Who can step up and truly challenge Anderson Silva? That’s been the question for more than six years now, ever since “The Spider” captured the belt by using his knees to rearrange former champion Rich Franklin’s facial structure.

Chael Sonnen came close on one occasion, only to lose to the longtime UFC middleweight champion in the closing seconds of the bout. Silva dispatched Sonnen for the second time in July, putting to rest any notion that Sonnen might turn out to be the one to squash “The Spider.” The rest of the division has been in flux ever since, with a number of contenders vying for the next chance at the champ. Among those names is that of former light heavyweight Tim Boetsch, who joined the UFC middleweight ranks in 2011 and has won four straight.

“I believe I’m right at the top of the ladder. My resume speaks for itself,” said Boetsch in an exclusive interview with The MMA Corner. “Just got a win over a former world champion—Bellator world champ—and the fight before that I beat a guy who was coming off his shot at getting the title. So, I think that those two wins alone put me in the running. Certainly should have people talking about [me] potentially getting a title shot.”

The wins Boetsch is referring to include a come-from-behind knockout of former title challenger Yushin Okami and a lackluster decision win over promotional newcomer and former Bellator champion Hector Lombard. Boetsch didn’t exactly look like a world-beater in those last two fights, but he has consistently found himself the winner, and that is something that cannot be ignored.

“Four wins in a row at middleweight. Hopefully five in a row coming up here on Saturday. I think that all speaks volumes to where I belong in the weight class,” he explained.

Boetsch (R) connects with a kick (Esther Lin/MMA Fighting)

On Saturday, UFC 155 will see Boetsch facing another fighter on a hot-streak at 185 pounds, but it’s not the person he was originally scheduled to meet at the event. Boetsch was set for a showdown with Chris Weidman in what was planned as a contender eliminator, but with Weidman’s exit due to injury, Constantinos Philippou is getting a shot at establishing himself in the mix. Understandably, this new match-up changes the significance of the fight, but it doesn’t change the fact that Boetsch must continue to win.

“I wouldn’t say that beating Philippou definitely makes me No. 1 contender,” Boetsch explained. “I think a fight with Chris Weidman and a victory over him certainly, without a doubt, made the winner of that fight a No. 1 contender. A win over Philippou…I think a lot of people expect me to win that fight.

“There’s talk of other guys out there who are doing really well for themselves. Obviously, Chris Weidman is at the top of that ladder as well. Due to injury, we’re not going to see him in action anytime soon. Bisping’s got the big fight with Vitor [Belfort] coming up. So there will be some more talk of who’s the actual number one, and I don’t think we can establish a definite No. 1 contender for at least another fight or two.”

It is an unfortunate reality that contendership can’t isn’t often cut and dried. This is something Boetsch understands. It could mean that he has to further prove his case against fighters like Michael Bisping.

“For me, honestly, Bisping is not really high on the list of priorities,” Boetsch admitted. “I don’t feel like he’s earned the position that Chris Weidman and myself has. Still not sure if he’s beaten a top-10 guy. This will be his first test with a truly seasoned opponent, a highly-ranked guy in Vitor Belfort. I think he’s going to have a very tough time getting past him. Let’s say he does that—that’s a great notch in his belt and I’d be happy for him if he can pull off a win over Vitor Belfort—then, sure, it makes sense for me to fight Bisping then. I think the person that wins that fight is the No. 1 contender.”

Another name that comes up in title talk as often as Boetsch or Bisping is that of Alan Belcher. Boetsch is well aware of what Belcher has been up to—winning four fights by finish since 2009—and agrees that Belcher is peeking over his shoulder towards the top of the division.

“Absolutely,” Boetsch said of Belcher being in the middleweight mix. “Alan Belcher is a tough fighter. He’s got an outstanding skill set. I think he’s one of the most underrated guys in the weight class. He’s a very tough fighter that shows up to finish guys every time. I think he’s a guy who also, for instance, would give Bisping a terrible fight. I think Bisping has a lot of trouble getting past Alan Belcher.”

It would seem that Boetsch has a practical grasp on what may or may not need to happen in getting this contender picture sorted out. Many would say that his upcoming opponent, Philippou, is a step backwards for Boetsch at UFC 155, but that doesn’t mean Boetsch’s original opponent, Weidman, still doesn’t have a part to play in this match-up.

“[Philippou]’s got a fantastic wrestling training partner in Chris Weidman,” Boetsch said. “So, you know he gets those looks everyday in practice. Chris is obviously a fighter with a very high wrestling pedigree that knows his way around wrestling mats. I’m certain that Philippou gets more than his share of takedown-defense training in their practice room. I’m sure that he’s going to try and defend my takedowns, but I’m a very persistent guy; if I wanna get this fight to the ground, I’m confident it’s going to go there.”

Philippou has demonstrated his ability at keeping fights on the feet, tailoring those skills to complement his strong striking background. His training partner, Weidman, burst onto the middleweight scene by controlling a former NCAA Division I wrestler in Mark Munoz. Boetsch, also a former NCAA Division I wrestler, could be presented with a difficult challenge in overcoming Philippou’s wrestling defense. Furthermore, Philippou likely spent time assisting Weidman in training for Boetsch, so he’ll come to the Octagon well prepared for the encounter. However, Boetsch isn’t worried about having his options limited.

