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 two newcomers from UFC on Fuel TV 6.

Motonobu Tezuka — split decision loss to Alex Caceres

As is sometimes the case with debuting UFC fighters, Motonobu Tezuka stepped in on short notice to replace an injured fighter. When Kyung Ho Kang was forced to bow out of his fight with Alex “Bruce Leeroy” Caceres, the UFC opted for the eccentric Tezuka as a replacement. Entering the bout with a 19-4-4 mark and 12 wins over his last 13 outings, Tezuka appeared to be a veteran who could capitalize on an Octagon debut versus an opponent with less experience and a sub-par overall record. But just seeing the size disparity between the two men was enough to suggest where this one was headed.

As far as skills, the 25-year-old Japanese fighter is purely a ground technician (though his record suggests an inability to score the finish). It showed against Caceres, as Tezuka looked like a fish out of water in the stand-up department. He also failed to use his striking to set up his takedowns, which made for a difficult night filled with stuffed shots and a number of situations where Tezuka could do nothing put hug an ankle or trap a wrist in an attempt to drag the bigger, longer Caceres into a grappling match.

The problem is that Tezuka’s ground game was lacking too. Against the bigger Caceres, Tezuka seemed content to lay and pray just to avoid having to stand with the TUF alum or risk the chance of being swept or submitted by Caceres. Tezuka showed glimmers of hope with an armbar attempt, a slick guard pass and one trip takedown, but for the most part, his game was just ineffective.

It’s hard to believe that Tezuka once fought at featherweight, where he won the 2009 Deep Future King tournament. His successes in Pancrase and Deep give signs of his potential, but it was obvious against Caceres that Tezuka is in the wrong weight class. He would be better served in attempting a drop to flyweight, where his style would be more effective against men that don’t hold substantial reach and weight advantages against him. If he moves to flyweight, his potential might increase to medium, as he could easily become a mid-tier gatekeeper, but at bantamweight, Tezuka won’t find much success in the UFC’s eight-sided cage.

Potential: Low

Jon Tuck — unanimous decision victory over Tiequan Zhang

UFC newcomer Jon Tuck might have had one of the biggest tasks to undertake on Saturday. He was the lone fighter to face an opponent that calls China home. Yet, no matter how overrated that particular Chinese fighter may be—with just two wins in six Zuffa outings, Tiequan Zhang is far from a force within the lightweight division—Tuck still delivered an impressive performance.

Tuck’s striking was a bit risky and reckless, as he kept his hands low and at times allowed Zhang to connect on punches. That’s not something that the Guam native should make a habit of doing, as other division rivals will put him to sleep where Zhang could not. Tuck does have knockout power of his own—he once scored an eight-second KO of top Filipino fighter Eduard Folayang—but he didn’t put it on display in his Octagon debut.

Instead, the ground game was where Tuck showed off his best skills. The 28-year-old, who fought in the qualifying round of TUF Live but lost (and dislocated his toe) versus Al Iaquinta, was able to dominate the battle for position. Although Zhang scored with takedowns, Tuck was aggressive in throwing up submission attempts that allowed him to reverse positions. He was able to mount Zhang on more than one occasion and took the Chinese fighter’s back several times. Despite finishing his previous six opponents within the first round to go undefeated, Tuck’s submission attempts couldn’t put an end to Zhang’s night. Tuck is only a brown belt in Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu, meaning that he’s reaching a level where submissions that worked for him in the past might not be so effective anymore.

One real area for concern was Tuck’s cardio, as the rookie faded in the third round. Although he was still able to win the fight, and even took the third stanza on one judges’ scorecard, it’s not a good sign that he had so much trouble putting away a grossly overrated fighter such as Zhang, or that he wore himself out in the process.

Tuck might look good in his sophomore effort, but once he picks up a few wins and earns the right to face a higher level of competition, we’ll see his cardio fail him. Add in how low his hands tend to remain during striking exchanges, and it’s not hard to see him becoming highlight reel material, though on the wrong end of the highlights.

Potential: Low to Medium

Photo: Jon Tuck (L) throws a flying knee against Tiequan Zhang (Tracy Lee/Combat Lifestyle)