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PHILADELPHIA -- The big issue surrounding Rashad Evans heading into his rematch with Tito Ortiz at UFC 133 on Saturday was he hadn't fought in 14 months.
The layoff proved to be an non-issue as Evans pounded Ortiz en route to a second-round TKO.
Evans looked to be in the best shape of his mixed martial arts career. He was much quicker than Ortiz, who took this fight on two week's notice.
"I feel great," said Evans after improving to 16-1-1. "I feel all that hard work paid off."
Ortiz saw his record slip to 16-9-1.
Evans, the top-ranked light heavyweight contender, now waits for the winner of Jon Jones and Quinton Jackson. The two are scheduled to meet Sept. 24. It will be Jones' first title defense.
|Vitor Belfort bounced back from a loss to Anderson Silva by destroying Yoshihiro Akiyama.|
Vitor Belfort said his loss to UFC middleweight champion Anderson Silva in February was a thing of the past, that it would not impact his performance against Yoshihiro Akiyama.
But it did. Belfort came out like a man with a point to prove. And he did.
Belfort looked like his former aggressive, hard-hitting self in knocking out Akiyama at 1:52 of the first round.
"I'm back!" Belfort proclaimed after improving to 20-9. "I want to thank Jesus for everything I have in my life.
"I feel great. Whoever they put before me, watch out!"
Akiyama has now lost three in a row. His professional mixed martial arts record is 13-4
|Brian Ebersole, top, overcame a slow start to blast out Dennis Hallman.|
Veteran Brian Ebersole extended his win streak to nine with a first-round TKO of Dennis Hallman.
The fight didn't start well for Ebersole, who was forced to defend a submission attempt by Hallman. But Ebersole (48-14-1) was able to reverse his position and gain control from the top. From there, Ebersole began pounding Hallman (50-14-2) with elbows and hammer fists.
The fight was called off at 4:28 of the opening round.
"The feeling is bittersweet; the fight didn't start the way I wanted it to start," Ebersole said. "I thought I would have had to wear him down much more but luckily for me he had an open guard, which let me get in there. I'm ecstatic about my two straight [UFC] victories. I want to fight the veterans now, the ones that I came up watching."
|Constantinos Philippou, facing, landed the better shots in edging his way past Jorge Rivera.|
After coming up short in his UFC debut against Nick Catone in March, Constantinos Philippou came away a winner with a split decision over Jorge Rivera.
Two judges scored it 29-28 for Philippou, while Rivera was given a 29-28 edge on the other card. ESPN.com gave Philippou the edge 29-28.
There wasn't much action in this fight as each fighter struggled to gain control. Philippou landed the harder strikes, but Rivera never appeared in trouble.
"I am very happy with winning my first UFC fight, but it wasn't the way I wanted to win it," Philippou said, "I wanted to show off my boxing skills and instead I was wrestling and using my jiu-jitsu skills. But I will learn from my mistakes and come back stronger and fitter."
Rivera has dropped two in a row.
"I wish I had finished the fight," Rivera said. "I think that when the decision is left to the judges, you get what you deserve, and tonight I didn't deserve to win."
|Piling it on: Rory MacDonald showed no respect for his elders on Saturday.|
Rory MacDonald is only 22 years old, but he fights like a seasoned veteran.
MacDonald dominated Mike Pyle by using his jab to set up several hard punches and finished Pyle at 3:34 of the first round to improve to 12-1.
The 35-year-old Pyle, who came into this welterweight showdown on a three-fight win streak, stayed on the ground for more than a minute after referee Kevin Mulhall stopped the bout. Pyle fell to 21-8-1.
"I went in really confident, and I have a lot more to show," MacDonald said. "I'm constantly improving and stepping up the ladder, which is what I want to be doing. Everything went my way tonight, I wanted a clear shot and I knew from looking in his eyes that the fight was over."
Alexander Gustafsson relied on his height and reach advantage to hit Matt Hamill with numerous left uppercuts, but he would use two right uppercuts to drop Hamill before finishing him at 3:34 of the second round.
Gustafsson (12-1-0) has won three in row since his first pro loss, against Phil Davis in April 2010.
"This was by far the biggest fight of my career," Gustafsson said. "It was unbelievable. I think that I was too defensive in the first round, but the second round I felt great. I want a career out of this, I want to fight the best guys in the world."
Hamill, who suffered his second straight loss, fell to 10-4-0.
