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 on Fuel TV 8.

Mizuto Hirota — unanimous decision loss to Rani Yahya

The UFC’s trip to Japan for its eighth UFC on Fuel TV show meant an influx of talent from the Asian region of the world. Topping the list of the four Asian fighters making their Octagon debuts at the event was Strikeforce import Mizuto Hirota. He was not given an easy task in his debut, having to contend with top grappler Rani Yahya.

After meeting with failure versus Pat Healy in his only Strikeforce appearance, Hirota was shifting gears with his entry into the UFC by dropping to the featherweight division. The striker also brings a unique background into the eight-sided cage, citing sumo as one of his primary disciplines. However, what Hirota lacks in his quest for UFC success is an adequate takedown defense. Throughout the first two rounds of his contest with Yahya, Hirota was repeatedly put on his back on the mat by the Brazilian submission specialist. Hirota will need to shore up that aspect of his game if he is to survive at any weight class in a promotion that has its fair share of wrestlers.

The one positive that can be taken away from Hirota’s time spent on the ground is that he was not submitted. Hirota is a tough guy to finish, as he’s proven in a career where, following his decision loss to Yahya, he has lost six times but has only been stopped once. That single submission loss came in the famous incident where Shinya Aoki broke Hirota’s arm with a hammerlock.

The former Sengoku and Deep champion has scored wins over notable names such as Satoru Kitaoka and Mitsuhiro Ishida, but his appearances under the Strikeforce and UFC banners suggest that the 31-year-old might not have what it takes to step up to the next level. There’s little doubt that he could defeat a number of inexperienced featherweights making their initial forays into the Octagon, but, given his loss to Yahya, it’s highly unlikely that he sticks around to become an entry-level gatekeeper. Hirota is probably destined to return to the settings where he thrives the most—the top organizations in Japan.

Potential: Low

Kazuki Tokudome — unanimous decision victory over Cristiano Marcello

Those who follow Japanese MMA, specifically Pancrase, were probably wishing that the man who most recently defeated Kazuki Tokudome—the 13-1-3 Isao Kobayashi—was stepping into the Octagon instead of the 25-year-old Tokudome. It’s not that Tokudome hasn’t shown potential of his own, but after his performance against Cristiano Marcello, it’s difficult to see an extended run of success for the young striker. The Japanese up-and-comer did win by unanimous decision, but there were points in the bout where Marcello exposed what could be a big weakness in the lightweight’s game.

Marcello was able to use strikes and kicks effectively against Tokudome in the early moments of the fight. This would not be that significant of a detail, if not for Marcello’s previous underwhelming striking performances. The former Chute Boxe coach is known for his Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu, and was even discouraged from standing with opponents during his run on The Ultimate Fighter. If Marcello could attack Tokudome with strikes, then more proficient stand-up fighters in the UFC’s lightweight division will take it a step further and use a mix of punches and kicks to outpoint or knock out the Japanese upstart.

Where Tokudome was effective was in his ability to take Marcello down and maintain top control while not allowing the grappler to threaten with submissions. Even when Marcello managed to take Tokudome’s back, it was short-lived. Tokudome’s best game plan against opponents, even those with superior grappling, should be to take them down and stifle their attack through top control.

Due to his win, Tokudome will make a return appearance in the Octagon. He’s young and still has room for improvement, but he’ll have to prove that he can be more effective, and do so against a tougher opponent than Marcello proved to be. He could indeed prove to be a consistent ground fighter who utilizes ground-and-pound, as he did versus Marcello, in order to win fights, but he could also find himself picked apart on the feet by more dynamic strikers before he ever has a chance to send them to the mat.

Potential: Low to Medium

Kyung Ho Kang — split decision loss to Alex Caceres

From the way the UFC commentating team talked about Korean bantamweight Kyung Ho Kang, fans might think this man has destroyed everything in his path en route to earning an invitation to the Octagon. That’s not the case, though. Kang entered the contest on a three-fight winning streak, but he was just 11-6 overall and had endured a four-year stretch from 2008 to early 2012 where he went an unimpressive 6-6. That’s not quite the world-beater that analyst Jon Anik was touting as the opening bell sounded.

Despite being less than advertised, the 25-year-old did provide a difficult test for Alex “Bruce Leeroy” Caceres. After 15 minutes of action, two of the judges leaned in Caceres’ direction, giving the TUF alum the split verdict. However, nobody would have complained if the scorecards had favored Kang instead.

This fight could be considered a testament of how far both men have come as fighters. Kang may have a less than stellar professional record, but he was able to hang with Caceres for a full three rounds. Considering some of Kang’s previous defeats, it would have been conceivable that the vastly improved Caceres, who has notched victories over Damacio Page and Motonobu Tezuka in his current run, would have little trouble with the Korean. Instead, Kang, a submission specialist, took Caceres to the ground repeatedly. Kang emerged from numerous scrambles with the upper hand and arguably took the first two rounds of the encounter.

It wasn’t until the third frame that Kang slowed, primarily after getting briefly rocked by Caceres. Kang didn’t crumble completely after the blow, but it did turn the tide for Caceres, who finished strong.

Caceres isn’t the joke he once was inside the eight-sided cage. He only eked a split verdict, and it very well could have gone Kang’s way instead. Kang’s showing in this fight suggests that he’s also making leaps in his own level of skills. With the UFC’s recent low tolerance for losses, Kang is likely to receive a pink slip following this defeat, but it’s not out of the question that he could be back in the promotion for a future Asian show.

Potential: Low to Medium

Hyun Gyu Lim — second-round knockout victory over to Marcelo Guimaraes

Of the four debuting fighters, welterweight Hyun Gyu Lim was the only man to finish his opponent. But that doesn’t make him the best fighter of the bunch, nor does it equate to him being the fighter with the most potential for a future in the UFC.

His second-round knockout of Marcelo Guimaraes was the result of a perfectly timed knee in what was otherwise an uninspiring stand-up game. Lim enjoyed a size and reach advantage against his Brazilian adversary, but the South Korean failed to take advantage of the situation. In fact, Lim was repeatedly tagged by Guimaraes’ combinations.

Lim’s brightest spot was his ability to stuff takedowns. He sprawled well whenever Guimaraes shot in and was only taken down on a couple of occasions. When on the ground, however, Lim was clearly outmatched by Guimaraes.

The fact is that there are many better wrestlers than Guimaraes in the welterweight division. Lim might even find success in sprawling against them, up to a point. The 28-year-old already appeared to be on his way to tiring when he landed the knee that floored Guimaraes. If his timing had not been perfect, we might have seen a third round where Lim’s ability to sprawl had diminished to the point where Guimaraes could take him down. And that will be the case against the division’s better wrestlers.

And then there’s the troubling detail of Guimaraes’ effectiveness in connecting on strikes despite being at a reach and size disadvantage. If Guimaraes, a grappler who is not noted for his striking abilities, can find the holes in Lim’s striking defense, the more talented strikers awaiting Lim in the future will feast on those weak spots. Lim could find himself eating a number of heavy blows in every outing, and unlike Guimaraes, those other opponents will have the power to leave Lim staring at the ceiling.

Potential: Low

Photo: Mizuto Hirota (Phil Lambert/The MMA Corner)