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 lone newcomer from UFC on Fox 6.

Sean Spencer — third-round submission loss to Rafael Natal

Sometimes, fighters have to seize the opportunity, even if the particular opportunity is likely to end up adding to their loss column. One such scenario where this applies is when the UFC comes calling for a short-notice replacement. Sean “Black Magic” Spencer typically operates at 170 pounds, but when the UFC asked him to fight at middleweight, he stepped up. Perhaps his willingness to help the promotion out will earn him a second go-around with the company, but his first outing found him in the cage with the much larger Rafael Natal. Needless to say, things did not end well for Spencer.

Size truly was the biggest difference in this fight. Spencer landed nice combinations throughout the opening stanza, but, partly due to Natal’s size, the punches seemed to lack power, with the exception of one blow that wobbled Natal for a split second.

Spencer’s striking is his bread and butter, but it had its holes. His lunging attacks left him open for counters, and instead of covering up with his hands to deflect his adversaries strikes, Spencer would lower his stance and lean backwards. That leaning style of avoiding punches actually led to Natal landing several blows.

Where Spencer will find himself in trouble at the UFC level, whether at middleweight or his more natural home at welterweight, is on the ground. Any time that Natal took Spencer down, “Black Magic” looked all but helpless. Natal mounted him and worked him over with strikes and submission attempts in all three frames. At one point, he even pinned both of Spencer’s arms in a crucifix position, leaving the Octagon newcomer unable to defend himself against a number of elbow strikes. Then Natal transitioned to an arm-triangle choke that forced Spencer to tap out.

Granted, Natal’s size and grappling acumen make him a danger in such spots even against larger middleweights, but Spencer’s inability to do anything on the ground will make him a target for wrestlers and grapplers at 170 pounds. Although he did stuff a few of Natal’s takedowns, he was mostly grounded with ease. Spencer did show a lot of heart in hanging in there as Natal attempted to choke him out at the end of the second stanza, but heart will only take you so far.

Further confirming Spencer’s weakness on the ground is the fact that his other loss was also via submission. In the win column, Spencer tends to take fights to the judges, which suggests that his lack of power might not be limited to fights at 185 pounds.

Despite some nice foot work in the first frame, Spencer’s showing was not enough to convince anyone that he’ll be a UFC mainstay. If he is afforded the opportunity to take a crack at the UFC’s welterweight division, he might manage to pick up a win or two. However, wins earn fighters tougher opponents, and if Spencer manages to earn a mid-tier opponent at 170, he’ll be dominated in similar fashion to what we saw on Saturday night. With a lack of finishing ability and a tendency to flounder on the mat, Spencer’s UFC run will likely be a short one.

Potential: Low

Photo: Sean Spencer (R) battles Rafael Natal at UFC on Fox 6 (Dave Mandel/Sherdog)

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