This Saturday night (April 26, 2014) Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) middleweights Luke Rockhold and Tim Boetsch will square off on the pay-per-view (PPV) main card of UFC 172, airing live at 10 p.m. EST from Baltimore Arena in Baltimore, Maryland.
No. 5-ranked Rockhold was most recently seen destroying Costa Philippou with a first round liver kick at UFC Fight Night 35 in January, his first UFC win. Prior to that, he was on the unfortunate end of a Vitor Belfort spinning wheel kick knockout at UFC on FX 8; a fight after which he believes "karma" is coming back on the "shady" Brazilian.
He may be looking for a rematch with "Phenom," but he should probably keep his focus on No. 13-ranked Boetsch, who was last seen defeating C.B. Dollaway with a very controversial split decision at UFC 166.
If the bout had gone to Dollaway as many felt it should have, Boetsch would have lost his last three mixed martial arts (MMA) bouts following previous losses to Mark Munoz and Philippou.
Somehow, "Barbarian" has earned a shot at another Top 10-ranked middleweight; it's on him to prove he actually deserves to be there. Let's take a look at the keys to victory for Rockhold vs. Boetsch:
Record: 11-2 overall, 1-1 UFC
Key Wins: Costa Philippou (UFC Fight Night 35), Ronaldo Souza (Strikeforce: Barnett vs. Kharitonov), Tim Kennedy (Strikeforce: Rockhold vs. Kennedy), Keith Jardine (Strikeforce: Rockhold vs. Jardine)
Key Losses: Vitor Belfort (UFC on FX 8)
Keys to Victory: Former Strikeforce champion Rockhold has a ton of ways to win this fight. Training out of Northern California's famed American Kickboxing Academy (AKA), Rockhold brings the laser-sharp focus exhibited by championship-winning teammates Cain Velasquez, Daniel Cormier, and Josh Thomson.
He also brings world-class cardio into the bout, signifying that he can easily go full speed for three rounds. After losing to Belfort in his Octagon debut, Rockhold has a huge chip on his shoulder. He's going to push a relentless pace at Boetsch, using his range to finish the fight with his lethal arsenal of kicks and punches.
If the fight goes to the ground, Rockhold will be just as comfortable. He's a legitimate Brazilian jiu-jitsu black belt with several illustrious grappling achievements, and he also boasts six submission finishes in the cage.
His grappling hasn't been tested whatsoever in the Octagon, but with a win over all-world mat legend "Jacare" on his resume, Boetsch shouldn't present a significant challenge.
Boetsch does have a judo background, so Rockhold needs to keep his takedown defense on point. Given his training camp of ultra-talented wrestlers, that most likely won't be much of a problem in Baltimore.
Record: 17-6 overall, 8-5 UFC
Key Wins: Yushin Okami (UFC 144), Hector Lombard (UFC 149), David Heath (UFC 81)
Key Losses: Mark Munoz (UFC 162), Costa Philippou (UFC 155), Phil Davis (UFC 123), Matt Hamill (UFC Fight Night 13)
Keys to Victory: Boetsch has the odds stacked against him here.
After talking himself up following his amazing come-from-behind knockout over Okami in February 2012, Boetsch has faltered in a big way during following challenges.
His only two wins since then have been questionable split decisions over Lombard and Dollaway, and he's looked flat and uninspired in three recent losses. He's also facing arguably one of the most hungry and motivated fighters in MMA today.
To defeat Rockhold, Boetsch obviously has to make this fight ugly. He'll need to clinch with Rockhold as soon as he can, pushing the action up against the cage to negate Rockhold's length and striking. If he can do that, he may be able to find a throw or takedown to score some points with ground and pound.
But he has to be careful not to get wrapped up in a fight-ending choke or armbar.
Boetsch has only tapped out once in his entire career, and he's only been knocked out twice. He's definitely a resilient fighter, but his striker has proven to be light years behind the dynamic kickboxing that Rockhold continues to display.
As a sizeable six-to-one underdog, Boetsch will have to pull off something truly special to halt Rockhold's rise. It won't win him any fans, but he has to turn it into a grinding affair to have any chance.
Bottom Line from Baltimore: The bottom line for this fight is that it presents an odd pairing for Rockhold; one that, on the surface, appears to have been booked to keep him busy while the other top-ranked middleweights clear up their schedules and heal from injuries.
Boetsch is lucky to have the opportunity he does, and a loss could possibly see him released from the promotion. He could have just as easily lost four in a row were he not the benefactor of some awful judging in the last two years.
Rockhold is still more than angry about his debut loss to Belfort, and that fire will likely burn fierce until he gets a chance to avenge it. Because of that, it's hard to imagine Boetsch standing in the way of that path.
However, if Rockhold is looking past Boetsch onto bigger and better bouts, there is always that small window of opportunity for "Barbarian" to club Rockhold into an upset.
Just don't count on it.
If Rockhold can score his second straight finish, he'll probably be headed for a pivotal bout, one that could be against either of his former Strikeforce foes Souza or Kennedy. Those are top quality bouts, so Rockhold needs to keep his eye on the prize and continue winning.
Expect him to do just that.
Luke Rockhold is poised to take on the top of the UFC middleweight division, but first he has to get past Tim Boetsch. Can ‘Barbarian' somehow send Rockhold to his second UFC loss?