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 14 newcomers from The Ultimate Fighter 17 Finale.

Cat Zingano — third-round TKO victory over Miesha Tate

For those who had not been paying attention before Saturday night, Cat Zingano may have appeared to be the underdog in her fight with former Strikeforce champion Miesha Tate. But that was not really the case. In an entertaining fight, Zingano overcame Tate’s aggressiveness in the first two frames and took over in the third, using knees and elbows to destroy Tate and claim the TKO victory.

Zingano’s striking was the weapon that ultimately finished Tate, but that doesn’t mean it was perfect. Zingano did keep her chin a bit high and could be prone to a knockout from a more powerful striker. The timing of her knees was tremendous, however. She connected with Tate’s head the moment Tate lifted her hand from the canvas. Zingano’s best striking efforts came in the clinch, and that’s where she should concentrate her efforts against future foes (outside of Ronda Rousey, who could easily use the clinch to set up a judo throw).

Zingano’s blend of Muay Thai and Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu makes her a tough adversary for anyone. She can score a submission just as easily as she can find a knockout, but she also proved to be adept at submission defense against Tate. Zingano was also patient on the mat, never rushing her own submission attempts or panicking when Tate had her arm.

Zingano’s future right now is the brightest of any woman in the UFC outside of Rousey. Cat has earned the next title shot against the current champ, and there’s the added bonus of her spot opposite Rousey on the next edition of The Ultimate Fighter. That role will allow for the building of the championship fight, as well as the development of Zingano as a star. In the cage, Zingano’s combination of skills makes her an intriguing nemesis for Rousey. And even if Zingano loses, she’s still among the elite in a still-shallow UFC women’s bantamweight division, which means that she’ll be around for quite some time.

Potential: High

Miesha Tate — third-round TKO loss to Cat Zingano

Miesha Tate may be a newcomer to the UFC, but her time in Strikeforce established her as a star. Will she ever attain championship gold in the UFC, like she did in Strikeforce? After her loss to Cat Zingano, the answer is probably no, but that doesn’t mean she won’t settle in as the gatekeeper to the upper echelon of the division.

Tate’s wrestling and grappling have brought her this far, but she doesn’t have any one thing that can overcome the likes of Rousey and Zingano, but she’s skilled enough to give both a good fight. When she comes out aggressive, as she did in the early going against Zingano, Tate can be dangerous. She is one of the better wrestlers in the UFC’s bantamweight division, outside of Olympic medalist Sara McMann. But the striking and grappling that she uses once she gets the fight to the mat falls just short of being enough to get the job done against the best of the weight class.

Tate’s already a star for the UFC’s foray into the women’s divisions, so she won’t be leaving the UFC any time soon. Her place is likely as the final test before a fighter earns a shot at the crown. Tate will provide fans with many entertaining fights, but she’ll win just a bit more than she loses.

Potential: High

Kelvin Gastelum — split decision victory over Uriah Hall

There’s nothing quite as satisfying as getting picked last, only to come in first. That’s exactly what Kelvin Gastelum did in this season of TUF. After getting overlooked and counted out through the entire tournament, Gastelum managed even to topple the star of the season, Uriah Hall.

Gastelum’s skills are underrated. He’s proven to be a surprising well-rounded fighter. His power carried him to four of his victories prior to entering the TUF house, and that same power helped him advance to the tournament finals. But he accompanies that power with a grappling attack that leads to situations where his opponent has to decide whether they’d rather get punched in the head or give up their back and risk a rear-naked choke finish.

Against Hall, Gastelum used his power to some effect and also gave Hall trouble on the mat. That combination of skills could make Gastelum a real force in the UFC’s middleweight division.

Gastelum is still inexperienced though. He has looked great throughout his run on the reality show and against Hall in the finals, but the overly confident Hall provided the toughest competition Gastelum has faced to date. Whether the Arizona native can continue to win against UFC-caliber competition is still to be seen, but from what he’s shown the world so far, his chances seem high of having a healthy career in the Octagon.

Potential: Medium to High

Uriah Hall — split decision loss to Kelvin Gastelum

Don’t believe the hype. That’s what someone should have told Uriah Hall as he prepared for this fight. Although his time on the show produced impressive results and he appeared to be the next coming of Anderson Silva, Hall is still just a 7-2 (now 7-3) fighter that has a long way to go before he can fill “The Spider’s” shoes.

