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 four newcomers from UFC Fight Night 32.

Sergio Pettis — unanimous decision victory over Will Campuzano

When fight fans first hear the name Pettis, they think “Showtime Kick” and the UFC lightweight champion, but at UFC 167, those fans were introduced to another Pettis. Sergio, the younger brother of UFC lightweight kingpin Anthony, made his Octagon debut in the bantamweight division with a hard-fought unanimous decision victory over Will Campuzano, who was making his return to the promotion after a stretch on the regional circuit.

Sergio didn’t display the flashiness that has become his brother’s trademark, but the 20-year-old is a technical striker that delivered a good mix of punches and kicks against Campuzano. He punished his opponent with leg kicks, a tactic that could help him to slow down opponents while maximizing his own efficiency.

Whereas Sergio was effective on his feet, he did have trouble against the takedowns of Campuzano. On numerous occasions, even late in the fight after he had slowed Campuzano with leg kicks, the WEC veteran was able to shoot in and easily put Sergio on his back on the mat. However, the Roufusport product remained active while on bottom and attacked with submission attempts. He is still young, though, and did make mistakes, which Campuzano failed to capitalize on. If there’s an area where Sergio needs to grow, it’s in his takedown defense and defending against someone who has the superior position against him on the ground. Sergio did go for a power guillotine and clung to Campuzano’s neck often when Campuzano came inside. That could be Sergio’s answer to defending future takedowns.

Sergio has some holes in his game, but at the young age of 20, he has lots of time to improve. He faced a solid vet in first Octagon appearance and emerged with his hand raised, which is a good sign of things to come. Sergio has competed in the flyweight division in the past and could be a two-division threat, but his youth also means he could end up outgrowing the flyweight division. At bantamweight, he’s going to have to work on his takedown defense and ground game, while also continuing to evolve a dynamic striking game. If the pedigree his brother brings to the eight-sided cage is any indication, though, it’s likely Sergio will make the proper adjustments and go far in the UFC.

Potential: Medium to High

Anthony Lapsley — unanimous decision loss to Jason High

Some fighters seem to be good enough to dominate all other competition except those of a UFC caliber. Case in point, Anthony Lapsley. Entering his UFC debut, Lapsley’s losses had almost exclusively to fighters who made a UFC appearance either before or after fighting him, with the exception of sub-.500 fighter John Mahlow. His wins, which spanned ShoXC and Bellator bouts, came against everyone else. When he finally did step inside the Octagon, Lapsley continued that trend with a unanimous decision loss to Jason High.

Lapsley, who has notched 15 of his victories via submission, didn’t look especially impressive on the mat versus the superior wrestling and grappling of High. Lapsley has heart, but he was mostly helpless on the ground against High and allowed “The Kansas City Bandit” to transition to mount and back control with ease. He did little to counter High, instead having to do his best just to survive. Lapsley didn’t capitalize on chances to explode to his feet or reverse positions on High.

When Lapsley did gain top position, he was able to stay there and smother his opponent. The problem is that he never turned up the aggression level, either via ground-and-pound or by attacking with submissions. When he had the biggest advantage of the fight in taking High’s back, he got careless and quickly found himself back on bottom.

Lapsley’s 29-fight resume contains too obvious a trend of wins and losses. Those losses include fights versus Carlo Prater, Drew Fickett, Michael Guymon, Jay Hieron and now High. His biggest wins come against guys like Brent Weedman and Tyler Stinson. In other words, he may succeed in being the man to slam the UFC gates closed on debuting fighters who don’t have what it takes to compete at the highest level, but he won’t succeed when he steps up beyond that level of competition.

Potential: Low

Photo: Sergio Pettis (Esther Lin/MMA Fighting)

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