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 three newcomers from UFC 158.

Quinn Mulhern — first-round TKO loss to Rick Story

The one thing about fighters coming over from Strikeforce—as is the case with all three debuting UFC 158 combatants—is that we already have a better idea of what to expect from these guys, and all three mostly lived up to those expectations. This was most true of Quinn Mulhern, the first man to make his debut on the evening.

Mulhern certainly wasn’t handed a gimme fight in his debut. The submission specialist had his hands full with the wrestling and powerful boxing of Rick Story, a fringe contender in the UFC’s welterweight division. It took just over three minutes for Story, who had little trouble avoiding Mulhern’s ground game, to score the TKO finish.

What we’ve seen from Mulhern in his Strikeforce days is a man who could be dangerous on the mat—he has 11 submission wins in his career—but who struggles to get the fight to the ground and is often outmatched in his stand-up against anyone with a striking base. Mulhern’s only Strikeforce loss came against Jason High, the best opponent Mulhern saw in his time with the organization. In his other three fights there, he submitted a low-level opponent, but had to settle for decisions against better competition.

Mulhern’s submission talents are his bread and butter, but this is MMA, not a jiu-jitsu tournament. And he’s now in the UFC, where he’ll face a number of wrestlers or strikers who can stuff his lackluster takedown attempts. In the striking department, he can be effective from distance against lesser opponents, but he packs very little power in his punches and, as Story proved in Montreal, a talented striker can avoid, or even walk through, what he’s throwing to land counters that will test Mulhern’s chin.

Mulhern can be a top dog on the regional circuit, or he could be the man at the gate to the UFC’s welterweight division, welcoming debuting fighters to the promotion and providing them with a test that could really define whether they are ready for combat inside the Octagon. But, unless Mulhern can improve his takedowns or find more clever ways to set up submissions (think: Masakazu Imanari), he’s not headed very far in the UFC.

Potential: Low

Jordan Mein — first-round TKO victory over Dan Miller

The one impressive Strikeforce import to debut at UFC 158 was Jordan Mein. Mein may have surprised casual fans with his first-round destruction of promotional mainstay Dan Miller, but the writing was on the wall for this one.

Consider this: Mein is 23-4 since September 2007, after a 4-4 start to his career (his pro debut was a loss to Rory MacDonald). His three recent losses are to TUF runner-up Mike Ricci, UFC vet Jason High and top Strikeforce welterweight Tyron Woodley. After seeing Woodley destory Jay Hieron in his UFC debut, it’s even more notable that Mein lasted the distance with Woodley—and only lost via split decision. Furthermore, his list of career wins includes Joe Riggs, Josh Burkman, Marius Zaromskis, Evangelista Santos, Tyler Stinson, Forrest Petz and, now, Miller. And he’s only 23 years old!

Mein is one of the new generation of fighters. He’s been competing in the sport as a professional since he was 16, as an amateur since he was 14 and his well-rounded game saw him competing in kickboxing at age 11 and going on to also participate in jiu-jitsu tournaments. His striking is his best asset, as he demonstrated against Miller. He has the power to end his opponent’s night, and he’s done just that in 15 of his victories. But he’s no slouch on the mat either, where he’s forced seven foes to tap.

The eight losses on Mein’s record are deceptive, since four came when he was still in his teens, and the recent ones have come against top-notch competition. This Canadian fighter announced his arrival with the first-round TKO finish of Miller, who admittedly has lost six of his last nine, but is still capable of beating all but the best UFC fighters he’s matched up against. At only 23, he’ll be turning heads in the UFC for years to come, and a rematch with MacDonald, though obviously still far down the road, would be a compelling story on which to promote a fight.

Mein tends to fly under the radar, but he has the potential to become a contender as his skills continue to develop. The one and only concern for “Young Guns” is the mileage he’s already racked up in his career. He’s already competed 35 times as a pro, plus an additional seven times as an amateur. But as long as that doesn’t cause an early end to his career, expect to see Mein in the Octagon competing in a number of key match-ups for several years.

Potential: Medium to High

Bobby Voelker — unanimous decision loss to Patrick Cote

It could be argued that Bobby Voelker won his fight against Patrick Cote. Voelker was able to put Cote on the mat throughout the fight, most notably in the third and final round. Voelker emerged from Strikeforce with a 4-1 mark under that promotion’s banner, and, much like in those affairs, Voelker’s effort against Cote showed his determination and ability to make any fight a war.

Voelker’s takedowns forced Cote to look for submissions, rather than sticking to his lethal striking attack. This is where an argument could be made that Voelker took at least two rounds against his Canadian foe. He was able to control from the top, and avoided all of Cote’s submission attempts with ease. The argument really comes down to how much the striking factored into the judges’ scores and what weight was given to Cote’s aggressiveness from the bottom in the first two rounds.

In terms of strikes, Cote clearly took the opening stanza, landing 26 significant strikes and 46 total strikes, compared to Voelker’s 15 and 36. The third frame was all Voelker, with 31 significant and 71 total strikes (plus three successful takedowns), to Cote’s 10 and 11. But the second period is where percentages play a bigger part. Voelker landed 37 significant strikes to Cote’s 36, but Cote’s percentage landed was 49 to Voelker’s 46. Total strikes shows a similar trend, with Voelker landing 46 to Cote’s 40, but Cote landing at a higher percentage.

In other words, Voelker actually landed a higher volume of strikes through the final two rounds, yet was only awarded one of those rounds by the judges. He was meeting Cote in the Canadian’s first effort at 170 pounds, however, and once Cote becomes more accustomed to fighting in the lighter weight class, the outcome might have been a more dominant showing by the former middleweight contender. At the same time, Voelker needs to find a way to finish fights. Decisions is where the majority of his losses have been suffered.

Voelker’s takedowns, his willingness to engage in a stand-up war with opponents and his submission defense make him a solid gatekeeper. In awarding the decision to Cote, the judges might have cost Voelker his chance to establish himself as a mainstay in the lower levels of the promotion’s welterweight division. This is not a fighter who will ever contend for UFC gold, but he’s quite capable of pushing opponents like Cote to their limits, and could come out on top more often than not. The loss, combined with the UFC’s current purge, could force him to work his way back to the promotion via regional circuit wins, but Voelker certainly has the potential to put on entertaining fights and will probably grace the inside of the Octagon again.

Potential: Low to Medium

Photo: Jordan Mein (Phil Lambert/The MMA Corner)

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