Both fighters have sustained a presence in the UFC despite sporadic losses to stalwart competition. After his wild brawl with Ed Herman to win the third season of The Ultimate Fighter, Grove flourished twice more with domineering stoppages over Chris Price and Alan Belcher, unveiling his grappling expertise in the process.
Consecutive knockouts while trading with Patrick Cote and Jorge Rivera slowed his roll, but Grove regained velocity with a hard-fought decision over the late Evan Tanner and a trampling of Jason Day. Despite dropping a unanimous decision to veteran black belt Ricardo Almeida next time out, Grove didn't disappoint and seemed to be getting the hang of applying his dual-pronged Thai and submission arsenal. Since then he's alternated wins (Jake Rosholt, Goran Reljic) and losses (Mark Munoz, Demian Maia) leading up to UFC 130.
In his Octagon debut at UFC 81, "The Barbarian" sounded like another cliche nickname until Tim Boetsch threw Dave Heath to the ground and beat the crap out of him. That's really how simple, untechnical, yet effectively gruesome it was. The "Gimme Your Lunch Money" beatdown was just brash enough to magnetize fans with it's straight-forward ferocity.
He was fast-tracked to a bout with Matt Hamill, in which he fell by TKO but had only six weeks to prepare for. After starching Michael Patt at UFC 88, Boetsch's UFC 96 decision loss to Jason Brilz resulted in his UFC release. Boetsch compiled three straight in smaller promotions and returned at UFC 117 to score a decision over Todd Brown, but couldn't match the wrestling and athleticism of Phil Davis, who tapped him with an unorthodox hammerlock against the fence.
Boetsch was plenty sturdy at light-heavyweight, but will now take the plunge to 185 and re-mass back to 205 by fight time. As the steep weight cut has historically proven, it can be both a massive advantage and an insurmountable burden. If Boetsch can retain the same strength and agility without fatiguing, his wrestling and overall toughness will wreak havoc on most middleweights.
The trade-off is that fighting while gassed is just like those nightmares your superego represses in which your fastest sprint is stuck in slow-motion and your strongest haymaker has the power of a "good game" pat on the buns.
We'll take a look at how the match-up breaks down in the full entry.
With the strengths that each fighter wants to exploit being fairly apparent, the first bonus that comes to mind for Grove is that he's been sharpening his sprawl-and-brawl game for years now.
He's maximized his jaw-dropping height (6'6") and reach (79") advantages with increasingly laser-straight boxing, an intelligent and thorny clinch game, and nimble footwork.
Should Boetsch perfectly assimilate to 185, he will present the same type of challenges and attributes that Mark Munoz did to Grove.
Keeping an open, squared-up stance, Grove is adroit with interchanging his left back and forth from the jab when his opponent is outside to a tight hook in close quarters, both measuring distance to set up his crisp right hand. For sheer power, a straight, rising knee and the uppercut shown in the animation above are what greets foes who invade primitively without using angles.
Boetsch is a power-boxer who cleaves with wide hooks and overhands more than straight shots. He likes to bury himself in the pocket, preferably with his opponent against the fence, tuck his chin, and unload ruthlessly with both hands. Boetsch is also a proficient dirty boxer and clever at showering with strikes to grab the clinch.
Even though Grove is the superior striker, Boetsch still has the heft to put him to sleep and the confidence and experience to trade with him. The closer in proximity he gets, the more dangerous he is, which is why distance and footwork will dictate success on the feet for both.
I chose the extended version of this popular sequence to note the subtle variation of technique Boetsch shows in the clinch.
First, he lands successive knees while Heath retreats. Instead of throwing one and pausing to compensate for the change of distance and then recoiling for another, Boetsch's balance and tight-armed grip allows him to high-step three knees in just three steps.
His opponent, David Heath, doesn't enjoy this for some reason, decides to hold his ground and posture up to break the sequence. As soon as he does, Boetsch shellacks him in the face with a short elbow. Heath then shifts his momentum to lumbering forward, and Boetsch again adjusts by stepping back and firing a knee straight upward to the chin before executing the schoolyard bully throw.
