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 seven newcomers from UFC’s The Ultimate Fighter: China Finale.

Mark Eddiva — unanimous decision win over Jumabieke Tuerxun

For a man who had spent more than three years away from active competition, Mark Eddiva impressed in his Octagon debut to kick off the TUF China Finale. Perhaps more significant is the fact that he did so against a fighter whom many view as the UFC’s best bet at developing a local Chinese star. Eddiva emerged with a unanimous decision win over that fighter, the previously undefeated Jumabieke Tuerxun.

The highly decorated wushu fighter didn’t let the ring rust affect him, though his size may have played a large part in his featherweight win over Tuerxun, a natural bantamweight. He was able to use that size advantage to bully Tuerxun in the clinch and stuff almost every takedown attempt that came his way. Eddiva displayed an arsenal of quick, effective punches and kicks, but he was also a smart fighter in his ability to duck under Tuerxun’s slower punches and score takedowns of his own. The Team Lakay fighter’s biggest flaw in the fight was in his submission defense. Had Tuerxun been a more savvy grappler, he would have been able to complete the submission attempts he snagged Eddiva with late in the contest.

Eddiva’s striking acumen and his takedown defense provide him with the potential for sustained success in the UFC, especially if the promotion’s international approach leads to repeated match-ups against competition at the same level as Tuerxun. Where Eddiva will struggle, however, is in fights against natural featherweights whose size will allow them to complete takedowns. Eddiva’s missteps late against Tuerxun suggest that we’ll see him on the wrong end of submission finishes when he butts heads with the division’s better grapplers and wrestlers.

Potential: Medium

Jumabieke Tuerxun — unanimous decision loss to Mark Eddiva

Contract issues prevented Jumabieke Tuerxun from competing on The Ultimate Fighter: China, but he’s now an official member of the UFC roster. His debut, however, didn’t go as well as the UFC would have hoped. Tuerxun, who quite likely stood as the UFC’s targeted superstar for the region, could not overcome the size discrepancy in his featherweight contest with Mark Eddiva. When the scorecards were read, it was Eddiva who emerged with the unanimous verdict.

Tuerxun, who typically fights at bantamweight, moved to featherweight for this encounter, but the results were horrendous. He looked sluggish when he threw punches, and his wrestling base was useless against the larger Eddiva. Even on the rare occasion that the Chinese fighter took the upper hand, he was unable to maintain position or finish a submission attempt.

It was obvious from the get-go that the state of Chinese MMA is not at the same level as many other regions of the world. In China, Tuerxun is a standout. In the bigger picture, his wrestling isn’t at a level to allow him to compete in the UFC, especially not at featherweight, and his grappling skills couldn’t even get him the finish against a fighter who was not properly defending against his attacks. Given his undefeated record prior to his UFC debut, Tuerxun might get a second chance with the UFC, though it needs to come at bantamweight. Regardless of the division where he competes, he won’t make it far at the UFC level.

Potential: Low

Anying Wang — first-round TKO victory over Albert Cheng

It’s not a new thing for The Ultimate Fighter to generate inexperienced fighters and then give them a chance to make a run at success in the Octagon. Anying Wang entered the TUF house with just one pro fight under his belt and advanced to the semifinals before he was eliminated from the tournament. In his official Octagon debut, Wang met Albert Cheng, the other man eliminated in the show’s welterweight semifinals. Wang delivered enough punishment in the opening stanza to force the ringside physician to call a halt to the contest after just five minutes of action. With the doctor’s stoppage, Wang picked up the TKO victory.

The Phuket Top Team fighter displayed quick, nice flurries against Cheng, and he pressed the action throughout the round. The doctor’s stoppage is the second in Wang’s two-fight pro career, suggesting that he can deliver a ton of punishment in a short period of time. It was an impressive performance from a fighter who never was able to flash his skills on the reality series—he got a pass in the quarterfinals after his opponent failed to make weight, then lost via submission to Wang Sai.

Fighting Cheng made Wang look like a top welterweight, but the performance should be taken in context. Wang proved he’s far superior a fighter who entered the TUF house on a two-fight losing streak and went 1-2 on the show. Does that really prove much? Not likely. Of all four welterweights from the show to appear on the finale card, Wang certainly delivered the most convincing performance. However, despite an official record that contains zero losses, he has been submitted by the show’s welterweight runner-up. Along with that runner-up, Wang stands as one of the two fighters from TUF China who possess at least some small potential for UFC success. He won’t ever become a contender, but Wang could become a promotional mainstay who regularly appears against fellow Chinese and Pacific region talent when the UFC visits the area.

Potential: Low

Albert Cheng — first-round TKO loss to Anying Wang

There isn’t much to say about Albert Cheng, who suffered a first-round doctor’s stoppage TKO loss to Anying Wang.

