Octagon jitters—it’s an infamous term. The first time a fighter steps into the UFC’s eight-sided cage, there will always be talk of whether the emotional rush and the nerves surrounding his debut will have a profound impact on his performance.
Pundits and fans making predictions on fights will cite the jitters as a reason to doubt a fighter’s chances. And in the aftermath of a defeat, these same jitters will take part of the blame for the fighter’s downfall.
So, following each UFC event, The MMA Corner will look at the fighters who made their Octagon debuts and provide impressions on their performances and their future potential under the UFC banner. In this edition, we focus on the five newcomers from UFC on FX TV 5.
Jussier “Formiga” da Silva entered his bout on Friday night as one of the best flyweights that UFC fans had never heard of. To those that follow mixed martial arts on a regional and international level, he’s known as the longtime No. 1 flyweight in the world, the Shooto Brazil champion and a veteran of Tachi Palace Fights.
But there were a few weaknesses that were sure to be exposed upon Formiga’s arrival in the Octagon, much like they were exposed in his only prior loss in TPF against fellow UFC flyweight Ian McCall. The Nova Uniao product might train alongside the likes of featherweight champion Jose Aldo, but unlike Aldo, Formiga thrives solely on the ground. His striking might be a tad underrated, but we are talking about a guy who has seven submission wins, seven victories via decision and zero wins by way of (T)KO.
While Formiga’s submissions are his bread and butter, he demonstrated against both McCall and now John Dodson that he doesn’t have the takedown ability to get the division’s elite to the mat. In the stand-up, he could not match Dodson’s speed to close the distance and tie up with the Jackson’s MMA product. That led to his ultimate downfall, as he fell to Dodson in the second round for the TKO loss.
Formiga seems poised to take up his position as the gatekeeper to the championship level of the division. His inability to get the takedown is going to put him at a serious disadvantage against the likes of the division’s champion, Demetrious Johnson, and top contenders Ian McCall, John Dodson and Joseph Benavidez. It’s more probable that Formiga can be the litmus test for the likes of Darren Uyenoyama, Josh Ferguson, Louis Gaudinot and John Lineker, the next tier of flyweights looking to break through and earn a shot at the belt.
The problem flyweights have had up until the last year is that there was no demand for the division. That has led many a natural 125er to compete at ten to twenty pound disadvantages in the bantamweight and featherweight divisions. Case in point: Phil Harris.
The British submission specialist entered the UFC with just two flyweight bouts under his belt. Before that, he competed as a featherweight, still managing to compile a 19-9 record with one no-contest. At flyweight, Harris sports a more muscular physique than we’re accustomed to seeing in the division. He used it well in the early moments of his fight with Darren Uyenoyama, especially in the clinch but also in scoring takedowns. The trouble for Harris came when he was taken down. Uyenoyama started hitting Harris and the Brit gave up his back and the fight-ending choke.
Harris’ flyweight resume is short. Would he have suffered those other nine losses had the contests come at 125 rather than 145? There’s no telling. What we did see from Harris is a grinding clinch and takedown game that goes against what we usually witness in flyweight encounters. To be successful in the UFC, Harris is going to have to use that style to his advantage. He can muscle his way to some wins, but the fact is that the speed of most 125ers will allow them to elude Harris. The other issue comes in how quickly he wilted on his back when his opponent applied some pressure through ground-and-pound.
The shallow talent pool in the UFC’s flyweight division will likely give Harris a few more opportunities to excel. He didn’t show an overwhelming grappling attack despite that being his area of expertise, and he doesn’t have the striking ability to keep up with the division’s quick, elusive fighters. Harris could become part of the division’s lower tier in the UFC, winning enough fights to avoid a pink slip, but never stringing together enough wins to climb to contender status.
Photo: Phil Harris (L) battles John Dodson (James Law/Heavy MMA)