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 four newcomers from UFC 156.

Dustin Kimura — third-round submission victory over Chico Camus

Hawaiian prospect Dustin Kimura was the lone UFC newcomer of the weekend who was not previously featured on a Strikeforce card. Of all the debuting fighters, he was easily the one with the least big-stage experience. However, his inexperience at the highest levels of the game was not evident on Saturday night as he worked his way towards a rear-naked choke finish of Chico Camus.

Kimura’s win earned him some redemption after missing the 135-pound bantamweight limit at the weigh-ins the day before. The bout was contested at a 139.5-pound catchweight and Kimura forfeited 20 percent of his purse to Camus for failing to make weight.

What Kimura demonstrated throughout the fight was a willingness to attack with submissions from any position. On at least one occasion, a Camus takedown looked more like a case of Kimura pulling guard just to drag Camus to the canvas.

Kimura found numerous submission attempts, primarily targeting Camus’ arms before eventually cinching in a rear-naked choke. Kimura’s aggressiveness from his back will certainly cause trouble for the lower levels of the bantamweight division. But Camus isn’t exactly a master of submission defense. The striker repeatedly left his limbs in vulnerable positions, so it was only a matter of time before Kimura attempted something. Against more well-rounded bantamweights, Kimura isn’t likely to find it quite so easy to go for submissions or to transition to advantageous positions.

It’s also unlikely that he’ll run into many strikers that willingly seek the takedown. Kimura didn’t stuff Camus’ takedowns, but then why would he? The ground is where Kimura is obviously the most comfortable, so it makes perfect sense that he would oblige Camus’ in going to the mat. The difference in playing the same game against a different bantamweight who can back the takedown up with ground-and-pound is that Kimura might not enjoy taking a barrage of punches. He could end up in a ton of trouble as he looks for the submission.

With Kimura’s bread and butter coming in the form of his grappling skills, it’s not surprising that his stand-up is average at best. He didn’t looked overwhelmed by Camus, but he did get hit. Put him in there against a fighter with high-level striking skills and the ability to avoid getting dragged into a jiu-jitsu clinic, and Kimura might struggle.

At the lower levels of the UFC’s 135-pound weight class, Kimura will at the very least find a limited amount of success. He’ll give fighters fits on the ground and can hold his own on the feet. However, as he rises through the ranks, he’ll run into fighters that will know better than to test his grappling. They’ll test his stand-up skills instead, and that’s when he’ll hit a brick wall that he can’t scale. Kimura may develop into a lower level gatekeeper, but it’s doubtful he’ll advance beyond that.

Potential: Low to Medium

Isaac Vallie-Flagg — split decision victory over Yves Edwards

Isaac Vallie-Flagg was the first of three Strikeforce imports to debut on the card. The Jackson’s MMA product has been in the sport for nearly 10 years as a professional, but this was his first trip to the Octagon. And, as he has become accustomed to in his recent outings, Vallie-Flagg was able to eke out a split decision victory over his opponent, Yves Edwards.

The split verdict marked the third straight fight where Vallie-Flagg could only convince two of the three judges to lean in his favor. The 34-year-old has stepped up in that time to face the toughest competition of his career—Edwards, Gesias “JZ” Cavalcante and Brian Melancon. Those three wins cap off an 11-0-1 run that dates back to Oct. 2007. Prior to that stretch, Vallie-Flagg was just 3-3 through his first six fights.

As he demonstrated against Cavalcante, Vallie-Flagg can grind his way through a contest and find victory when everyone counts him out. Edwards can now testify to that as well. Vallie-Flagg pushed forward throughout the fight and did enough to take two rounds, with the third round decisively in his favor.

Vallie-Flagg went the brawling route against Edwards. His strikes were looping punches, more haymakers than technical strikes. He did manage to lure Edwards into fighting his style of game, and he could do that repeatedly throughout an extended UFC career. However, that style of fighting can also leave him open to counters and result in Vallie-Flagg finding himself knocked out.

At the same time, Vallie-Flagg did mix up his strikes nicely, landing some knees and blows to the body. His dirty boxing in the clinch could be a key to his future success. If he stays the aggressor in the bout, he has the ability to wear down an opponent with a combination of body shots, knees, kicks, elbows and clinch battles against the cage. But in pressing the action, Vallie-Flagg will test his own cardio.

The effort the native New Mexican put into his strikes on Saturday seemed to strain his endurance, though he did catch a second wind by the third five-minute period. He posted his best round in the third frame, but that was partly because he managed to drain Edwards’ gas tank at an even faster rate than his own. If he tries to push the pace against someone who can push back, Vallie-Flagg is going to find himself in trouble.

On the mat, Vallie-Flagg tends to get complacent at times in just playing defense. He was taken down in the second stanza with relative ease, gave up his back and ended the round fending off a rear-naked choke attempt. That’s where opponents will look to put him in the future. Standing with Vallie-Flagg can result in drawn out wars that result in razor-thin decisions. However, put Vallie-Flagg on the mat and make him work from his back and a fight that goes the distance won’t favor him whatsoever.

