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 14 newcomers from UFC Fight Night 34.

High Potential

With the new UFC Fight Pass broadcasts, the focus will be on newcomers. That’s quite obvious with the amount of debuting fighters at UFC Fight Night 34. It also means that we’ll switch up formats for these events and look at the fighters grouped by their future potential.

Russell Doane opened the evening with an impressive performance against jiu-jitsu ace Leandro Issa. With an effective takedown defense, Doane was able to use Issa’s strengths against him. He locked in a triangle choke from the bottom in the second round and rendered Issa unconscious. Doane’s strength is considered to be his striking, but his takedown defense and ability to hang on the ground with a world-class jiu-jitsu practitioner rounds out a game that should take him far in the UFC’s bantamweight division.

With a reach disparity of nine and a half inches and a similar disadvantage in height, Katsunori Kikuno couldn’t have been expected to use his unorthodox karate-based striking attack to great effectiveness in his lightweight outing with Quinn Mulhern. Instead, it was the Japanese ability to stuff takedowns and control from top position that allowed him to coast to a unanimous decision victory. Kikuno is a former Deep champion and a Dream veteran who has faced elite competition during his career. He will immediately jump into the mix in the middle of the lightweight division and could emerge as a contender once he has the opportunity to face some of the UFC’s tougher lightweight competition.

The most highly anticipated debut of night belonged to Tatsuya Kawajiri, a longtime star of Japanese MMA under the Pride and Dream banners. Kawajiri made his name as a lightweight, where he faced some of the world’s best, but he is campaigning at featherweight now and had an unexpectedly challenging UFC debut against Sean Soriano. It took a few minutes for Kawajiri to find the takedown, but once he did, the tide quickly turned in his favor. He took Soriano’s back in the closing moments of the opening stanza and threatened with a rear-naked choke. In the second round, he scored the takedown and immediately went back to the choke, which led to a tap the referee didn’t see, before Soriano went unconscious. The Japanese fighter has a well-rounded game that includes strong wrestling, grappling and knockout power. Kawajiri has arrived, and it wouldn’t be surprising to see him immediately vault into the UFC’s top 10, if not top five, at featherweight.

Medium Potential

Jon delos Reyes may have lost via first-round armbar against UFC veteran Dustin Kimura, but he did display the skills to suggest that he could carve out a place for himself on the UFC roster, if only for the promotion’s return visits to the region. Reyes threw strikes with immense power and rocked Kimura. Reyes made the mistake of allowing Kimura to stay on his back. That’s where the weaknesses of Reyes game were revealed. He allowed Kimura to snag an arm and go for a submission, then would get free, only to end up giving his arm to Kimura again. His positional control and composure in escaping submissions before getting caught in the fight-ending armbar were impressive, but he needs to develop a smarter approach to fighting. If he’s able to rock guys on the feet and has to spend a lot of time on the mat fending off submission attempts, perhaps it would make more sense to let his opponent stand up rather than follow him to the ground. If Reyes can improve in that aspect of his game, he could have the right ingredients for a sustained run in the middle of the UFC’s bantamweight division.

Mairbek Taisumov was a highly touted prospect coming into his UFC debut and stood as the biggest favorite on the night, but his performance against Tae Hyun Bang left a lot to be desired. Taisumov tends to be a finisher and has faced some of the better fighters on the European circuit, but he couldn’t get the job done against Bang. The Chechen settled for a unanimous decision, doing just enough to dominate without really impressing. He even apologized to his coach afterwards. His ability to win the fight and his past record earn him the benefit of the doubt in terms of potential, but the lightweight will have to prove he can do more against much better competition than Bang in the future.

Royston Wee may have entered the Octagon with only two pro fights under his belt, but his performance against Dave Galera suggests that he is more than ready to join the UFC ranks. Wee mounted a high-pressure, blanketing offensive attack, even if it largely consisted of a lay-and-pray approach. He has the strength to score big takedowns and the ability to maintain top position. He needs to work on adding a ground-and-pound or submission-based attack while on the mat, but he could end up relying on his positional control to grind out decision wins. If his lopsided unanimous decision victory had come against a more experienced opponent than Galera, Wee could have landed in the high-potential range.

