The latter stages of Tim Boetsch’s career with the Ultimate Fighting Championship have been laden with challenges.
Not only does he compete for the world’s top mixed martial arts promotion, in several cases he entered the octagon with his UFC future at stake. That included a stretch of three straight losses and six defeats overall in an eight-fight stretch from late 2012 through early 2016.
The Lincolnville native, who recently celebrated his 36th birthday, will be at a different crossroads Saturday night as he seeks to extend a two-fight winning streak.
Boetsch, 13th ranked among UFC middleweights, faces one of the biggest challenges of his career against third-ranked Ronaldo “Jacare” Souza on the pay-per-view main card of UFC 208 at the Barclays Center in Brooklyn, New York.
According to MMAfighting.com, this marks the final fight of Boetsch’s UFC contract, but the four-time state wrestling champion from the former Camden-Rockport High School is not concerned. He believes a victory over the heavily favored Brazilian will provide him leverage in any future negotiations.
“A win here puts me right at the top of the weight class, honestly,” Boetsch said. “I think a win on Saturday definitely puts me in line to get another fight with one of the top three guys, and with a win there there’d be no arguing about potentially getting that title shot.”
Boetsch (20-10 overall, 11-9 with the UFC) has fought for the world’s top MMA promotion since 2008. A second-round stoppage of Josh Samman in July 2016, followed by a first-round knockout of 14th-ranked Rafael Natal at UFC 205 at Madison Square Garden last Nov. 12, has vaulted him back into the middleweight rankings for the first time in nearly five years.
Boetsch planned to take a vacation after his UFC 205 victory, but when officials had difficulty finding an opponent for Souza and called him in early January, those plans changed.
“You always have the option to say no,” he said, “but I typically tend to say yes.”
In Souza, Boetsch faces a submission specialist who is considered one of the top threats to middleweight champion Michael Bisping.
The 37-year-old Souza (23-4, one no contest overall, 6-1 UFC) has fought just twice since April 2015 — a split-decision loss to top-ranked contender Yoel Romero in December 2015 and a first-round TKO victory over former light-heavyweight champ Vitor Belfort last May.
He was scheduled to fight former UFC middleweight champion Luke Rockhold in November but Rockhold pulled out, citing injury. Souza has been complaining publicly since then about not being able to get into the cage with Rockhold, Bisping or another top-five contender.
“I hope he’s taking me lightly, to be honest,” Boetsch said. “He says he’s not, but I find that hard to believe because it seems like everybody who steps into the octagon with me takes me lightly. That’s fine. It will only take him a few seconds to figure out that he is, in fact, in a fight and that he’s in trouble.”
Among the fighters Souza trained with in Brazil to prepare for his bout with Boetsch was former UFC middleweight champion Anderson Silva, who will battle Derek Brunson on the UFC 208 main card.
“(Souza’s) a world-class grappler,” Boetsch said. “He’ll definitely take you out if you let him get you on the ground and let him have his way there. Obviously I’m going to go in and implement my game plan.
“He’s a tough fighter, but (trainer) Marcus (Davis) and I have the answer for whatever he’s going to bring and we’re going to make a statement on fight night.”
Boetsch, who lives in Sunbury, Pennsylvania, will try to capitalize on a striking game that has produced 10 career victories by knockout.
“I honestly couldn’t have imagined this 12 or 18 months ago,” Boetsch said. “I was pretty surprised when I got the call even after my last fight to fight Jacare because so many people had turned it down before me.
“It’s an honor that (UFC officials) know I’ll step up and fight the toughest guys. That’s the whole reason I’m here, to get in there, do battle and get my hand raised at the end of the night.”