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 one newcomer from UFC Fight Night 40.

Ruan Potts — first-round knockout loss to Soa Palelei

In the UFC’s current heavyweight division, the reality is that every successful fighter brings more to the table than just knockout power. The UFC’s current crop of heavyweights is built around a core group that can strike, wrestle and grapple. It’s rare that a fighter can rely solely on grappling from his back to his win fights—even Frank Mir can’t rely on that strategy much anymore. Ruan Potts discovered as much when he made his Octagon debut against Soa Palelei. Palelei was able to knock out the South African as the newcomer hunted for submissions from the bottom.

Potts has four career wins by some form of knockout, but his striking isn’t going to get the job done at the UFC level. He attempted to work over Palelei’s legs with kicks, but he remained too far out of range and telegraphed the kicks. Palelei had plenty of time to scoot even farther out of range, rendering those leg kicks completely ineffective. Potts’ only other significant attempt at striking offense involved a forward surge that allowed Palelei to tackle him for the takedown.

Potts was probably expecting to fight off his back. Once down, he gave very little effort to sweeping or scrambling out of the bottom position. Instead, Potts sought submission after submission. He gave up on each attempt rather quickly, too. He was fighting a powerhouse in Palelei, but he was also attempting to grapple with a Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu black belt who defended well against whatever Potts offered. As Potts continued to attack Palelei’s arms, the Australian fighter chose to answer with some ground-and-pound. The result was a quick connection to the vulnerable Potts that left the South African fighter out cold.

Potts’ willingness to aggressively attack with submissions has netted him four career submission wins, including several that came in less than a minute of action. It must be noted that his recent three-fight winning streak, where all the victories came via submission, included just one fellow prospect, also from South Africa, and a pair of fighters with career marks that now stand at 3-3 and 1-3. Potts has been a big fish in a small pond while fighting in his native land. In the UFC, he’s guaranteed to encounter fighters with much more developed skill sets, including strikers who can defend against submissions and better wrestlers who can easily plant him on the canvas and rain down punches in much the same way as Palelei did.

Potts could earn a second chance if the UFC has any designs on targeting the African market, and South Africa specifically. He’s an established name in the region, which makes him an attractive roster addition for the UFC’s efforts in the area. However, he’s going to struggle unless he’s fighting other regional talent on UFC Fight Pass cards targeted for those international markets.

Potential: Low

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