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 three newcomers from UFC 173.

Aaron Phillips — unanimous decision loss to Sam Sicilia

With a nickname like “The Model” and looks that could qualify him as the older rival to Justin Bieber or any number of boy band singers, Aaron Phillips might not strike many fans as an imposing fighter. However, the 24-year-old entered the UFC with an undefeated five-fight record and showed flashes of potential in his fight with UFC veteran Sam Sicilia before ultimately falling short on the scorecards.

Phillips succeeded early in the fight through his use of range, a southpaw stance and a well-placed knee to Sicilia’s midsection. Striking is definitely the strong suit in the featherweight’s arsenal. He has three career wins by way of first-round knockout or TKO, and he was certainly hanging with Sicilia, a brawler with heavy hands, through the first round. Phillips employs a taekwondo stance and can cut opponents down with kicks, but those same kicks allowed Sicilia to take the Louisiana-based fighter to the mat in rounds two and three.

The ground game is where Phillips comes up short. He attacks without hesitation, but he does so before establishing and securing his position. Even in the first frame, after landing the knee, he opted to go for a guillotine choke. The end result was that Phillips finished the round on his back. It only got worse in the following rounds, when he lost position off of a rear-naked choke and failed on another guillotine attempt. The good news is that Phillips remained active from his back with numerous submission attempts that led to scrambles. The bad news is that he was swept to bottom position after attaining mount, and that most of those scrambles ended with Sicilia holding the advantageous position.

Phillips is still young, and this was only his sixth pro fight. He has time to improve and shore up the holes in his game. If he can learn to slow down when grappling and take time to establish position before jumping into a submission attempt, it would add an entirely new dimension to his game. He also needs to stick to what’s working. In the opening frame, he fought from a southpaw stance. In the second stanza, he came out as an orthodox fighter and the tide immediately turned to Sicilia.

Phillips might have to return to the regional circuit for some more fine-tuning, or perhaps he’ll manage to stick around and make those adjustments in low-level UFC fights. If he can recognize and address the mistakes that led to his loss, the young fighter could have a future as a mid-tier talent inside the Octagon. If not, then his UFC career won’t last beyond his next fight, if even that far.

Potential: Low to Medium

David Michaud — split decision loss to Jingliang Li

Two debuting fighters, one wrestler, one grappler and a whole bunch of sloppy. That’s David Michaud’s Octagon debut in a nutshell. The South Dakota wrestler engaged in a back-and-forth battle with fellow UFC newcomer Jingliang Li that ended in a split decision. Unfortunately for Michaud, the verdict went in favor of his Chinese counterpart.

Michaud opted to test Li’s striking in the opening stanza. The 25-year-old looked relaxed in the opening moments and landed several combinations, but then Li started throwing kicks and landing effective counters. Once the two men started throwing down, Li often appeared to land the harder blows against Michaud, who didn’t demonstrate much in the way of striking defense.

Michaud’s base provided him with his best moments in the fight. He was able to score several takedowns, but he had to work hard to make it happen. On the mat, he also displayed mixed results. He was able to punish Li at times with ground-and-pound, but he was also swept from top position by the Chinese fighter.

Michaud seemed to find a second wind late in the fight, but he appeared to gas initially after the first round. That’s not a good sign. This is a welterweight fighter entering into an extremely tough division, and his cardio will be key to keeping him in fights. If he can’t take fights to the ground with consistency and gets tagged repeatedly in the stand-up, he’s going to have a hard time finding victories inside the Octagon.

Potential: Low

Jingliang Li — split decision victory over David Michaud

Despite his own sloppiness at times in the cage against David Michaud, Jingliang Li managed to do enough to establish himself as one of the UFC’s more promising Chinese imports. Li did just enough to eke by with a split decision victory over Michaud.

Once Li found a rhythm on his feet, he landed the better strikes, including several counters in the first round. As the fight wore on and the pair opened up for brief slugfest moments, it was Li who managed to connect with numerous lefts and rights that packed more power than Michaud’s returning volleys. Much like Michaud, however, Li relied more on his chin than he did on any actual striking defense.

Li’s bread and butter is his submission game, but we didn’t see much of it in this contest. His takedown attempts came up empty, and he was taken down more than once. “The Leech” didn’t throw up many submission attacks from his back, but he was able to use a submission attempt to score a sweep.

Li has to be looked at through the lens of the UFC’s global-expansion efforts. Overall, he’s probably not going to advance too high up the ranks unless he improves his own wrestling and protects his chin more in stand-up exchanges. However, his showing against Michaud stands as a more impressive performance than what we saw out of any of The Ultimate Fighter: China contestants or top Chinese prospects like Jumabieke Tuerxun or Tiequan Zhang. In that sense, the 26-year-old has done enough to establish himself as a commodity for the UFC’s future Asian efforts. It’ll provide him with a pass to hang around for at least a few more UFC fights, but he’ll struggle to turn those opportunities into wins.

Potential: Low to Medium