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 lone newcomer from UFC Fight Night 26.

James Vick — first-round submission victory over Ramsey Nijem

It didn’t even take James Vick a minute to notch his first UFC victory. Stepping into the Octagon opposite The Ultimate Fighter 13 finalist Ramsey Nijem, Vick quickly found a route to success. The TUF 15 alum secured a guillotine choke and coaxed a tapout in just 58 seconds.

Vick’s victory was a stunning surprise. Nijem was just 3-2 inside the Octagon coming into the fight and was looking to rebound from a knockout loss at the hands of Myles Jury, but his experience inside the UFC’s eight-sided cage made him the favorite on Saturday night. Vick didn’t let it phase him, however.

The strategic element to Vick’s game makes him a dangerous threat moving forward. He admitted that he drilled the choke repeatedly in training, which suggests that he spotted the hole in Nijem’s game and took full advantage of it.

However, we were not afforded the opportunity to see much of Vick in front of a live audience. On TUF 15, he struggled to get past veteran Dakota Cochrane, but scored a knockout of Daron Cruickshank and a unanimous decision victory over Joe Proctor before falling via knockout to Michael Chiesa. Since his elimination from the reality series tournament bracket, Vick has been absent from the cage. He was to fight Vinc Pichel at the TUF finale event following his season on the show, but the knockout loss to Chiesa prevented that from happening. Thus, Vick was competing officially for the first time since a September 2011 win over Chris Pecero at a regional event.

The 26-year-old showed no signs of ring rust and resumed where he left off in his undefeated career. The Texan is now perfect through five pro outings and has notched four of those wins in the first round. His chin appears to be his weakest link, but he has shown power on his feet to accompany a dangerous grappling game. He can finish fights wherever they may go.

Vick still has a lot to prove. Nijem was a fellow TUF contestant and is now sitting at the .500 mark inside the Octagon. Vick should continue to feed on similar competition in his next few outings, then advance to face higher levels of opposition. That’s where the true test will come for him. At the very least, however, Vick should win enough fights to establish himself as a divisional gatekeeper within the UFC.

Potential: Medium

Photo: James Vick (Esther Lin/MMA Fighting)

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