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 162.

Brian Melancon — first-round knockout win over Seth Baczynski

The influx of fighters from Strikeforce is not over yet, even though we’re now half a year removed from the promotion’s final event. In fact, all three of the fighters making their UFC debuts at UFC 162 are Strikeforce imports. Whereas the other two—Roger Gracie and Tim Kennedy—fought in main-card bouts during their Strikeforce days, fans may not be as familiar with the third man in the group, Brian Melancon. However, Melancon made certain to force fans to pay attention with his knockout victory over UFC vet Seth Baczynski.

The win came in impressive fashion, with Melancon delivering a barrage of powerful punches to a downed Baczynski just before the bell signaled the end of the first round. Those blows, all of which came before the bell, did the job, leaving Baczynski in a state of semi-consciousness on the mat.

Although it was a grand entrance into the Octagon, Melancon’s performance showed the good and the bad in his style.

On the plus side, Melancon’s aggressiveness played a big part in securing him the victory. He pushed forward and kept Baczynski from getting comfortable. He also has the striking ability to turn any fight into a long day for an opponent who is not as well versed in the sweet science. But maybe the most subtle, yet most important, characteristic of Melancon was his willingness to listen to his corner. The first time he had Baczynski on the mat, the TUF alum was threatening him with submissions. Melancon’s corner yelled for him to let Baczynski stand up and Melancon immediately responded by backing off. That may not seem all that significant, but plenty of fighters turn a deaf ear to their corner when they really need the instruction most.

However, not everything about Melancon’s performance was indicative of a fighter who will go on to big things. The most significant downside to his display was something that Melancon even acknowledged in his post-fight interview with Joe Rogan: going back to the well too many times. In Melancon’s case, it was in the form of his lunging left hook. He used it effectively in this fight, delivering it to Baczynski’s head and body on numerous occasions and using it to rattle Baczynski on at least two occasions in their stand-up exchanges. But he went to it so often that the image of Kamal Shalorus’ murderous haymakers came to mind. Where Shalorus would throw the haymaker repeatedly without any real effort to mask it within a combination, Melancon did the same with his left hook. If he maintains this one-punch style moving forward, Melancon will encounter better strikers who will answer it with a counter of their own that puts Melancon out.

The potential is there for Melancon to round out his game. He did find success when he shot for takedowns and he played a smart ground-and-pound game in which he avoided submissions while throwing bombs. Melancon gave Isaac Vallie-Flagg a tough fight under the Strikeforce banner, and what’s more impressive is that the UFC newcomer looked so comfortable in the Octagon despite a long layoff that extends back to 2011.

Will Melancon rise to the level of contender one day? With his striking approach, the elite in the division will likely have an answer that leaves Melancon on the outside looking in. However, it is quite possible that he can embed himself somewhere near the middle of the UFC’s welterweight division.

Potential: Medium

Roger Gracie — unanimous decision loss to Tim Kennedy

The Gracie name used to be feared inside the Octagon—just ask Art Jimmerson. But those days are well in the past. The last time Royce Gracie was relevant in the UFC was 1995 (his 2006 comeback fight against Matt Hughes ended with a Hughes first-round TKO victory), Renzo made his lone appearance in 2010 but looked anything but stellar in a third-round TKO loss to Hughes and Rolles had such an embarrassing showing against Joey Beltran in 2010 that he was promptly shown the door. At UFC 162, it was Roger who looked to bring the family name back to prominence in active UFC competition, but it wasn’t to be.

Roger, a highly decorated Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu black belt, posted a 4-1 mark fighting across two divisions in Strikeforce. There, he scored wins over Kevin Randleman, Trevor Prangley, Keith Jardine and Anthony Smith. In his UFC debut, he was pitted against another Strikeforce import, Tim Kennedy. Kennedy got the better of Gracie in every aspect of the fight and took the unanimous decision victory.