Kiichi Kunimoto and Luiz Dutra never really got a chance to display their games before Dutra landed a series of illegal elbows to the back of Kunimoto’s head. The fight ended in a disqualification loss for Dutra. Dutra’s run on TUF Brazil 2 and his aggressive striking attack suggests that he could find a foothold within the UFC’s welterweight division. The biggest hurdles he faces involve his history of injuries and the frustration he is sure to suffer after this disqualification loss. Kunimoto, meanwhile, has put up a solid record, but does need to prove himself against tougher competition. With the fight ending in a disqualification, he’ll land in the medium-potential range alongside his opponent.

The worst possible way to debut for any young, inexperienced fighter is to be thrust into action against a man who could be considered among the most elite. That was the predicament for Sean Soriano. He stepped into the Octagon against Tatsuya Kawajiri and put up a valiant effort before succumbing to a rear-naked choke in the second round. Soriano’s takedown defense in the opening moments of the fight was remarkable. Soriano couldn’t keep it up forever, but he could use those skills more effectively against lower-level competition in the UFC while continuing to evolve and improve. Hardly anybody expected Soriano to perform as well as he did against someone the caliber of Kawajiri, but that display suggests that if given time to develop, he can become a competitive member of the UFC’s featherweight division.

Low Potential

Not everybody can succeed at the UFC level. Even a highly decorated jiu-jitsu practitioner like Leandro Issa can end up on the losing end of a fight.

Issa struggled to implement his strongest points against Russell Doane, and he eventually suffered the loss on the ground. It’s not a good sign when a submission specialist gets submitted by a striker, but Issa’s takedown attempts stand as the glaring weakness that will leave him struggling to find success in a promotion littered with wrestlers and strikers who are well versed in defending the takedowns of those wrestlers. Issa telegraphed too many of his attempts, and even when he used his striking to set up a change of levels, he still ended up getting stuffed on numerous attempts. He could score a submission here or there against fighters that lack an answer for takedowns, but those will be few and far between.

Tae Hyun Bang was certainly the one fighter in the lineup who was viewed as a questionable choice as a UFC signing. The South Korean was 16-7 coming into the fight, but he was just 2-3 over his last five fights and had fought just once in the last three-plus years. Despite keeping his hands low against Mairbek Taisumov, Bang was able to deflect the Chechen’s numerous head kick attempts. What Bang couldn’t do, however, was find a way to impose his own offense. He preferred to wait for Taisumov to throw before throwing a counter of his own. That approach led to very little output from the South Korean and an eventual loss on the scorecards. Bang is a tough fighter and could be a gatekeeper to test the mettle of fighters from the region who are making their UFC debuts, but there’s also a good chance that this turns out to be Bang’s one and only Octagon appearance.

Dave Galera was unable to get anything going against Royston Wee in their bantamweight contest. He ended up on the wrong side of a lopsided unanimous decision. Galera came out overly aggressive and left himself prone to the takedown. Although he did attempt submissions from the bottom and threw strikes as well, he didn’t have the skills to sweep Wee or escape back to his feet. If Galera can’t get it done against an inexperienced fighter like Wee, he’s going to struggle mightily against the more seasoned veterans of the UFC’s 135-pound weight class.

Will Chope had to hope for a better Octagon debut. The experienced fighter suffered a second-round TKO loss to Max Holloway in the featured bout of the preliminary card. Chope’s lanky frame gives him a reach edge over most featherweights, but it’s as much a detriment as an advantage. Chope was able to wing in plenty of strikes, including uppercuts, against Holloway, but his lunging style also opened him up to counters. Chope showed a solid chin to stay standing as long as he did, but he didn’t have anything to fall back on when he was rocked. He was weak in the clinch and his takedown attempts were desperation attempts without much skill behind them. Chope could pick apart some UFC foes by utilizing his range, but he’ll have a hard time finding sustained success inside the Octagon.

Perhaps a move to flyweight would be best for Shunichi Shimizu. The bantamweight fighter was outsized by his opponent, Kyung Ho Kang, and had little chance to overcome that disadvantage before finally tapping out to an arm triangle in the third round. Shimizu left himself prone to strikes as he sought to snag Kang’s leg for a submission early in the fight and tended to keep his hands down in general. He showed good composure and submission defense early in the fight, but he was easily outstruck and not effective with his takedowns. Kang was able to take him down and easily transition to mount, where he pummeled the Japanese fighter before finishing him late with the submission. At flyweight, Shimizu might have a future in the UFC, but his bantamweight prospects appear to be pretty dim.