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 lone newcomer from UFC 164.

Nikita Krylov — third-round TKO loss to Soa Palelei

Soa Palelei’s third-round finish of Nikita “Al Capone” Krylov did as much to illustrate Krylov’s faults throughout the fight as it did to get Palelei a win inside the Octagon. In his post-fight interview with UFC commentator Joe Rogan, Palelei admitted that he was fighting with injured ribs and aggravated the injury during the fight. Despite that disadvantage and the fact that Palelei was fading by the end of the first stanza, Krylov had nothing to offer that could finish the big veteran. That’s not a good sign.

Krylov is just 21 years old and started fighting professionally a little over a year ago. He’s already racked up 15 stoppage wins, but he also suffered two first-round losses recently to Vladimir Mishchenko, who sits at just 6-2. Even more troublesome is the method of those two wins—submission. If there’s one area where Krylov showed potential against Palelei, it was fighting off his back on the mat while throwing up submission attempts. However, with two submission losses already, Krylov doesn’t even seem to have an elite mat game. If his skills on the ground were more refined, he could project as a young Frank Mir without Mir’s late-career upgraded stand-up. But if the Ukrainian couldn’t find a way to submit Palelei, it’s doubtful he’ll have much success against the other heavyweights on the UFC roster.

Further exacerbating the issue is Krylov’s non-existent takedown defense, his inability to counter his opponent’s passes from guard and side control, and his patty-cake striking. Palelei was easily able to plant the Ukrainian on the canvas, save for when Krylov grabbed the cage to avoid a slam. Once on the canvas, Palelei moved to full mount on at least two occasions. Although Palelei holds a black belt in Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu, he’s not known as a ground fighter and should have had at least a little more trouble getting past Krylov’s defenses. Then there’s the striking. Krylov hit Palelei flush on numerous occasions after the Tongan started showing signs of fatigue, but Palelei didn’t look the least bit phased. Krylov should have been able to end the fight right there, but he failed to do so.

Krylov’s abilities don’t lend to a forecast of a bright future inside the Octagon. His lack of power striking will severely limit his ability to overcome a division full of guys who can land a punch and put an opponent to sleep. He does have the aggressive submission attack to tap guys even while he’s on bottom, but if the 21-year-old is getting mounted and pummeled, those opportunities will be few and far between.

The man who idolizes a notorious gangster might be young enough to overcome these deficits in his game, but given his current skill set, there’s very little chance of Krylov enjoying an extended run in the UFC. With Palelei even pleading for a second chance after a win, expect to see Krylov back in the minor leagues for his next appearance. He may put together another extended run and garner a return visit to the Octagon, but there are a lot of areas that he will need to improve before he is able to take advantage of such an opportunity.

Potential: Low

Photo: Soa Palelei (top) pounds away on Nikita Krylov (Esther Lin/MMA Fighting)

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