"I was eager going into the Octagon, but I was also fatigued," Hamill said. "I had little time to prepare for the fight, and you could see my fatigue as my arms were down from the start of the fight. Alexander is a dangerous striker, and it was dangerous for me to have my arms down. I'll be back tougher than ever, though."
|Chad Mendes, facing, stayed on course for a shot at the featherweight title.|
Featherweight Chad Mendes handled Rani Yahya on the feet with superior striking and elusive defense for the first two rounds and showed off his superior wrestling skills by taking Yahya down at will in the third in earning a unanimous decision.
All three judges scored the fight 30-27. ESPN.com also had Mendes winning 30-27.
Mendes, who is likely to land a title shot against the Jose Aldo-Kenny Florian winner, improved to 11-0. Yahya, who has lost three of four, is 16-7.
"Of course we all look for a finish, but overall I am happy with the fight and I felt good," Mendes said. "When I took him down the first time I wanted to see what he felt like. He's a tough guy and I knew he would be strong. I was trying to elbow him and follow through with some quick pop-shots as much as possible."
Yahya was a good sport and admitted feeling Mendes' power.
"Chad is strong and Chad is good," Yahya said. "He is really good at what he does. He kicked me a few times and I felt them for sure, and he has great take downs."
|Keeping Pace: Ivan Menjivar, right, stayed one step ahead of Nick Pace to earn the decision.|
Ivan Menjivar used his superior striking to edge Nick Pace in their three-round bantamweight bout.
All three judges scored the fight 29-28 for Menjivar, as did ESPN.com.
"[I'm] happy with the win," Menijar said. "He took me down so it was a very close fight. I think I punched him more than he did so I was more in control, but he hit me hard twice and that made my legs shake."
Menjivar mixed up his striking with hard punches, kicks and knees that often had Pace in defensive mode. But Pace nearly pulled out the win in the third when he landed a hard knee that injured Menjivar's left eye. Menjivar began retreating to avoid Pace's punches and knees but with less than a minute remaining, Pace couldn't finish his injured foe.
"I hate losing more then I like winning, and I want to be the champion," Pace said. "It was very unlucky, but that's MMA and that's life, its not always fair."
|Johny Hendricks overcame some tense moments to eventually get his hand raised.|
Welterweight Johny Hendricks improved to 11-1 with a split decision over Mike Pierce.
One judge scored the fight 29-28 for Pierce, but the other two saw it for Hendricks 29-28. ESPN.com gave the edge to Hendricks 29-28.
Hendricks repeatedly landed knees to Pierce's chin and midsection and also connected on several left uppercuts.
"It was a very tough fight," Hendricks said. "It's always hard with other wrestlers, and he changed levels often making it even harder. I feel that the take downs were even, in fact, I don't think he took me down at all. I feel awesome, my ground game is good, my knees are great and I am really happy with my improvement."
Pierce fell to 12-4.
"I'm obviously disappointed," Pierce said. "I had a really good camp, went through really good training and I feel disappointed after all the hard work I put in. It was a fair fight, both of us were trying to finish what we started, and unfortunately it went the way it did."
|Mike Thomas Brown got his career back on track by downing Nam Phan.|
Mike Thomas Brown got a much-needed victory over Nam Phan.
The judges scored the fight 29-27, 29-28 and 29-28. ESPN.com scored it 29-27 for Brown.
The former WEC featherweight champion had dropped two in a row and three of his past five fights. Brown dominated the opening round, getting Phan on the ground and landed lefts repeatedly. Phan rebounded in the second with hard rights but Brown won the third by landing harder strikes.
Brown improved to 24-8. Phan is 16-9.
"At the beginning my back was haunting me so that's why I was a little conservative, but I'm glad I got the job done," Brown said. "There was a lot of repetitive trauma there for over four minutes so even though I didn't knock him out, I know that I was breaking him down. It wasn't the most perfect fight, but I'm happy I got the victory."
|Paul Bradley, right, managed to do a whole lot of nothing against Rafael Natal.|
Rafael Natal refused to let the hard-punching Paul Bradley get set and connected repeatedly with kicks to his opponent's left knee to earn a unanimous decision. The judges favored Natal with scores of 30-27, 29-28 and 29-28.
ESPN.com scored the fight 30-27 for Natal, who improved to 13-3-1.
"I am really, really happy about this fight," Natal said. "I feel like I needed it, I worked really hard for it. It was a tough fight and I'm glad I came through winning. Thank you God and thank you UFC."
Bradley, who was making his UFC debut, fell to 18-3 with one no contest.
"I feel like it was my fault, I could have taken him down in the second round," Bradley said. "I didn't, so it's my fault. It was a close fight, and I am disappointed by the result. Like Dana [White] always says, never leave it to the judges."Franklin McNeil covers mixed martial arts and boxing for ESPN.com. Follow him on Twitter at www.twitter.com/Franklin_McNeil.