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 five newcomers from UFC on FX 8.

Luke Rockhold — first-round knockout loss to Vitor Belfort

Luke Rockhold may have been Strikeforce’s middleweight champion, but he’s playing in a different ballpark now. And that ballpark is filled with more intimidating strikers, including Vitor Belfort. Belfort, known primarily for his fast hands, landed a spinning heel kick to Rockhold’s head to score the first-round knockout.

Rockhold’s success under the Strikeforce banner came largely against fighters who were known more for their grappling than for their stand-up abilities. Sure, Tim Kennedy, Ronaldo “Jacare” Souza and Keith Jardine can all throw a punch, but none has the arsenal of strikes that Belfort possesses. Rockhold’s only other loss came via TKO early in his career, so the prospect of fighting such an aggressive striker didn’t bode well for Rockhold’s chances. Further compounding the matter was Rockhold’s tendency to keep his hands low in his fight with Belfort. It likely would not have taken a “surprise” attack to connect; Belfort would have eventually landed a punch if he hadn’t scored with the kick first.

Despite the loss, Rockhold is still one of the more promising middleweights to enter the UFC. He can accomplish a lot with his grappling and against less formidable strikers, he can get the upper hand on the feet too. He decisioned Kennedy and Jacare, and scored a TKO of Jardine. Rockhold’s combination of striking and grappling has also led to a TKO victory over Paul Bradley and a submission of Jesse Taylor. With the right opponents, Rockhold will find plenty of success in the UFC. What he won’t find is many wins against the 185-pound striking elite, such as Belfort and reigning champion Anderson Silva.

Rockhold should settle into a position that many of the American Kickboxing Academy fighters are familiar with—that of a high-level gatekeeper. Just as Josh Koscheck and Jon Fitch at welterweight, Rockhold could find himself right there in the title mix at middleweight, but unable to ultimately capture gold. He’ll beat all but the finest that the 185-pound weight class has to offer.

Potential: Medium to High

Ronaldo “Jacare” Souza — first-round submission victory over Chris Camozzi

Ronaldo “Jacare” Souza may have lost to Luke Rockhold under the Strikeforce banner, but he turned in the better performance of the night on which both men made their Octagon debuts in separate bouts. Whereas Rockhold was separated from consciousness by Vitor Belfort, Jacare demonstrated his effective ground game versus Chris Camozzi to the tune of a first-round arm-triangle choke submission victory.

Jacare’s submission prowess is well documented. His trophy case is stocked with gold medals from the World Jiu-Jitsu Championships and ADCC competition. On the ground, Jacare is lethal. He proved that with his performance against Camozzi. It lasted just over three and a half minutes and saw Souza get the best of Camozzi while controlling from top position. Camozzi was actually impressive in that he lasted as long as he did.

What makes Jacare an even more dangerous addition to the UFC’s middleweight ranks is his combination of skills. There’s no question about the BJJ black belt’s submission savvy, but the Brazilian also possesses a black belt in judo. In judo, Jacare has a skill set that affords him a better chance of dragging opponents into his world. Some submission specialists who don’t have a NCAA Division I wrestling background can struggle to bring the fight to their world, but Jacare won’t have that problem.

In addition, Jacare has also worked to improve his stand-up game. If he can continue to work on that area, he’ll only become a better-rounded fighter who can challenge for UFC gold. Jacare figures to reside among the division’s elite for the foreseeable future. He may struggle to find victory against other well-rounded opponents near the top of the division, but he’ll easily dispose of those who are not true contenders.

Potential: High

Joao Zeferino — unanimous decision loss to Rafael Natal

Joao Zeferino not only made his Octagon debut, but he did so on the main card. That’s a rare opportunity for a non-Strikeforce import, and it only came about when Chris Camozzi stepped up to fight Jacare. The results weren’t all that great for Zeferino, however. He fell on the scorecards to Rafael Natal.

