PHILADELPHIA (AP) - In the 14 months Rashad Evans stayed out of the octagon, he stewed as he watched fight after fight go on without him. His layoff stretched so long, Evans even stopped feeling like a fighter.
With each vicious barrage, Evans showed in his return he’s still as dangerous as ever.
Evans delivered a crushing knee to Tito Ortiz’s chest, then ended the fight with a series of blows to the head to shake off an unusually long layoff and win the main event of UFC 133 on Saturday night.
“I knew what I had to come in and do,” Evans said.
Evans hardly looked rusty - just spectacular, in front of a Philly crowd that showered him with boos.
Evans finished Ortiz’s unlikely revival at 4 minutes, 48 seconds into Round 2 via TKO. Evans had Ortiz pinned against the cage when he blasted a right knee into the abdomen that crumpled Ortiz. Evans (21-1-1) finished Ortiz (17-9-1) with punishing right hands, and staked his claim as the No. 1 contender for the light heavyweight championship.
He has a bigger bout ahead. UFC light heavyweight champion Jon Jones has a title defense against Quinton “Rampage” Jackson set for UFC 135 in Denver on Sept. 24. Evans, a former light heavyweight champion, is in line to face the winner.
“I would prefer to get it from Jones,” Ortiz said. “I’d love to be the first person to really beat him.”
Ortiz took this fight on short notice after a stunning win last month in UFC 132 in Las Vegas. Wearing sunglasses to hide his battered face, Ortiz said he wanted to fight again, hopefully before the end of this year.
“I don’t regret it, not at all,” Ortiz said. “I’m a fighter, I love fighting.”
The bout was a rematch from their draw in 2007.
In the other featured bout, Vitor Belfort stopped Yoshihiro Akiyama with a first-round knockout, throwing a flurry of punches to dominate like his days atop the light heavyweight division.
Both fighters spent the opening moments of the round feeling each other out in the octagon which brought some boos from the restless Philadelphia crowd. Belfort pounced and knocked down Akiyama with a right hook. Belfort (20-9-0) swarmed his fallen foe and pummeled him on the ground. Belfort won the middleweight bout in 1 minute, 52 seconds.
“I have the courage it takes to be one of the best,” Belfort said. “I feel strong, fit, powerful and fast.”
Ortiz and Evans ended the card on a high note in UFC’s return to Philadelphia at the Wells Fargo Center.
Evans opened the bout with vicious body shots and uppercuts that stuck Ortiz against the cage. Ortiz escaped with a knee, but Evans came right back and dumped Ortiz on his back. He pounded Ortiz until the horn sounded.
Ortiz had his chance in the second when he briefly caught Evans in the guillotine. Evans broke free and dominated what was left of the second round.
“Rashad was the better man tonight,” Ortiz said. “I take my hat off to him, and I will be back.”
Evans had his right hand taped at the post-fight press conference, saying he hurt his thumb.
UFC 134 is set for Aug. 27 in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil.
Former 76ers star Charles Barkley, actor Mickey Rourke, light heavyweight boxing champion Bernard Hopkins and UFC star Quinton “Rampage” Jackson were among the celebrities in the crowd.
Hopkins and UFC president Dana White had a brief conversation before the start of the main card. The crowd went wild when Jackson walked in and the former “The A-Team” actor posed for pictures to the delight of the rabid fans.
UFC returned to this city for the first time since UFC 101 two years ago. But White promised last month Philadelphia would become a regular stop on the UFC calendar.
“Awesome, I love this town. Great town,” White said from his seat. “You can’t go wrong in Philly.”
Unlike 101, the Wells Fargo Center wasn’t sold out. The arena sold about 11,500 seats in the 12,00-seat configuration. It was loud and fans booed both Ortiz and Evans when they were shown on the six video screens hanging near the upper deck.
UFC’s debut in Philadelphia included a $3.55 million gate. White said Saturday night 133 had a $1.5 million gate.
“Listen, when is it ever boring in Philly,” Ortiz asked. “It’s a fight town ... long before UFC.”
Most of the fights on the six-bout undercard lacked the punishing action the Philly crowd was dying to see until Alexander Gustafsson won the finale by bashing and bloodying Matt Hamill en route to a second-round TKO.
“Usually when the prelims go like this,” White said, “the main card is hopefully going to be a barnburner.”
Ortiz resurrected his career with a first-round submission victory over Ryan Bader last month at UFC 132 and stepped in when the card needed a replacement fighter in this main event. Evans, the top contender for the light heavyweight belt, hadn’t fought since beating Jackson by unanimous decision 14 months ago at UFC 114.
It sure didn’t show Saturday.
“If that was ring rust,” White said, “it’s going to be scary to see what it’s like when he’s not rusty.”
Jones was scheduled to face Evans until he dropped out with an injured hand. Former Penn State wrestler Phil Davis was next on the list, but an undisclosed injury forced him out of the lucrative fight.
In a bind, White called on Ortiz.
In their first battle, Ortiz and Evans scratched out a 28-28 draw on July 7, 2007 in UFC 73 in Sacramento, Calif.
This one was never that close.