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 two newcomers from UFC Fight Night 30.

Robert Whiteford — second-round submission loss to Jim Hettes

Making a UFC debut is always a daunting task. Doing it on less than a week’s notice can make the challenge even more difficult, especially when facing an opponent as challenging as Jim Hettes. That’s the spot that Robert Whiteford found himself in on Saturday. The outcome was not what he would have liked. Whiteford lost the bout via triangle choke in the second round.

The Scottish fighter flashed an in-and-out, quick, lunging striking game in the fight’s opening moments, but he couldn’t find his target with the punches. His style also leaves him open to counters as he moves in, though his speed may nullify most of his foe’s counter attempts.

Whiteford’s bigger weaknesses come in the clinch and on the ground. Despite a judo background, the 30-year-old wasn’t able to recognize the setup from Hettes of a judo throw and was easily brought to the mat. He did show good submission defense while Hettes continued to attack, but he was too easily lured into the fight-ending triangle. Whiteford struggled to get takedowns or separation, something he’ll need to work on if he wants to find better luck in the featherweight division.

Whiteford’s last loss came in his professional debut in 2009. He had won 10 in a row, prompting his signing with the UFC to replace Mike Wilkinson in the fight with Hettes. Fighting on short notice may earn Whiteford one more chance in the Octagon, but grapplers and wrestlers will feast on him in the UFC.

Potential: Low

Nicholas Musoke — first-round submission victory over Alessio Sakara

Sometimes, fighters disappoint in their UFC debuts. Other times, they enter the Octagon for the first time and leave their mark on the promotion, surprising fans in the process. Nicholas Musoke falls into the latter category. The Swede needed just over three minutes to snag the arm of longtime UFC vet Alessio Sakara for the armbar submission finish.

Musoke, who made his pro debut in 2007, has only lost to Cathal Pendred and Danny Mitchell. He was undefeated through his last six fights, with five wins and one no-contest. Yet, the Swede was relatively unknown to most fans before he entered the Octagon.

Musoke was rocked early despite keeping his hands up. He showed good recovery abilities, but was taken down easily by Sakara while he was trying to regain his sense. However, Musoke didn’t remain on the mat for long and flashed some power of his own when he wobbled Sakara. Musoke’s striking style features wide punches that could leave him susceptible to short inside counter punches.

The ground game was where Musoke really excelled. The Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu purple belt displayed good top control and transitions, though Sakara was able to sweep him a bit too easily. However, Musoke proved equally adept at fighting off his back. He was active from the bottom in striking and seeking the submission. His setup for the fight-ending armbar was beautiful. One second he was simply on the bottom avoiding Sakara’s attack, but the next he had an armbar locked in for the stoppage.

Musoke may struggle to find much success on his feet, but his ground game makes him a threat any time a fight hits the mat. He was swept by Sakara, but size might have contributed to his inability to maintain the top position. Remember, Musoke normally fights at welterweight and only took the fight at middleweight to capitalize on his chance to join the UFC, as many fighters tend to do. It’s highly likely that he will tip the scales at 170 pounds for his next outing. He won’t win all of his fights, but he should surprise enough opponents with his submission attack to dig his heels in as a middle-tier welterweight.

Potential: Medium

Photo: Nicholas Musoke (Ryan O’Leary/Sherdog)

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