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 newcomers from UFC on Fuel TV 10.

Leonardo Santos – submission win over William “Patolino” Macario

The second season of The Ultimate Fighter: Brazil played out in a similar fashion as the first, as one of the finalists was unable to compete in the final due to injury. However, unlike the first season, the replacement combatant would take advantage of the situation and claim the six-figure contract.

At 33 years old, Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu ace Leonardo Santos may not have the same long-term potential as other TUF winners, but the Nova Uniao product is a serious threat to anyone on the mat. After losing to his Team Nogueira teammate Santiago Ponzinibbio in the semifinals of the reality show, Santos took full advantage of his second chance, submitting yet another teammate in Patolino.

Santos capitalized on his experience advantage and grappling prowess to overcome the 21-year-old. Santos is far from a technical striker, but he has a strong chin and good speed. He won’t win a lot of stand-up wars, but if the Brazilian gains the top position on the mat, his opponent is in a world of trouble.

The biggest concern for Santos’ future is the fact that he has indicated he will be dropping back to his more natural weight of 155 pounds. In doing so, he’ll enter one of the promotion’s deepest and most talented divisions. It’s unlikely that he’ll ever challenge for the belt, but his superb ground game will make for some interesting match-ups going forward.

Potential: Medium

William “Patolino” Macario – submission loss to Leonardo Santos

At just 21 years of age, Patolino was one of the least heralded fighters on the second installment of the Brazilian version of the reality show. Yet the Team Nogueira product quickly put the rest of the house on notice with an impressive win to get into the house and he continued to build momentum throughout the show.

The previously undefeated fighter showed a patient attack in the opening round against Santos, countering well with his hands, and scoring with takedowns. However, Patolino’s success came to an abrupt halt against Santos, as his inexperience on the mat was exploited once Santos got on top.

Unlike Santos, age is not as much of a concern. Patolino has plenty of time to further develop his skills. He didn’t look like a world-beater on Saturday night, but with more cage time, the Brazilian could make some noise in the welterweight division.

Potential: Low to Medium

Rafael “Feijao” Cavalcante – knockout loss to Thiago Silva

As a former Strikeforce light heavyweight champion, Feijao was expected to jump into the title picture in the 205-pound division. But, after his first Octagon performance, there are more questions than answers regarding the Brazilian’s future.

It has been more than a year since Cavalcante last competed due to a suspension from the California State Athletic Commission due to a failed post-fight drug test. Against Silva, Feijao appeared to have his usual, explosive form early as he delivered numerous right hands to his countryman. However, as Silva began to fire back, Feijao faded badly. In the final minute of the opening round, Silva delivered a series of uppercuts that resulted in the third knockout loss of Feijao’s career.

Now the question is, can the Brazilian’s chin withstand the gauntlet of heavy-handed strikers in the light heavyweight division? Does he have the gas tank to go three rounds inside the Octagon?

Certainly with all 11 of his wins coming by knockout, Feijao has the potential to put on entertaining fights. But if he wants to challenge for UFC gold, he’ll need to work on the holes that were exposed by Silva in Fortaleza.

Potential: Medium

Eddie Mendez – submission loss to Daniel Sarafian

It was not an easy night for the Strikeforce veteran, who stepped in against the TUF Brazil alum Sarafian. Mendez tried to close the distance and work from the clinch, which led to him being planted on his back. Once there, Mendez’s inexperience was evident, as he looked like a fish out of water.

It’s important to point out that Mendez was competing for just the 11th time in his young career, so there’s room to build off the loss. Yet, if history holds true, he’ll receive his walking papers from the promotion for his performance. Unfortunately for Mendez, he was brought in as cannon-fodder for Sarafian to pick up an Octagon win and the Reign Training Center is likely to be relegated to the regional circuit.

Potential: Low

Leandro Silva – unanimous decision loss to Ildemar Alcantara

Silva came in as a highly-touted prospect, having yet to taste defeat in his career. Against Alcantara it was evident that despite his past success, the Brazilian was clearly overmatched by his countryman. Alcantara’s size and length appeared to puzzle the 12-fight veteran from the opening bell, leading to a lethargic and uninspired performance.

For all the praise that the UFC gave Silva’s striking in the build-up to the fight, nothing in his performance backed up their claims. In fact, Silva was extremely tentative on the feet, frequently backing himself against the cage. Couple that with numerous failed takedown attempts and there are serious doubts about Silva’s future in a crowded welterweight division.

Being that this was Silva’s Octagon debut and was previously undefeated, he’s bound to get a chance to redeem himself. But another performance like Saturday’s and Silva will surely be handed a pink slip from the promotion.

Potential: Low

Antonio Braga Neto – submission win over Anthony Smith

At just 25 years old, Braga Neto is one of the more exciting grapplers to enter the Octagon. With two World Championships already under his belt, the Brazilian has carried that success over to the world of MMA with seven of his nine wins coming by way of submission.

That trend continued on Saturday, with a vicious kneebar of Anthony Smith in the first round of their middleweight contest. But it was the comfort on his feet that makes Braga Neto even more promising. The Brazilian was unfazed by Smith’s aggressive striking and fired back with knees and punches of his own.

If the Evolve MMA product can continue to improve his standup game to complement his very capable submission arsenal, Neto could prove to be a real threat in the middleweight division.

Potential: Medium

Anthony Smith – submission loss to Antonio Braga Neto

If there is one fighter from Saturday’s event that you can’t help but feel some sympathy for, it has to be middleweight Anthony Smith. For starters, his final Strikeforce contest earlier this year was against arguably the best grappler of all time in Roger Gracie and Smith fought admirably until succumbing to a second-round submission. For his efforts, he was rewarded with a yet another submission expert in Braga Neto to kick of the Fuel 10 event.

Smith showed little fear in engaging Braga Neto on the ground, but unlike his fight with Gracie, where he was able to use his striking to mount his own offense, Smith was quickly overmatched on the ground. In fact, Smith’s kneebar loss may have multiple consequences. It appeared as if Smith was seriously injured, which could result in a lengthy absence from competition and then there’s the precedence set by the promotion of releasing former Strikeforce fighters that lose their Octagon debuts.

At just 24 years old, Smith still has a lot of time left in the sport. His offensive game is strong in the striking and grappling department, but he has holes in both aspects in terms of defense. Once his knee is back to health, Smith is going to need a few convincing wins to show Zuffa brass that he deserves a return stint with the promotion.

Potential: Low

Photo: Antonio Braga Neto (L) forces Anthony Smith to submit (Marcio Valle/Primeiro Round)

About The Author

The MMA Corner Staff

Your home for all things MMA. News, Interviews, Event Coverage, Editorials. If it is MMA related, you will find it on The MMA Corner.