Octagon jitters is a term thrown around fairly easily in the mixed martial arts community. These jitters have been recognized as irrelevant and labeled as an excuse for many fighters and their lackluster performances. But Octagon jitters are real and depending on the severity, can decide the outcome of a fight.
If you don’t believe me, ask UFC newcomer Hector Lombard, who entered his UFC debut on a mind-boggling 25-fight winning streak. Lombard remained flat-footed the entire evening in his debut at UFC 149 en route to his first loss in nearly six years. If you don’t believe Lombard, ask 23-year-old Michael Kuiper of the Netherlands.
Kuiper, who began his career with an electrifying 11 wins with no losses, received the biggest phone call of his life. He had finally arrived to the world’s top promotion. It was time to showcase his skills and to represent the country he so proudly grew up in. It was time to perform and leave everything inside the Octagon.
But that wasn’t the case at all. Kuiper would suffer the first loss of his career to Rafael Natal via unanimous decision in his debut at UFC 143.
The reason for Kuiper’s first loss? Octagon jitters.
“It was hard. It was the first time in my life that they didn’t raise my arm after a fight,” admitted Kuiper. “Maybe I underestimated the impact that fighting in the UFC brings.”
“I was used to fighting on smaller promotions in Europe in front of smaller crowds, not on TV. Don’t get me wrong, I never underestimated my opponent. I trained really hard for that fight, but I was nervous and it looked like I froze a little bit in the first two rounds. Between rounds two and three, my coach told me to let my hands go and be more aggressive. He was right and it worked,” said Kuiper. “I knocked him down, but couldn’t finish him.”
Fortunately for Kuiper, one loss does not define a career nor does it end a career. Instead, the Dutch product will get yet another opportunity to show the world what he’s all about. The only man standing in the way of Kuiper’s first official Octagon victory is UFC veteran Jared Hamman.
Kuiper hopes to use the only loss of his career to his advantage when action begins in his preliminary bout on Saturday, Aug. 11, at the Pepsi Center in Denver, Colo.
“I’m happy that the UFC is giving me another chance. You always would like to go back and change things. If I learned anything, it’s that I need to start more aggressive. I can’t sit back and wait til the last moment,” admitted Kuiper. “I also need to stop the takedowns.”
“I’ve done a lot of training in Holland, so my kickboxing and Dutch Muay Thai is one of my strong points. I also think I’ll have the advantage because of my judo. I also worked on my ground game with some good grapplers throughout this camp,” said Kuiper.
“The only thing that might hurt me in this fight is my wrestling. Wrestling is not very popular in the country of Holland. There really are no good wrestlers there. I think that’s an area where I might be at a disadvantage in this fight,” Kuiper confessed. “But then again, I always have my judo.”
Granted the Octagon jitters are long gone, we could very well witness the beginning of a force in the UFC’s middleweight division.
Top Photo: Michael Kuiper (top) (Sherdog)