With a lengthy undefeated streak and years of experience, Vallie-Flagg will stick around the UFC for at least a few more fights. He has the work rate to press mid-tier fighters beyond their usual limits, but the losses earlier in his career and his habit of squeezing by on split decisions suggests that he’ll struggle with high-level competition.

Potential: Medium

Bobby Green — third-round submission victory over Jacob Volkmann

Of the Strikeforce imports, Bobby “King” Green was probably the name with which fight fans were the least familiar. After losing his Strikeforce debut to Gesias Cavalcante, Green bounced back with four straight wins under the promotion’s banner and earned an invite to the UFC. In his debut, he surprised UFC mainstay Jacob Volkmann and ended the fight in the third round with a rear-naked choke submission.

Green is one of those fighters who tends to fly under the radar. He was largely counted out in his Strikeforce bout with James Terry, but he emerged with a split decision win. And he was overlooked on Saturday against Volkmann, an opinionated fighter who tends to use his wrestling to dominate opponents en route to decisions or submission victories.

Green’s fight was marred by mistakes from both his opponent and referee Kim Winslow. In the second round, Volkmann failed on a takedown attempt and spun around into guard, allowing Green to put up his first significant offense via ground-and-pound. Despite the fact that Green remained busy while on top, Winslow eventually ordered the two fighters to stand and it could have cost Green the fight, as Volkmann quickly took his back after shooting for another takedown.

Takedowns, grappling and conditioning were the names of the game for Green in this contest. He couldn’t necessarily stuff Volkmann’s attempts to drag him to the mat, but he was able to avoid taking much damage and even came out on top in a couple of instances. Volkmann took Green’s back during all three frames, but it never led anywhere. By the third stanza, Green had managed to make Volkmann work himself to the point of being gassed. Volkmann’s takedown were less effective, and when he did score one, Green reversed and mounted him in what would be the beginning of the end for the outspoken wrestler.

Volkmann’s wrestling display against Green in round one is the most troubling aspect of this fight in terms of Green’s UFC future. While fresh, Volkmann was able to take Green down and stay on him. Volkmann has not been much of a finisher since entering the UFC, but had he been, he might have ended the contest before Green was able to turn the tide. Green can be dominated by superior wrestlers, but he can outlast them if they are unable to score a TKO or submit him.

On the other hand, Green doesn’t have any one thing that he does at a high level. He was taken down, did not tie Volkmann up on the ground and his striking wasn’t dominant either. What seems to work best for Green is the fact that people underestimate him. He’s quite capable of notching wins over the likes of Volkmann and Terry, but he has suffered losses Cavalcante and UFC vets Dan Lauzon, David Mitchell and Tim Means. He’s certainly capable of carving out a spot among the UFC’s mid-tier of lightweights, but he won’t be able to stop the submission attempts of grapplers that are more aggressive than Volkmann in seeking the finish.

Potential: Medium

Tyron Woodley — first-round knockout victory over Jay Hieron

From the moment Tyron Woodley stepped into the Strikeforce cage, he was a hot prospect. It didn’t take him long to remind fans of his abilities when he squared off with Jay Hieron on Saturday night. In fact, it took exactly 36 seconds.

Woodley knocked out Hieron before the fight could really get underway, proving once again that he has knockout power to go along with a lethal combination of wrestling and jiu-jitsu.

Woodley’s only loss through 12 fights came in a Strikeforce welterweight championship bout against Nate Marquardt. It raises concerns about Woodley’s chin, and a pair of split decisions (going in Woodley’s favor) against Nathan Coy and Jordan Mein also suggest that Woodley can be exposed.

But it’s Woodley’s speed and aggression that makes him an intriguing prospect. He exploded out of the gate with a series of strikes that left Hieron staring at the ceiling, and the NCAA Division I All-American is also capable of putting an opponent on the mat and quickly transitioning to a fight-ending submission, as he did on three occasions under the Strikeforce banner.

A wrestler with power punching, Woodley is a perfect fit for a division that already includes the likes of Johny Hendricks and Josh Koscheck. He comes into the UFC with an advantage over his counterparts in terms of his status as a contender in Strikeforce. That means that Hieron will likely be the easiest opponent Woodley faces before swimming into the depths of the title mix.

He has a well-rounded skill set that will allow him to hang with almost anyone in the division, but he can come out on the wrong end of striking battles. Coy and Mein have also laid out a blueprint for how Woodley can be tested. Push him in the right areas and cracks will start to appear.

Woodley has too much athleticism and skill to fade from the UFC. He could work his way into title contention within the next year or two if he overwhelms opponents in the same way as he did against Hieron and plays it safe by using his wrestling and grappling skills against the division’s most dangerous strikers.

Potential: Medium to High

Photo: Dustin Kimura (Esther Lin/MMA Fighting)

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