This variety of offense and relentless battering can be genuinely disheartening. The recycled term of a fighter "imposing his will" is a very real thing, and being overwhelmed like that can tax you mentally.
Grove has become surprisingly technical with his clinch work. His first priority is to avoid sinking at all costs and stay swimming; usually by cocking his hips back and out of reach with underhooks or by controlling the head. His fiery and diverse offense supplements his defensive strategies, as his length permits him to threaten with the standing D'arce or guillotines without compromising his posture.
There are actually two different knees that Grove lands in the animation to the right.
Traditionally, when a fighter risks going airborne with this technique while one leg is being detained, it's an "all or nothing" result because they usually end up on their back. To be able to keep your footing means you have excellent balance, and that balance in a long frame like Kendall Grove's translates to some serious leverage.
The first knee is impressive alone, but check out what kind of proportions we're talking about in the slow-mo version -- Grove's waist and knee are level with the Spike logo on the top of the cage. He also gets beautiful extension on the final delivery, which is just a scary display of technical violence.
Against Boetsch, he'll want to keep his waist and hips away while keeping his chin protected. Just like Grove can chain things together in the free movement phase, Boetsch can and will interchange takedown attempts with heavy strikes here, forcing Grove to adapt to the changing landscape of duress.
Their roles standing are effectively reversed in the clinch, as the tall technician has no need to panic or lose composure if Boetsch gets ahold of him, and can even finish the fight from here in myriad way.
However, close-range brawling is "The Barbarian's" sweet spot, and though it's not based on technical skill, I think he'll do well against Grove in the clinch.
Perhaps guilty of optimism, I thought Grove showed amazing artistry on the ground with Demian Maia. Not only did he survive in extended periods of time, but patiently persevered Maia taking his back on numerous occasions. If you're going to lose a ground battle and walk away looking good, fighting off one of the best grapplers in MMA history from a litany of precarious positions is a great way to do it.
It's important to note to that Grove's astounding defensive technique will be different versus Boetsch, who will look to test his chin instead. Maia throws strikes as a distraction to improve position, where Boetsch will be content with any position he can drop cannons from.
Boetsch was a four-time state wrestling champion and All American, and also wrestled at Pennsylvania's Division One Lock Haven University in college. His loss to Davis was the first time he'd ever been submitted in MMA.
However, the differences between Maia and Boetsch will also allow Grove to be much more active and offensive-minded with his guard. He uses his leverage well, especially with his feet, where he has the flexibility to slam long up-kicks and then drape a leg over the shoulder of the descending fighter.
Boetsch's ground-and-pound might throw everything out of whack. Kendall is easily the superior Jiu-Jitsu technician, but will be dueling with a burly wrestler with exemplary submission defense. I'd normally give Grove the edge here, but considering the questions surrounding his chin and Boetsch's power, I'll call it even.
With his strength, heavy hands, solid chin and submission defense, Tim Boetsch at 185 should be the quintessential poison to dismantle Grove. His only losses were by strikes against Matt Hamill, by submission against Phil Davis, and by decision against phenomenal wrestlers Vladimir Matyushenko and Jason Brilz.
Those are all beefy and compact wrestlers, a description none will use for Grove, which is why I'm surprised to see the lines favoring "Da Spyda" in this one.
This ruins my plan of picking Grove for the upset despite facing what is obviously a very poor match-up for him. I think Boetsch's conditioning after the cut is the biggest factor. If he's got energy, he should be able to barrel into range and either catch Kendall with a jackhammer or win by decision. For a wager, I'd probably take Boetsch by decision.
However, my personal pick will be for Grove to take it, even though I don't really know how. He could simply outwork him to a decision, or he has the accuracy to find his chin, and I think he's better with submissions than anyone else Boetsch has encountered.
My Prediction: Grove by submission
Boetsch vs. Heath gif from mmagif.blogspot.com
Grove vs. Rosholt and Tanner gifs from MMA-Core.com
All other gifs from IronForgesIron.com