“It could be,” Boetsch said of the potential problems Philippou’s wrestling defense could present. “I’m not afraid to stand and trade with him either. It’s one of those things. You go into a fight and feel like you have to do something—you have to force something to happen—and it doesn’t work out for you, then your whole game plan is messed up.

“I go into fights very open-minded, just knowing that I can take guys down. I know I’m very confident on my feet, if I want to keep the fight standing and determine the striking. It doesn’t have to go any one place for me to feel good about winning this fight.”

Philippou is a former professional boxer that has out-struck his opponents on the feet in winning four of his five UFC fights, yet his knockout power has only been seen once in his UFC tenure.

“He’s got great boxing skills. He throws punches in combinations very well,” acknowledged Boetsch. “With that being said, I’m very confident in my boxing skills. When it comes to high-level boxers, I’ve done very well against pure boxing, so nothing about his boxing scares me. It definitely needs to be respected and understood that he’s very competent in that area. In training, you usually prepare for everything, and boxing is his strong point, so I’m definitely prepared for it.

Boetsch celebrates victory (Esther Lin/MMA Fighting)

One of the most consistent and unfortunate stories of 2012 has been fighters having to pull out of fights due to injury. It’s the reason why Boetsch is facing Philippou in the first place. Boetsch has insight into how to balance training with not getting hurt. His word should be taken as gospel given that he has never pulled out of a contracted fight.

“You definitely want to make sure you’re not overtraining something,” Boetsch explained. “I think injury really stems from overtraining and not necessarily sparring too hard. I think a lot of people get the misconception that you have to go 100 percent seven days a week to reach your full potential, and that’s not the case. You need to allow your body time to recover, heal up, and if you have injuries, you need to try to let them heal up as best you can.

“I never had to pull out of a fight, period. I never canceled a fight, even in my amateur career. It’s just something that, I feel like you sign the contract, you tell someone you’re going to be there a certain day in shape and and ready to fight. Any professional needs to ‘hit the nail on the head.’ You should show up and fight.”

Boetsch’s approach allows him to get the most out of training while not pushing it so far that he can’t perform. He lost his originally planned opponent to injury, but he has also served as a late replacement for fighters having to bow out for the similar reasons, which has led to opportunities in the IFL and UFC. Unfortunately, Boetsch’s willingness to step up for these fights—and his successful performances—don’t quite make the headlines in the same way as the ongoing refrain of “the injury bug strikes again.” However, it is something that fighters can take note of and learn from.

“Obviously, there are guys that can’t get past injuries and can’t perform, and I understand that side of the coin. I also understand the side of the coin where it’s very rare going into a fight that I’m 100-percent healthy,” Boetsch explained. “There’s always some kind of nagging injury. That’s our job, we’re fighters. We get beaten up every day. You’re not gonna feel 100 percent going into a fight usually after eight or 10 weeks of a hard training camp. The odds are against you. I’m not one to pull out of a fight due to small injury, or aches or pains, or whatever. You gotta get in there, you gotta make that money and entertain the fans, and that’s what I try to do.”

Outside of preparing for fights, Boetsch can be found scaling mountains in search of his next meal in the form of lean elk meat, which he hunts for himself. Hunting is a physically demanding sport which also calls for a respect of weapons, something that Boetsch, who holds a degree in Criminal Justice, understands. Even in the current climate of controversy that the mere mention of guns brings forth, Boetsch doesn’t lose sight of the responsibility of their use.

“I don’t think it should be controversial at all. It’s our second amendment right,” Boetsch said. “Not only is it a gun ownership issue, I think it boils down just to the root issue of your ability to defend yourself. I think that is something that every person in the world should be able to do, not just [in] America. It is terrible that these things come to light and the tragic events that have happened recently.

“I believe that it is every human being’s right to defend their right to live, and for someone to say otherwise is just completely absurd to me.”

On Saturday, the only weapons Boetsch has at his disposal will be his fists. But if his run at middleweight thus far has proven anything, it’s that his fists are all he really needs. But, should he get past Philippou at UFC 155, the bigger question becomes whether those fists are sufficient weapons to crush a certain “Spider.”

Tim would like to thank his teammates and coaches at AMC and appreciates the support of his family for allowing him to train during the holidays. He would also like the thank the fans for all their support. You can follow Tim on Twitter: @TimBoetsch

Top Photo: Tim Boetsch (Esther Lin/MMA Fighting)

About The Author

David Massey
Staff Writer

David Massey studied Humanities and Art History at the University of Central Oklahoma. He first found interest in MMA from the first TUF show and has been hooked ever since. He began posting on mmajunkie then submitting Sunday Junkie entries and that began his interest in writing about MMA. Through twitter David found other MMA enthusiasts and began contributing articles to marqueemma.com. He looks forward to growing as a writer and being a part of the sport he loves.