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 161.

James Krause – submission win over Sam Stout

If you were to ask James Krause if he deserved to wait as long as he did to make his official UFC debut, he’d more than likely tell you no. But if you’ve followed the 27-year-old’s career from the WEC, to Bellator, to The Ultimate Fighter: Live, and finally RFA, you’d know that the Grindhouse MMA product has grown tremendously over that journey. And when the UFC came calling for a late replacement against 16-time UFC veteran Sam Stout, Krause’s time had finally come.

Unlike Krause’s brief appearance on the promotion’s flagship reality program—a flukey loss to Justin Lawrence—Krause entered the cage on Saturday night completely relaxed and focused. The prospect of facing an experienced veteran like Stout didn’t appear to affect Krause at all as he used his lanky, 6-foot-2 frame to dismantle Stout for the better part of three rounds. His training with Taekwondo specialist Brian Davidson was evident throughout as he used a variety of kicks to keep Stout at bay. A particularly nasty one connected flush just above Stout’s right eye and turned the fight into a bloodbath.

On a night where hometown judging was an issue, Krause waited until the final minute of the fight to make sure he wouldn’t fall victim to the same problem. By latching onto Stout’s neck and pulling guard, Krause earned himself his eighth straight win and a well-deserved $100,000 double bonus for “Submission of the Night” and “Fight of the Night” with his guillotine choke finish—his 18th victory inside the distance.

While Krause’s performance on Saturday was almost picture-perfect, he shouldn’t be given unrealistic expectations. Three of his four losses have come against top-flight competition in the form of Donald Cerrone, Ricardo Lamas and Toby Imada, but it’s his most recent defeat, to Clay French, that exposed where Krause’s fight game can still improve. With such a long frame, Krause’s takedown defense has been exploited in the past, and when a fighter such as French or Lamas can avoid being submitted from the top, Krause can find himself on the wrong end of a decision.

As long as the UFC doesn’t rush Krause into fights against decorated wrestlers, they’ve signed a very exciting fighter who can deliver bonus-worthy performances on a regular basis. And because he’s still young, Krause has the potential to develop into a future contender.

Potential: Medium

Alexis Davis – unanimous decision win over Rosi Sexton

Entering her Octagon debut, Canadian Alexis Davis was riding a wave of momentum that had some proclaiming that she was just as deserving at a shot at bantamweight champion Ronda Rousey as anyone else. Unfortunately for the 28-year-old, that talk is likely to be tempered after her performance against Sexton in Winnipeg.

Her previous five fights were all entertaining battles as she was able to overcome experienced veterans like Shayna Baszler, Julie Kedzie, Hitomi Akano and Amanda Nunes, while falling short in a closely contested war with countrywoman Sarah Kaufman. In each of those fights, Davis showed improvement in her striking and a willingness to push the action. But on Saturday night, Davis appeared to let her nerves get the best of her.

As a decorated grappler, it wasn’t surprising to see Davis pull out the decision win based on her positional control, but her performance was a bit robotic and almost lethargic. Davis had the opportunity to finish the fight with a triangle choke in the first round and with strikes in the middle frame, but on both occasions she could not find the finish. Certainly Sexton’s toughness played a factor in that as well, but the killer instinct and go-for-broke desire that Davis showed against Baszler, Akano and even Kaufman simply wasn’t there on Saturday night.

That said, a win is a win and Davis is still a top-five 135-pound fighter in the UFC. If she wants to get herself into the title picture, she’ll have to move past this performance and look to recapture the form of her previous five bouts.

Potential: Medium to High

Rosi Sexton – unanimous decision loss to Alexis Davis

No matter what the official outcome was on Saturday night, it was a win for Manchester, England’s Rosi Sexton. The 35-year-old is a pioneer of the sport, having competed for more than a decade. She admitted before the fight that she never expected to compete inside the Octagon, so just having the opportunity was a positive in her eyes.

Yet when the cage door shut against Davis, Sexton wasn’t content with a moral victory. The smaller Sexton—who usually fights at 125 pounds— wasn’t willing to be cannon-fodder for a potential contender in Davis. In fact, it was Sexton who pushed the pace throughout the majority of the fight and despite finding herself in some precarious spots, she never wilted.

As was the case with Strikeforce, it’s a little disheartening to see fighters have to fight out of the their natural weight class to compete on this level, but Sexton proved on Saturday night that she can be competitive with a top-ranked fighter. As the veteran nears the end of her career, she’ll never contend for a title—at least not at 135 pounds—but she could prove to be good measuring stick for up-and-coming fighters looking to prove their worth with the promotion.

Potential: Low to Medium

Photo: James Krause (bottom) locks on a guillotine choke (Esther Lin/MMA Fighting)

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