Zeferino’s speed was his greatest asset in the early moments of the fight. He was able to get in, land a wild overhand right and get out. His striking wasn’t the most technical, but he delivered his strikes at awkward angles that allowed them to connect. From a striking standpoint, Zeferino could find success against the lower-level fighters in the division, but he’d be doing so mainly with that overhand rather than with technical combinations. Strikes have only accounted for one of his 13 wins thus far in his career, so he may not actually have the power to get the job done either. He has lost via some form of knockout on three occasions, so standing toe-to-toe with opponents could be a risky proposition for him.

The ground game is where Zeferino excels. He has never been submitted, but he has submitted nine adversaries. He did look for submissions during his encounter with Natal, primarily in an extended struggle where each man sought to attack the other’s legs. Zeferino didn’t find too many opportunities on the ground, and he had very little success in putting Natal on the mat.

Zeferino displayed a few undesirable traits in the fight as well. In one case, he deliberately (and quite obviously) shifted his head to put it in the direct path of one of Natal’s kicks while the two were on the ground, then looked at the referee and called for a foul. Nobody wants to watch a fighter go that route for a victory. Zeferino also slowed by the second round. Obviously, this could be an adrenaline dump from making his UFC debut, but Zeferino’s cardio could be a question mark moving forward. And despite being a submission specialist, it was Zeferino who was passed on and mounted late in the fight. If the Brazilian can’t get the best of his rival on the mat, then he won’t dominate against any skilled grappler in the UFC.

Zeferino could make a move to welterweight if he is afforded a return invite from the UFC. That could play to his benefit, whereas remaining at middleweight won’t allow him to progress very far up the UFC’s ladder. In Natal, Zeferino was fighting a low-level UFC gatekeeper. If he couldn’t pass that test, how will he handle even better opponents?

Potential: Low

Michel Prazeres — unanimous decision loss to Paulo Thiago

With his stocky frame, Michel Prazeres looks like the welterweight version of Rousimar Palhares. Unfortunately for him, he may not ever find even the levels of success that Palhares has experienced. In fact, with a loss to Paulo Thiago in his UFC debut, Prazeres may find himself back in Brazilian promotions seeking another chance at the big show.

Prazeres was undefeated coming into the fight, but Thiago represented a drastic step up in competition for the Brazilian. Prazeres was able to utilize clinch work to pin Thiago against the cage throughout the three-round fight, but he rarely mounted any significant offense once he put Thiago against the fence.

The main question with Prazeres could be his ability to fight on a consistent basis. This was only his fifth appearance since 2007. With that in mind, his ability to go the distance with someone like Thiago is remarkable. But Prazeres needs to find a way to take opponents down with more effectiveness. On the mat, “Tractor” has finished eight of his opponents via submission. However, he can’t find a submission when he can’t take his opponent down.

Prazeres’ fate depends on how cut-happy the UFC is following this card. The fact that he took Thiago the distance could play in his favor, but the fact that he didn’t exactly deliver a ton of offense certainly doesn’t help his case. If Prazeres does stick around with the UFC, don’t expect him to rise beyond being an entry-level gatekeeper.

Potential: Low

Iliarde Santos — first-round knockout loss to Iuri Alcantara

Sometimes, debuting UFC fighters get the misfortune of having to prove their worth against an incredibly difficult opponent. Iliarde Santos can testify to this fact. Entering the UFC with a 27-6-1 mark, Santos appeared to be a great bantamweight prospect. But next to Iuri Alcantara, all Santos appeared to be was small. Very small.

Santos was out-sized in every way against Alcantara, who competed as a lightweight in the WEC and made his entrance into the UFC as a featherweight. Alcantara is easily one of the bigger bantamweights in the UFC. He’s also a great striker, which meant that just two and a half minutes into his fight with Santos, he rocked the UFC newcomer and finished the fight via TKO.

Unless he can make the cut to flyweight, Santos will encounter a few fighters like Alcantara at bantamweight—guys who are huge for the division and can use their size to give Santos fits. But Santos typically displays skills in both the stand-up and the grappling game. If he fights someone closer to his own size, he should fare better.

Such a one-sided loss might mean that Santos has to work his way back to the UFC. But if he can find better match-ups upon his return, he could settle into the middle of the UFC’s bantamweight pack.

Potential: Low to Medium

Photo: Ronaldo “Jacare” Souza (Jerry Chavez/The MMA Corner)