Cheng looked unimpressive against a fellow inexperienced fighter and failed to offer any significant offense in the fight. On The Ultimate Fighter, Cheng, who entered the show with a 2-2 career mark and riding a two-fight skid, fell via TKO in the quarterfinals. He earned a second shot when the man who beat him, Dong Xin, was sidelined. Cheng fought and defeated Yong Shun to secure the semifinals spot opposite eventual TUF winner Lipeng Zheng, but Zheng submitted Cheng in the second round of their clash.

With his loss to Wang, Cheng is now officially 2-3, and he is on a three-fight losing streak. Even if his TUF fights are added to his record, Cheng is an unimpressive 3-5. If he can’t beat TUF talent and couldn’t produce any offense to speak of in his fight against Wang, how can he ever be successful against the UFC’s tough welterweight roster? Of all the newcomers on the card, Cheng is the surest bet as the man to be one-and-done in the UFC.

Potential: Low

Yui Chul Nam — split decision victory over Kazuki Tokudome

Remember how entertaining Leonard Garcia could be, even when he wasn’t winning fights? How about Chris Leben? Well, the UFC may have just discovered the Korean strain of that type of fighter. His name is Yui Chul Nam. Nam emerged with a split decision victory in his UFC debut against Kazuki Tokudome.

Nam’s style is very reminiscent of the aforementioned Garcia and Leben. The “Korean Bulldozer” charges forward and throws aggressively, with a lot of power behind each punch. He rocked Tokudome countless times throughout their battle, but he never could put his Japanese counterpart away. In fact, Tokudome’s offense in rounds two and three was enough to elicit a 28-27 score in favor of Tokudome from one of the judges. In a way, Nam’s strong first round may have allowed him to steal a decision that rightfully belonged to his opponent.

Nam’s style is entertaining, and it will keep him in the UFC’s good graces. However, the style also spells trouble for Nam, just as it always has for Garcia and Leben. Nam faded after the first round after expending so much energy on his flurries of haymaker in the opening stanza. He was also too willing to take punishment. Furthermore, the style opened him up to takedowns and submission attempts.

The 32-year-old is now 18-4-1 in his career. He’s the type of fighter who will score some highlight-reel knockouts during his UFC career—again, much like the aforementioned Garcia and Leben—but he’ll also lose a number of his fights, mostly due to his lack of cardio and his tendency to land in bad spots on the mat.

Potential: Medium

Lipeng Zhang — split decision victory over Wang Sai

With his split decision victory over Wang Sai, Lipeng Zhang is the latest addition to a long list of The Ultimate Fighter victors. However, he may also find the least success inside the Octagon of any of those champions.

Zhang displayed decent grappling in his encounter with Sai, but he didn’t position himself well before committing to submission holds. This allowed Sai to escape or reverse position, and therefore expose another big hole in Zhang’s game: his inability to do anything from his back. Zhang often found himself dominated in this position. That makes it sound like Zhang was the losing fighter in this affair, doesn’t it? Well, there’s not much of an argument against that suggestion. Zhang eked out the decision victory by the slimmest of margins, which doesn’t evoke much confidence in his future prospects with the UFC.

Zhang’s career extends back to 2009, and he already had 15 fights under his belt when he entered into the TUF house. The problem is that he had a .500 record of 7-7-1 and had never posted more than two wins in a row. His losses were almost exclusively against competition with winning records, but his wins came against fighters with a combined record of 14-29-1, and only one of those wins came against a fighter who now stands at the .500 mark. The UFC is going to have to tailor his fights around the Pacific region competition Zhang is accustomed to fighting, and, even then, a win is still not guaranteed.

Potential: Low

Wang Sai — split decision loss to Lipeng Zhang

Whereas Lipeng Zhang was able to enjoy the honor of capturing the TUF China welterweight crown, Wang Sai, the man on the other end of the split decision, was forced to wonder what more he could have done.

Sai was strong in his use of top control against Zhang. Zhang did put him in some bad spots, but Sai was capable in his ability to escape. Like Zhang, however, Sai’s past resume hints at where he’ll go in his UFC career. Sai also started his pro career in 2009 and failed to string together more than two wins in a row prior to his entry into the TUF house. Despite sitting on the proper side of the .500 mark, Sai actually has had fewer sets of back-to-back wins than Zhang.

Sai’s attack is based a a high frequency of kicks, but those kicks are going to result in takedowns for his opponents. It happened against Zhang, and it’ll happened a lot more against the rest of the wrestling-heavy UFC welterweight roster. There’s a chance that he sticks around to provide the UFC with another established Chinese talent for its trips to the region, and Sai will possibly fare better than the man who beat him for the TUF trophy, but he’ll find it even more difficult to put together a winning streak against the level of talent that typically graces the Octagon.

Potential: Low

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