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 take a look at the lone rookie from the UFC 153 card, Renee Forte, and also review the performance of Wagner Prado, whose Octagon debut at UFC on Fox 4 in August was cut short.
Renee Forte was one of the competitors on the first season of The Ultimate Fighter: Brazil, and he made his official debut at UFC 153 against the runner-up in the TUF Brazil competition, Sergio Moraes. Both men competed in the middleweight division on the reality series, but as is often the case with TUF competitors, 185 was not their preferred home and they moved down to welterweight for this affair.
In Forte’s case, even 170 appears to be less than ideal. That’s the weight he competed at prior to his time on the show, but a move to 155 might be in his near future, according to the UFC’s broadcast team of Joe Rogan and Mike Goldberg. Perhaps the shift might help give him a size advantage and better fortunes.
Forte, who previously trained with Nova Uniao, but was invited to join the Team Nogueira camp several months ago, was submitted in the quarterfinal round of TUF Brazil by eventual finalist Daniel Sarafian. And he would be submitted again at UFC 153 by Sarafian’s replacement in the TUF finals, Moraes.
The submission losses are not a good sign for a fighter that teaches jiu-jitsu when he isn’t training. And Forte’s resume is also weak on submission wins—his last came in 2008. Forte has been more of a striker of late, but he’s also gone just 1-2 over his last three outings. And he’s just one for his last four if the exhibition loss to Sarafian is taken into account.
Forte remained competitive through two-plus rounds, and often got the better of the striking exchanges. But this is against a submission specialist in Moraes, not a vaunted striker. Even when Forte was able to get the upper hand, he was hesitant and definitely lacked aggression. Despite his background in BJJ, Forte was worried about takedowns and Moraes’ ground game to the point that it stifled some of his own offense.
A move to 155 might turn the tide for Forte, though the question is whether the UFC will give him the opportunity. Should he manage to stick for another fight, we might see better things from him at lightweight. But as a welterweight, he’s going to spend too much time fending off takedowns and not enough time establishing his own skill set as a weapon.
After his initial fight with Phil Davis at UFC on Fox 4, Prado’s potential in that event’s edition of Octagon Jitters remained high. After all, Prado was still undefeated and looked to have the upper hand in the brief striking exchange prior to the eye poke and the subsequent no-contest ruling. With that fight ending prematurely, a full review of Prado’s potential wasn’t quite possible, so therefore we revisit the Brazilian fighter’s future potential in the pair’s rematch at UFC 153.
In this go-around, Prado once again attempted to establish his striking attack. It was to no avail, however, as Davis implemented a game plan heavily focused on takedowns and grappling. And Prado, a blue belt in Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu, had very little to offer in those departments.
The fact that Prado was at times ragdolled around the cage by Davis suggests that he won’t get very far in the upper tiers of the division. Prado might be a striking beast, but he’s been one against competition on the Brazilian circuit, and he didn’t look overly intimidating inside the Octagon on Saturday.
Granted, he was fighting one of the best wrestlers out there, but if he’s to break through in the UFC’s light heavyweight division, he’s going to encounter guys like Rashad Evans, Glover Teixeira and Jon Jones, all of whom would take a similar approach to that of Davis, with probable similar results. And none of those men—or Lyoto Machida, Alexander Gustafsson and Mauricio “Shogun” Rua, for that matter—will have all that difficult a time with Prado in the stand-up department either.
Prado’s enthusiasm has made him a joy to watch, but it’s hard to see him getting very far in a division filled with wrestlers who can also stand toe-to-toe with opponents and slug it out. Prado could score the occasional TKO victory over an established UFC veteran, but he doesn’t have the rounded skill set to carry an extended streak of success.
Photo: Renee Forte (sitting upright) is dejected after being submitted (Esther Lin/MMA Fighting)