The problem with the Gracies in modern MMA is that they no longer have a secret weapon in the form of their BJJ prowess. Everyone knows it’s there, but they also know that the Gracies are not strikers nor are they wrestlers. Although Roger has performed better in the stand-up department than many of his relatives, he still possesses a very rudimentary striking style that’s simply meant to set up his takedowns. However, he has to use size and willpower to get the fight to the mat, since he doesn’t have an overwhelming double-leg takedown in his wheelhouse.

The other troubling factor in recent Gracie performances is a lack of cardio. Rolles demonstrated this in an extreme fashion against Beltran, Renzo slowed tremendously as his fight with Hughes progressed and Roger did likewise against Kennedy. A lack of endurance will not get a fighter very far in the UFC, especially when that fighter has to put so much effort in dragging his opponent to the ground.

And therein lies the most troubling part of Roger’s showing against Kennedy. If a Gracie can’t even dominate with his BJJ, how will he win a fight? Granted, Kennedy is excellent on the mat and most other fighters would have had tremendous difficulties in escaping some of the positions that Roger put Kennedy in, but if Kennedy can avoid Roger’s strength, so too will the other top fighters at middleweight.

Roger has the advantage of the Gracie name and the possibility of a second chance inside the Octagon, since he didn’t disappoint in quite the tremendous fashion that Rolles did. However, his ceiling in the UFC will be low. His grappling is world-class and he could prey on UFC newcomers that aren’t ready to compete with a champion of his caliber on the ground. But put him in the cage with UFC vets who possess decent submission defense, good takedown defense and a superior grappling game, and we’re likely to continue to see Gracie run his gas tank to empty while reaping few rewards.

Potential: Low

Tim Kennedy — unanimous decision win over Roger Gracie

The most interesting of Strikeforce imports tend to be those who were perennial contenders or champions in their former promotion. These are guys that immediately carry the question of whether they can reach similar heights in the UFC or if they benefited from fighting in a shallower talent pool. And that’s where Tim Kennedy stood when he took to the Octagon opposite Roger Gracie. Unfortunately, the test was one of Strikeforce proportions, considering Roger was also making his UFC debut, but Kennedy passed with flying colors.

Kennedy, with the win over Gracie, is now 7-2 since first entering the Strikeforce cage in 2009. His only losses in that span have come via decision in championship bouts against Ronaldo “Jacare” Souza and Luke Rockhold. Meanwhile, he holds wins over the likes of Melvin Manhoef, Robbie Lawler and now Gracie. Kennedy is a tough out—his only stoppage loss, which came in his pro debut, was due to a cut—and he handles himself well on the feet, where has has scored five wins by some form of knockout and two more via submission due to strikes, and on the ground, where he has submitted an additional six opponents.

Kennedy’s ability to avoid being submitted is one of his biggest strengths. And he displayed it against Gracie. On several occasions, Gracie was able to get Kennedy to the canvas, but Kennedy stifled Gracie’s ground attack, rarely ending up in a submission hold and often thwarting Gracie’s attempts to advance his position. Kennedy was also able to get back to his feet on many occasions, and he even threw up some submissions of his own against Gracie.

Kennedy’s striking looked fine against Gracie, but he’s not the type of guy who will stand toe-to-toe with the top strikers and win. His fights with Rockhold and Souza are examples where his striking wasn’t effective enough and his grappling and wrestling weren’t advantages either. When he finds himself in fights like those, we’ll tend to see a deadlock. Kennedy won’t always win, but he’ll hang in there until the very end.

With his past track record and an excellent grappling display against a world-class BJJ black belt in his UFC debut, Kennedy promises to be a fixture in the UFC middleweight division. And with Anderson Silva losing the title and seemingly not interested in regaining it, Kennedy could also find himself in the contender mix before long.

Potential: Medium to High

Photo: Tim Kennedy (L) has his hand raised in victory (Esther Lin/MMA Fighting)

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