In the fight game, the term is “being called out.”
It happened nearly two years ago to Tim Boetsch when Luke Rockhold — who heretofore had never competed inside the octagon — said he wanted to fight Sunbury’s own “Barbarian.”
Boetsch was only too happy to comply, and now Rockhold is finally getting his wish.
The two middleweights will square off Saturday night in the Baltimore Arena at UFC 172. The Boetsch/Rockhold fight will appear on the main card, which means it will only be available on pay-per-view.
Rockhold (11-2), currently ranked fifth at 185 pounds in the UFC, is the former Strikeforce middleweight champion of the world. He lost his belt when the UFC bought out its biggest competitor and absorbed many of the fighters into its ranks. Rockhold is 1-1 since joining the UFC.
“He’s a great fighter,” Boetsch said. “He’s deserving of that (fifth) ranking. He’s a former ... world champion and all-around great athlete. A guy like Luke presents a lot of different problems. But I had a great training camp and I feel like I have the solution to those problems.”
Rockhold called Boetsch (17-6) out not long after “The Barbarian” defeated former Bellator world middleweight champion Hector Lombard in the latter’s UFC debut. In an interview soon after, Rockhold said, “He just beat the Bellator champion, let’s see if he can come beat the Strikeforce champion.”
The two were originally scheduled to meet last fall, but an injury to Rockhold forced a postponement. Boetsch instead fought CB Dollaway and beat him by split decision. That win snapped a two-fight losing streak for Boetsch and left him with an impressive 5-2 record as a UFC middleweight.
Should he put together another winning performance Saturday, Boetsch believes it will vault him right back into the upper echelon of the division.
“A win over Rockhold would certainly put me in the top five, maybe in the top three,” says Boetsch, who’s currently ranked 13th. “This is a huge fight and it has title-contention implications for the winner. It’s really big.”
The two fighters have very different backgrounds. Rockhold, who, at 29, is four years younger, grew up in Santa Cruz, where he learned to surf. His brother Matt was a professional surfer and their dad played professional basketball in Europe. Rockhold became involved in MMA after winning some jiu-jitsu tournaments.
Boetsch, meanwhile, grew up in Maine, where he developed a love for hunting and fishing. He entered MMA by way of collegiate wrestling.
Considering Rockhold’s devastating striking, Boetsch might need to use his wrestling prowess to pull out a victory. Rockhold’s sole win in the UFC came by a nasty kick to the body that took out Costas Philippou back in January. Philippou, a boxer from Cyprus who beat Boetsch in 2012, dropped instantly to the canvas and the fight was called off.
“Certainly that’s something I want to avoid,” Boetsch says. “(I can’t) let him land anything as clean as Philippou did. His kicks are one of his tools. ... We’ve been working in training camp on not opening yourself for those hard body shots because those are fight changers.”
Saturday’s fight will be Boetsch’s 14th in the UFC, but this will be his first UFC fight so close to home.
“I have a lot of friends and my wife (Jade) is coming down, and my in-laws,” Boetsch says. “It doesn’t add pressure. At this point, I’ve been competing in wrestling for so long, so there’s no added pressure.”
NOTES: Saturday’s card has a few Pennsylvania connections. In addition to Boetsch, light-heavyweight Phil Davis will meet Anthony “Rumble” Johnson in the co-main event. Davis is a Harrisburg High School grad who was a national champion in wrestling at Penn State. Also, Hollidaysburg native Charlie Brenneman will face Danny Castillo in a lightweight bout. Like Boetsch, Brenneman wrestled at Lock Haven. ... Rockhold trains at the famed American Kickboxing Academy in San Jose. The gym boasts numerous stars, such as current heavyweight champion Cain Velasquez, unbeaten light-heavyweight Daniel Cormier, and rising lightweight contender Khabib Nurmagomedov. ... The main event of UFC 172 features a light-heavyweight championship bout between champion Jon Jones (19-1) and challenger Glover Teixeira (22-2).
In the fight game, the term is “being called out.”
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