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Sunday, Aug. 7, 2011 | 12:10 a.m.
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PHILADELPHIA — Rashad Evans accomplished one of the most difficult feats imaginable in the UFC Saturday night at the Wells Fargo Center.
It was even more rare than improving his all-time record in the octagon to 11-1-1, arguably the most impressive mark in the organization. It could have been harder to fathom than becoming only the third man to ever defeat Tito Ortiz via knockout, which he did 4:48 into the second round of their UFC 133 main event clash.
After a 14-month layoff, Evans got UFC President Dana White to at least partially admit he was wrong. At the post-fight press conference, White openly questioned his long-held stance on fighters taking time off.
“I talk a lot of stuff and am a big believer in ring rust,” White said. “Rashad (messed) my theory up a little bit. He didn’t look rusty at all. He looked great.”
Evans had gone through the most trying time of his career leading up to Saturday night. He hadn’t fought since a UFC 114 victory over nemesis Quinton “Rampage” Jackson in May 2010.
An endless string of bad luck — mostly due to injuries to himself and scheduled opponents — had made watching teammates and potential competitors the closest Evans (16-1-1 MMA, 11-1-1 UFC) got to being in the cage. Though frustrating at times, Evans felt he turned the situation into a positive.
It was only a matter of showing it to White and skeptical fans against Ortiz (16-9-1 MMA, 15-9-1 UFC).
“Having this much time off allowed me to do things I have never done before,” Evans said. “It was a blessing in disguise.”
After a falling-out with former teammate and light heavyweight champion Jon Jones, Evans left Greg Jackson’s gym in Albuquerque, N.M., for a fresh start earlier this year. He settled at Imperial Athletics in Boca Raton, Fla.
But it was more than a switch of training camps that sparked a change in Evans. He started working out more than ever before, he said.
His old routine was to jet off to Albuquerque for eight weeks before a bout to work hard and get into fighting shape. He’d move back to his home in Chicago, eat whatever he wanted and not even think about training as soon as an event was over.
For four months leading up to UFC 133, however, Evans reported all he did was work out and go to the beach.
“I did two camps back-to-back,” Evans said. “That’s a lot more than I normally did. I’ve never lived the life of a fighter.”
His renewed focus was probably part of the reason for the speed and strength advantages he held over Ortiz, who said he didn’t remember Evans seeming this sharp when they fought to a draw at UFC 73 four years ago.
Evans was the better wrestler, highlighted when he picked up Ortiz and slammed him to the mat late in the first round. Evans out-struck Ortiz, too, by a wide margin.
He showed off his Brazilian jiu-jitsu defense when he weaseled out of the same guillotine choke that Ortiz finished Ryan Bader with a month ago.
“A lot of times Rashad has caught flack for double-legging, getting you up against the fence and trying to wrestle,” White said. “That wasn’t a wrestling match tonight. That was a well-rounded mixed martial arts fight. It was very impressive.”
The shot that everyone will remember from UFC 133 was the one Evans used to finish Ortiz. With Evans standing over his grounded opponent, he loaded up his right knee and fired into Ortiz’s midsection.
A wounded Ortiz tried to respond but had nothing left.
“My body shut down,” Ortiz said. “My mind was saying, ‘Fight, fight, fight,’ and my body was saying, ‘No, no, no.’”
As Evans celebrated the victory, Ortiz came up and told him to recapture the 205-pound belt they both formerly held. Ortiz said he wanted Evans to prove he was the best in the world.
Evans retained his status as the No. 1 contender for the light heavyweight title with the win and will take on the winner of the UFC 135 main event between Jones and Jackson. Evans is known for extensive feuds with both men.
“I would prefer to get it from Jones because I would love to be the first person to actually beat him,” Evans said. “He’s so cocky. He’s real cocky. I’m on camera, joking around cocky. He’s like go to sleep, praise himself cocky. I would love to teach him a lesson.”
White is convinced Evans may have it in him after Saturday night’s performance. White said it was scary that this was Evans’ first fight back.
Evans thought the time away was exactly what he needed.
“After 14 months off,” Evans said, “I feel better than ever.”