Evans takes Griffin’s UFC belt by TKO

Rashad Evans has never known what it’s like to leave the Octagon a loser.

He still doesn’t.

Evans was seeking to stay unbeaten and take Forrest Griffin’s Ultimate Fighting Championship light heavyweight title. A big right hand in the third round dropped Griffin, and after pounding his opponent, Evans earned a technical knockout victory in front of 14,103 at the MGM Grand Garden.

In the other featured bouts, Wanderlei Silva was unable to make it 3-for-3 against Quinton “Rampage” Jackson as Jackson scored a first-round TKO of the Brazilian in their scheduled three-round light heavyweight bout.

Frank Mir stopped Antonio Nogueira with a second-round TKO to win the interim heavyweight title and earn a shot at UFC world champion Brock Lesnar to unify the title.

For Evans, winner of Season 2 of “The Ultimate Fighter,” his victory over Season 1 winner Griffin established him as one of the UFC’s biggest stars.

“It took me awhile to warm up, but I got there,” said Evans, who raised his record to 18-0-1. “I didn’t want to come in with just one mindset because that’s when you can get yourself in trouble. I tried to give myself as many options as possible.

“I’m ready to take on all comers.”

Griffin used his legs early, trying to knock Evans off his feet. But Evans was able to handle the blows and counter with a couple of left hands.

In the second round, Griffin mauled Evans with several knee thrusts. The crowd came to its feet, sensing the champ was on the verge of victory.

Evans again weathered the attack but got nailed by a big right hand just as the round was ending. Griffin was ahead on all three judges’ scorecards as the third round began.

But he might have gone to the well once too often with his kicks. Evans blocked a thrust early in the round, took Griffin to the ground and began hammering away.

“The ground-and-pound was effective,” Evans said. “I was on him and his guard was loose. He was letting me hit him, and I was saying to myself, ‘Dang, he’s hurt.’ I thought I rocked him, but Forrest was tough.”

Griffin (16-5) was absorbing tremendous punishment, and referee Steve Mazzagatti stepped in, stopping the bout at 2:46. He made the correct decision, Griffin conceded.

“I didn’t know what was going on at that point,” he said. “I think I was hurt when I went down, but I honestly don’t remember much after that.”

No fight on the 10-bout card had the bad blood that existed between the long-feuding Silva and Jackson. But the fight didn’t last long.

With less than two minutes to go in the first round, Jackson unleashed a huge left hook that caught Silva flush on the chin. Silva went down in a heap, and before Jackson could pounce on him, ref Yves Lavigne stopped the fight at 3:21.

Jackson (29-7) avenged two previous losses to Silva and proved he wasn’t washed up after losing his belt to Griffin on July 5. Ten days later he was arrested in Orange County, Calif., after crashing his truck into a couple of cars and leading police on a chase.

“Whooo, I’ve been waiting a long time for this. Rampage is back!” he said. “This guy destroyed me twice. I knew I could beat him.”

Silva (32-9-1) was taken to Valley Hospital as a precaution.

Mir’s victory as a 4-1 underdog against Nogueira lifted him to 12-3. Early in the second round, a left hand by Mir put down Nogueira (31-5-1), and he stayed down, as referee Herb Dean stopped it at 1:54.

Now Mir will get another shot at Lesnar, whom he beat Feb. 2 by submission. It is Lesnar’s lone loss in his brief UFC career.

“Lesnar has the belt,” Mir said. “I don’t want to be a half-champion.”

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