BREWER, Maine — Break time at Tim Boetsch’s mixed martial arts training camp came only after the world-ranked UFC middleweight finished throwing more than 1,000 strikes in barely a half-hour on a recent Thursday night.
It was a pace impressive as much for the power evident in the last of the repetitive punches and kicks as for the sheer volume of the exercise.
“I’ve held pads for professional boxers. I’ve held pads for Muay Thai fighters, K-1 [kickboxing] champions. No one has ever hit my pads as hard as Tim Boetsch,” said trainer Marcus Davis, a former pro boxer and UFC contender who fought off only some of the collective impact armed with pads on both hands and around his torso.
“I will struggle to get out of bed tomorrow. It’s like I never left the fight game.”
That striking session came after an hour of mat work and before an hour of grappling at Davis’ Team Irish MMA Fitness Academy as Boetsch prepares for his next fight, a June 6 clash with Dan Henderson on the main card of UFC Fight Night 68 in New Orleans, Louisiana.
“To be totally honest, I’m way ahead of schedule,” said Boetsch, a 34-year-old Lincolnville native currently ranked 13th in the UFC’s 185-pound division with an 18-8 professional record.
“I’m not sure why. I’d give myself an eight [out of 10] right now, which typically when I start camp if I’m honest with myself and my coaches, I’m somewhere around a four.”
A Maine collaboration
Boetsch and Davis are working together for the third straight fight since Boetsch, who now lives in Sunbury, Pennsylvania, switched his training camp last summer from AMC Pankration in Seattle, Washington, to his home state, where he was a four-time state wrestling champion at Camden-Rockport High School in Rockport.
“I’m not sure why I didn’t do it sooner,” said Boetsch. “The first time I came up here to train I crossed the state line and had this overwhelming feeling that things had come full circle and I was coming back home. It’s been a pretty amazing experience.”
Boetsch debuted under Davis’ watch last August with a second-round TKO victory over Brad Tavares in a memorable homecoming bout at the Cross Insurance Center in Bangor, then lost via second-round technical submission to Thales Leites on the main card of UFC 183 in January at Las Vegas, Nevada.
Despite the split results, Boetsch earned a $50,000 bonus from UFC president Dana White after each bout, for performer of the night against Tavares and fight of the night with Leites.
“Even though I lost the last fight, morally it was a victory because I realized what I could do as a striker,” said Boetsch, who has been ranked as high as fifth in the UFC middleweight ranks. “There was no sense of fear at any point even when he was throwing hard punches at me. I felt very confident and very comfortable, and I think for me to have my eyes opened to that has made me a very dangerous fighter that’s going to translate real well into this next fight.”
That newfound emphasis on striking is just part of the six-day-a-week training regimen Boetsch undergoes for more than two months before each fight.
Several workout days each week begin at Bay Area Fitness in Belfast with cardiovascular training for 90 minutes to two hours.
Later in the day the training sessions vary, with Mondays and Wednesdays devoted to techniques.
“We won’t spar,” said Boetsch. “I don’t like to spar every day because that’s where you start to build up that wear and tear and injuries can happen. I used to get carried away and spar every day, but I’m not as young as I used to be.”
Tuesday and Thursday nights are divided among grappling, sparring and pad work while Friday’s focus is up to 15 five-minute rounds of grappling separated by one-minute breaks and Saturdays involve a similar approach to sparring.
Sunday is a rest day.
“I’ve got it pretty well structured,” said Boetsch. “At the beginning of camp it doesn’t change a whole lot. As we get deeper into camp and there are issues to deal with as far as injuries and overtraining, I’ll adjust on a day-to-day basis depending on how I feel and how training went the day before.”
Boetsch and Davis maintain an awareness of the fighting habits of each opponent, but training camp is devoted primarily to self-improvement.
“We just stick to repetition,” said Davis. “To bypass cognitive thinking and get to reactionary thinking, typically you have to do something 10,000 times before you do it from your reactionary brain rather than your cognitive brain.
“That’s what I work with him on, taking the techniques we’re going to use in a fight and bypass him having to think about them so his inner self takes over and just lets go.”
As fight night approaches
Boetsch typically scales his training schedule back to five days weekly during the final month of camp, particularly if he stays true to current work that has left him at 206 pounds — 15 to 20 pounds lighter than usual two months before a middleweight bout.
“There’s definitely a trick to peaking at the right time and that’s why I was a little concerned being in this good shape so early in camp because I don’t want to peak too soon,” he said. “I’m just going to have to go with how I feel. If I continue to get better during camp, fine, but if at anytime it starts to go backward, we’ll have to adjust and make sure the training is appropriate and that we peak during fight week.”
The primary concern of fight week itself is making weight.
“At that point you should be in peak physical condition,” Boetsch said, “so we’re just training to maintain a sharp eye and make sure the technique is sharp. At that point the intensity definitely backs off a little bit because there’s usually a calorie deficit to make weight so you don’t want to over-fatigue the muscles or your mind.”
Davis said the final heavy-duty practice will come the Saturday before fight week, followed by a rest day Sunday, travel and setting up at the fight locale Monday or Tuesday, another rest day Wednesday and a light workout Thursday.
“Then Friday comes and that’s the worst,” said Davis. “The fight’s the easy part, making weight is always the hard part for a fighter.”
But Boetsch may be more experienced in cutting weight than many other MMA competitors given his wrestling background at Camden-Rockport and Lock Haven University.
“I’ve been a wrestler my whole life so I’ve always been around weight cuts and learned a lot of different tactics to shed body weight,” he said. “At this stage of the game from where I am now I could make 185 in the next couple of days if I had to just with the experience I’ve had with diet changes and the ability to shed water that I know.
“Actually I’m feeling very good about the whole process right now.”