gloves and goes to work. And it’s not just for a paycheck, but for something more.
“My eyes are still glued on the prize,” he said. “I want that belt. I feel like the middleweight division right now is wide open, and I feel like Luke and I are both on the cusp of getting a title shot. Coming out of this fight with a win, there’s going to be a pretty good case for either one of us that we’re ready to challenge for the title or beat up the guy who thinks he can challenge for it. I think this is a huge fight, and, for me, becoming world champion is why I started fighting. I wanted to test my skills and see if I was, in fact, the toughest guy on the planet, at least for 25 minutes one night. That’s my goal – I want to get in there, I want to test my skills and I think I’ve got what it takes to get there.”
The first step is beating Luke Rockhold.
“Last year I was in kind of a slump and I did what I needed to do to get by, but I’m feeling great, my confidence is on a whole other level and I think it’s time to make it happen.”
“I’m not getting any younger.”