Hall’s confidence was a big contributing factor to his downfall in the finals of The Ultimate Fighter tournament. Hall left his hands extremely low and often mimicked Silva’s penchant for backing up to the cage and letting his opponent attack. The thing is, Silva has turned into a master of swagger and show in the cage, but he has been able to back it up. He also knows when to play and when to get down to business. Hall does not.

By leaving his hands down, Hall eventually got clipped by Gastelum, which led to a few rough moments. Hall’s chin could get tested as he proceeds to fight better and better middleweights moving forward. Then, there’s his takedown defense and his ground game. Although Hall did reverse Dylan Andrews in impressive fashion during their fight on the show, he’s not especially skilled in grappling and wrestling. Andrews is not a ground guy either, which made Hall’s efforts there look easy. Against Gastelum, the situation was different.

Prior to his time on TUF, Hall’s losses came at the hands of two men who now rank high on the list of middleweight contenders—Chris Weidman and Costas Philippou. The Philippou loss was a close majority decision, but Weidman was able to take Hall out with strikes in the first round. Can Hall really be an elite middleweight? Yes. But there are many areas where he needs to improve before he can make that climb up the mountain. He was on the wrong side of a split decision in the finals, but his performances on the show likely earn him a lot of leeway with the UFC. He won’t be going anywhere unless he repeatedly fails to provide knockouts in his UFC bouts.

If Hall shores up his ground game and takedown defense, and most importantly loses the ego, he could be contending for the middleweight crown one day. If not, he’ll deliver some knockouts, but always fail when it really counts.

Potential: Medium to High

The Ultimate Fighter 17 Fighters

Outside of the finals of TUF 17, nine other cast members competed on the finale. Most of the match-ups pitted castmates against one another, but there was also one scenario where a TUF 17 fighter, Clint Hester, squared off with a TUF 16 fighter, Bristol Marunde.

The victorious members of the cast were Hester, Bubba McDaniel, Dylan Andrews, Josh Samman and Luke Barnatt. McDaniel is a veteran who could prove to survive for at least a few fights in the lower end of the division. Barnatt’s reach and Hester’s athleticism give them potential, but they have yet to fully realize their skills and need to continue to develop in order to make it in the long term. Samman and Andrews, meanwhile, were semifinalists on the reality show and likely hold the most promise of this group. However, Andrews has a huge weakness in his ground game and Samman, against Kevin Casey, demonstrated that he can get careless. The potential for this crew varies from low to medium, but don’t look for any of these men to ever reach the top of the division.

On the other end of the spectrum are Casey, Gilbert Smith, Jimmy Quinlan and Collin Hart. Hart arguably won his fight with Barnatt. He displayed a striking game that was able to overcome Barnatt’s reach and supplemented it with takedowns. Out of the losing group, his potential rises closest to medium. Quinlan and Casey have excellent submission attacks, but Casey lacks the ability to stay committed through an entire fight and Quinlan’s deficiencies in the striking game lower his chances of sustained success. Outside of his strength, Smith also didn’t display the skills needed to make a lengthy run in the UFC. Outside of Hart, this set of fighters projects to have low potential inside the Octagon. Many will be fortunate to even get a return invite.

Potential: Varied

Bristol Marunde — third-round KO loss to Clint Hester

Bristol Marunde finally had his chance inside the Octagon, a full season after he appeared on The Ultimate Fighter, but a stunning elbow delivered by Clint Hester ended his hopes of having his hand raised.

Marunde’s performance against Hester provides a grim outlook of a UFC future. Marunde’s striking is not his strong suit, but he seemed content to stand with Hester, the better boxer, until he was rattled. He wasn’t able to effectively get Hester to the mat, and he also wasn’t able to test Hester’s cardio. Those were some significant failings in a bout where Marunde’s experience should have provided him with a bigger edge. Hester’s athleticism is his biggest gift, but he’s used it primarily to build up his striking repertoire. From his time on the show, Hester’s biggest question marks were revealed to be his takedown defense and his endurance.

If Marunde is to be successful in the UFC, he has to work on his strategy. He seemed to have no desire to challenge Hester in the areas where Hester needed to be challenged. Marunde has a less than spectacular mark of 12-8 after this fight, and that, combined with the knockout he endured from Hester, doesn’t bode well for a return trip to the Octagon.

Potential: Low

Photo: Cat Zingano (Esther Lin/MMA Fighting)