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 five newcomers from UFC 166.

Kyoji Horiguchi — second-round TKO victory over Dustin Pague

It’s not always a guarantee that top prospects from Japan will find success in the UFC. Often, these fighters appear to be cursed when fighting outside their native country. However, Kyoji Horiguchi didn’t fall victim to the curse. Instead, the 23-year-old scored an impressive second-round TKO victory over Dustin Pague.

Fresh off a Shooto 132-pound title win and defense, Horiguchi found himself on the defensive early in the fight when Pague took him down. Pague sought a submission finish, but Horiguchi didn’t panic and did well in defending against Pague’s attacks. Although the Norifumi “Kid” Yamamoto training partner was taken down too easily, his composure on the mat was impressive. He might find himself victimized by wrestlers if he can’t strike first or stay out of range of their takedown attempts, but he won’t be helpless once on the mat.

The 2010 Shooto Rookie champion is active on his feet, which should come as no surprise considering his boxing and karate background He did keep his hands low, but his foot movement kept him out of range of any potential harm. He also has powerful strikes, but he seems to be a slow starter. Once he was able to connect, however, he got Pague to the mat and launched a devastating ground-and-pound attack that could turn out to be one of his best weapons.

Horiguchi’s fight with Pague was contested at 135 pounds, but Horiguchi typically fights at 132 pounds. A move to flyweight isn’t out of the question, and his tremendous power could put him next to John Dodson as one of that division’s most reliable finishers. At 135 pounds, Horiguchi should still find tremendous success if he can rely on his striking and ground-and-pound. The one issue might be his takedown defense. If Pague could take him down so easily, expect other better wrestlers to do so even more effectively.

Potential: Medium

Andre Fili — second-round TKO victory over Jeremy Larsen

Team Alpha Male just added another impressive fighter to its UFC contingent in the form of Andre Fili. Preparing for a welterweight bout prior to getting the call from the UFC to fill in on short notice, Fili missed the featherweight limit for his fight with Jeremy Larsen, but still emerged with the second-round TKO victory.

Fili came out as an aggressive striker from the opening bell. Seven of his career victories, including the win over Larsen, have come by some form of knockout. Fili demonstrated good knees from the clinch and crisp two-punch combinations in his striking exchanges with Larsen. Fili also displayed a good chin against Larsen, who landed clean punches on several occasions.

Although Fili’s striking was impressive, the positioning of his hands is a concern moving forward. He kept them low throughout the fight. Larsen, despite landing, couldn’t take advantage, but better, more powerful strikers will leave Fili on wobbly legs or worse.

Fili’s aggressive style, good chin and crisp striking make him an intriguing prospect. With Team Alpha Male and Duane Ludwig in his corner, the 23-year-old should continue to improve and settle in as a featherweight mainstay on the UFC roster.

Potential: Medium

Sarah Kaufman — split decision loss to Jessica Eye

With her long history of Strikeforce fights, it’s surprising that it took this long before Sarah Kaufman made her UFC debut. The former Strikeforce champ has kept it close in three of her last four outings, including her loss on Saturday night to Jessica Eye.

In her last four outings, Kaufman has lost via submission to Ronda Rousey and fought to three decisions that were anything but unanimous. The first was a majority decision win over Alexis Davis under the Strikeforce banner, the second was a split decision victory over Leslie Smith in Invicta and now there’s the split decision loss to Eye.

Kaufman did what she always does: engage in a stand-up bout. Eye obliged her in keeping the fight standing, and the Fight Metric stats point to Kaufman as the true winner of the fight.

Kaufman had just three decisions prior to her last four fights, as opposed to 10 wins by some form of knockout. This loss should provide Kaufman with added incentive to return to her finishing ways, but her opponents have become better at neutralizing her game plan. The blueprint for beating Kaufman seems to be in place now.

The 28-year-old Kaufman has the skills to hang around the top of the division for several years to come, but she needs to develop a greater sense of urgency. Her fighting style right now lends itself to going the distance, but that needs to change if she wants to achieve contender status.

Potential: Medium to High

Jessica Eye — split decision win over Sarah Kaufman

The UFC’s sole focus in the women’s side of the sports lies in the bantamweight division. That means a number of featherweights have dropped down and a number of flyweights have moved up, all in hopes of achieving success inside the Octagon. One of the most notable flyweights to transition to 135 pounds is Bellator veteran Jessica Eye. The question was whether fighters like Eye could find their hand raised against the larger foes of the bantamweight division. Eye proved that it was possible, even against the division’s elite, when she handed Sarah Kaufman a split decision loss.

Eye kept the fight close throughout, though she did get rocked on several occasions, especially in the third stanza. Despite those tense moments, Eye displayed a striking game that allowed her to keep the fight even through two rounds. All the more impressive is the fact that she did so against one of the bantamweight division’s top strikers in Kaufman. Although Fight Metric stats suggest that Kaufman should have been the fight’s victor, Eye did enough work to sway two judges in her favor.

In terms of size, Eye did not look small at 135 pounds. She also demonstrated strength in pushing Kaufman against the cage in the clinch and holding her there. Furthermore, her chin was able to endure some powerful shots from Kaufman without failing her.

The UFC broadcast team made a few small comments that suggested a UFC expansion into all but the atomweight division on the women’s side was a future possibility. If that’s the case, Eye could eventually drop back down to flyweight and rule the roost. For the time being, she’s have to ply her trade against 135ers, but that doesn’t appear to be a problem for her. She could easily develop into a top contender, but at the very least projects to stay somewhere in the middle tiers of the UFC’s division.

Potential: Medium to High

Darrell Montague — first-round knockout loss to John Dodson

Sometimes, Octagon Jitters and an elite opponent are a recipe for disaster. Anyone who is not familiar with the flyweight division beyond the borders of the UFC’s Octagon might have been left wondering what the big deal was about Darrell Montague following Saturday evening’s disappointing first-round knockout loss to John Dodson. Those who have watched Montague perform in the past know he’s capable of more.

The 25-year-old was a featured piece of Tachi Palace Fights’ tremendous flyweight roster before the UFC added its own 125-pound division. In Tachi, Montague used his frame, which is large for a flyweight, to take wins over the likes of Ulysses Gomez and Jeremy Bolt before losing to Ian McCall via third-round submission. The only one in that stable of Tachi flyweights, which included McCall, Gomez and Jussier “Formiga” da Silva, that did not quickly transition to the UFC was Montague. The “Mongoose” bounced back from his loss to McCall by defeating another top flyweight, Mamoru Yamaguchi, and putting together a four-fight winning streak, providing the anticipation for his UFC debut.

The problem in that debut came in the form of speed and power. Unfortunately for Montague, the speed and power belonged to his opponent, Dodson. As Montague tentatively tried to engage and impose his own game plan, he continually left his chin exposed. Dodson had little trouble connecting and spent most of the round moving inside and landing power shots. Montague’s chin held up for some time, but eventually failed him.

Dodson is one of the few flyweights with true knockout power, and Montague discovered that firsthand. Against almost any other opponent, we would have likely seen more of Montague’s skill set. Against Dodson, he was overwhelmed by that speed and power.

Several top flyweights have failed in their first try with the promotion, only to bounce back with a better showing in their second outing. If the UFC truly believes Montague’s standing as a top flyweight was warranted, it’ll give him another opportunity, likely much lower on the billing. However, there’s also a possibility that Montague will have to work his way back up from the regional circuit.

Potential: Medium

Photo: Jessica Eye (Esther Lin/MMA Fighting)

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