Unleashing the Barbarian
Armed with one of the most well-respected coaches in the business and back in the UFC for his second stint, Tim Boetsch is on a three-fight winning streak and is ready to face his biggest challenge against Michael Bisping—and it all started in a basement.
A four-time high school state wrestling champion from Maine, Tim Boetsch moved to the mats of D-I Lock Haven University in Pennsylvania to continue his wrestling career and pursue a criminal justice degree. After graduating and getting a job as a social worker, his MMA addicted college roommate—future UFC and IFL fi ghter Mike Ciesnolevicz—tapped into Boetsch’s competitive spirit and booked his first MMA fight in the fall of 2006.
Boetsch won that first outing by third-round submission. Now, “The Barbarian” had a taste for battle, and in less than two years, Boetsch was 6-0 on the East Coast regional circuit with six finishes—and he was doing all of his training in his father-in-law’s 120-squarefoot basement.
“We packed 10 guys in this dark basement, and we’d just thrash each other,” says Boetsch. “I definitely learned how to fight, because there was nowhere to run. We would stand and bang and throw each other off the walls until someone quit.”
His father-in-law acted as his trainer in those early days, although the 31-year-old admits that he didn’t have a lot of MMA knowledge to add to Boetsch’s wrestling background. Instead, he focused on keeping Boetsch’s wrestling sharp and his cardio crisp.
While it would have been easy to shrug off the training as simply Toughman-esque and nothing more, Boetsch clearly had some skills. In August 2007, on three-day’s notice, he took a fight with Vladimir Matyushenko in the now-defunct International Fight League, while still working full-time as a social worker. After three hard-fought rounds, Boetsch, who was still going strong at the end of the fi ght as his opponent faded, dropped a disappointing unanimous-decision loss. He reasoned that if his striking would’ve been better, he would have easily won the fight, so he vowed to improve his pugilistic skills.
The Matyushenko fight was his first career defeat, but Boetsch had still managed to impress the UFC brass and was offered another short-notice fight against David Heath at UFC 81 in 2008. Boetsch quit his job and made his debut a memorable one, defeating Heath by first-round TKO. But at the sport’s highest level, his home workouts weren’t putting him in the right position to get the most out of his abilities.
After a TKO loss to Matt Hamill, he rebounded with a firstround TKO win over Michael Patt, but a March 2009 unanimousdecision loss to Jason Brilz signaled his exit from the UFC. At 8-3 and 2-2 in the UFC, it would have been understandable if he’d hung up the gloves and reflected on what he’d accomplished with so little training.
The thing about Boetsch, though—he really likes to fight.
Boetsch was determined to earn his way back to the UFC, and manager Monte Cox suggested that he accompany Rich Franklin to Kirkland, Washington, to help him prepare for Wanderlei Silva in 2009. Boetsch wasn’t going to just any Pacific Northwest gym—he was headed to AMC Pankration & Kickboxing to train with Matt “The Wizard” Hume. Thinking he would easily make an impression, Boetsch was quickly humbled.
“Here I was a UFC veteran thinking I was hot stuff,” says Boetsch. “I got in the room and amateur fighters were tearing through me, making me look stupid. Then Matt straps on the gear, and he’s 170 pounds soaking wet, so I’m thinking I can muscle him around. He made me look like I had never fought a day in my life. I was crawling around, trying to hold on to one of his legs so he’d stop kneeing me in the stomach. After I crawled out of the ring and understood how devastated I was from taking that beating, I knew he could teach me the entire fight game.”
Following three wins on the regional scene in less than one year, Boetsch has been reclaimed by the UFC, and everyone is beginning to appreciate his potential. After only three years as part of Hume’s team, Boetsch is now an impressive 7-1.
An ignition point for his recent run of three wins was Boetsch’s drop to 185 pounds after a long career as a light heavyweight. He says there was no pressure to cut down and that he made the choice after his November 2010 submission loss to Phil Davis.
On that night, Boetsch felt like he had a great training camp and was ready for anything the young Davis could throw at him. However, Davis’ high level wrestling pedigree proved to be the difference as he trapped Boetsch’s arm in a scramble and forced him to tap with a modified hammer lock. Like the Matyushenko loss, he took this defeat as a sign to make a change, and he decided to drop to middleweight.
It’s not an easy cut to 185 pounds for the 220-pound Barbarian, but Boetsch said he can deal with the misery three times a year for the opportunity to achieve his goals. After completing three practice cuts, he was ready and won his fi rst middleweight fight against Kendall Grove at UFC 130 in May 2011, following it up with a decision win over Nick Ring at UFC 135 in September 2011.
Then came his toughest test in February at UFC 144 in Saitama, Japan, against Yushin Okami, who was fighting for the first time since his failed challenge at UFC Middleweight Champion Anderson Silva. For two rounds, Boetsch struggled to make any inroads and appeared headed for defeat as Okami blasted him with jabs and kicks and even mounted Boetsch after a takedown.
But that’s why there’s a third round.
“Between rounds, Matt said that I just had to be super aggressive,” Boetsch says. “I came out in the third round and clipped Okami with a right hand and threw a head kick that went through his glove and he staggered back. I knew I had him hurt, and that was my opportunity. I put it on him, and it paid off.”
The comeback TKO threw color commentator Joe Rogan into hysterics, claiming it was the greatest comeback win he had ever seen. He later calmed down and said it was among the greatest, but even with the sellout audience in Japan’s Saitama Super Arena, Boetsch still managed to hear Rogan exclaiming.
“I heard him screaming and saw him standing, pounding on the table next to Mike Goldberg,” he says. “Joe gets fired up. I think the whole arena noticed.”
Boetsch now prepares to battle top middleweight Michael Bisping at UFC 149 on July 21. The father of two knows what’s at risk, and he isn’t goading his British opponent into a war of words.
“At times, Bisping can come across as arrogant and rubs people the wrong way, but he hasn’t done anything disrespectful to me,” Boetsch says. “Anyone that gets into the cage with me is in a lot of trouble. Whether it’s on a professional level or whether he wants to badmouth me and try to get inside my head, the outcome is the same for me. I’m going to want to take his head off.”
On July 21 in Calgary, Boetsch will likely have the lion’s share of fans as he faces one of the UFC’s most villainous fighters. If he gets a few “USA” chants up in Canada, that’s fine by him.
“With the Okami fight, I went into hostile territory and got a win,” he says. “Canada will be a warm welcome for me.”