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 35.

Beneil Dariush — first-round submission victory over Charlie Brenneman

What’s the best way for a highly accomplished grappler to prove he’s ready to compete at the UFC level? How about not only scoring a submission victory in under two minutes, but also rocking an opponent with a big left hand while standing? That’s the route the Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu black belt Beneil Dariush took in submitting UFC veteran Charlie Brenneman via rear-naked choke.

The southpaw from California had initially stepped up on late notice to replace Adlan Amagov against Jason High, but High was forced to withdraw and Brenneman stepped in on even less notice. Dariush didn’t let the change get in the way of victory. With Brenneman seeking to get inside while also keeping his hands low, Dariush was able to connect with a left hand that staggered the UFC vet. The 24-year-old swarmed Brenneman and eventually transitioned to his back and locked in the fight-ending submission.

Dariush didn’t get much of a chance to display his full range of skills before finishing Brenneman, but he was able to demonstrate power on the feet and a slick grappling game on the mat. This is a man who is a no-gi World champion as a blue, purple and brown belt. Furthermore, he is highly skilled in Muay Thai. He can be dangerous to his opponents wherever the fight goes, but it’s a sure bet that most opponents will prefer to test him on his feet.

Defeating Brenneman is one thing. “The Spaniard” is a low-level gatekeeper who has only been defeated once outside the Octagon—against John Howard, who would go on to fight in the UFC—but has lost on five occasions now under the UFC banner, while only winning in four of his UFC appearances. Dariush has to prove that he can excel against the next step up in competition. Given his grappling credentials and a solid striking game, he should be able to succeed in that mission and remain a constant on the UFC roster.

Potential: Medium

Louis Smolka — unanimous decision over Alptekin Ozkilic

It was only one month ago that Darren Uyenoyama acknowledged that people didn’t want to fight Alptekin Ozkilic. After Wednesday night, it might be Louis Smolka that earns that reputation. Smolka worked his way to a unanimous verdict over the highly touted Ozkilic to announce his arrival in the UFC flyweight division.

Smolka enjoyed a four-inch height advantage, as well as the reach advantage one would expect to accompany that edge in height, over his Turkish foe. It took Smolka a while to find his range, but once he did, his striking attack resembled that of a 125-pound version of Nick Diaz. The accumulation of punishment that Smolka delivered via his short jabs took its toll on Ozkilic and allowed Smolka to solidify his win as the fight went on. The only concerns for Smolka on his feet are the time it took him to find his range and the number of blows he endured from Ozkilic. With such a long frame, Smolka needs to do a better job of staying on the outside and using the striking attack that he was so effective with in the later rounds of his Octagon debut.

Stand-up was not the only aspect of Smolka’s game that resembled that of Diaz. The Hawaiian fighter, like Diaz, seemed all too willing to fight off his back and did little to fend off Ozkilic’s takedown attempts. The problem for Smolka is that, despite his four career submission wins, he doesn’t possess the same lethal game from bottom position that Diaz has at his disposal. If there’s one area where Smolka needs to drill, it’s in his sprawls.

Despite a few holes in his game, the overall performance of Smolka against Ozkilic was nothing short of impressive. He picked apart his adversary on the feet and did well when in top position on the mat. He may struggle against fighters with wrestling-heavy strategies, but his high-volume striking and comfort in going to the mat give him a well-rounded arsenal that should allow him to climb into contention in the UFC’s flyweight division. Furthermore, he’s only 22 years old and could still develop to be even better at his craft.

Potential: High

About The Author

The MMA Corner Staff

Your home for all things MMA. News, Interviews, Event Coverage, Editorials. If it is MMA related, you will find it on The MMA Corner.