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 six newcomers from UFC 169.

Danny Martinez — unanimous decision loss to Chris Cariaso

Danny Martinez has been fighting professionally since 2006, and the 28-year-old has had his share of opportunities to break through to highest levels of the sport. The problem for Martinez has been capitalizing on those opportunities. That was the case in his UFC debut, as well. Martinez couldn’t find the takedown or get the better of Chris Cariaso in the stand-up department, and therefore dropped a unanimous decision to the veteran UFC flyweight.

Martinez has never been stopped in his career, and he has 11 finishes in his 16 total victories. However, his wild striking wasn’t going to get him far against Cariaso, an accomplished precision striker, and it probably won’t win him many fights against the UFC’s flyweight class. Martinez took a more grinding double-leg takedown approach to his Octagon debut, but the strategy was ineffective. Martinez could press Cariaso against the cage and elicit a chorus of boos from the crowd, but he couldn’t find a way to score points with the judges.

It’s been a trend for Martinez to come up short against top competition throughout his career. His first loss came to Mark Hominick, and he’s also lost fights to Adrian Wooley, Joseph Benavidez and Jussier “Formiga” da Silva. The fact that he has gone the distance with all of those men shows that he is a tough, well-rounded fighter. But the fact that he’s lost to all of them indicates that he still has some hurdles to clear in evolving into a top-tier fighter.

There’s a chance that the Alliance MMA’s willingness to step in on short notice for Kyoji Horiguchi against Cariaso could earn him a second go-around, but Martinez may be headed back to the regional circuit once more following his loss to Cariaso. His resume, however, suggests that he could be a gatekeeper that weeds out the pretenders from the contenders at the UFC level.

Potential: Low

Kevin Lee — unanimous decision loss to Al Iaquinta

Kevin Lee entered his UFC debut with an undefeated record through seven contests, but it’s a good bet that he’s never encountered an opponent with the skill level of Al Iaquinta. Iaquinta rocked Lee in the opening stanza, survived Lee’s submission attempts in the second frame and outpointed the Octagon newcomer in the third round to claim the unanimous decision win.

The 21-year-old Lee, despite the loss, showed flashes of potential against Iaquinta. Though the New Yorker tested Lee’s chin early, Lee was able to recover and remained composed even when in peril. Lee has never scored a knockout victory, but he’s also never lost a fight by knockout. However, Iaquinta raised some real questions about Lee’s chin. Fellow UFC lightweights will likely try to keep fights standing with Lee and knock him out.

Lee’s biggest advantage comes in his ground game. He has won four fights via submission and was closing in on a similar finish against Iaquinta. If Lee can get opponents to the ground, he can cause them headaches. He just needs to be consistent in getting the fight on the canvas. When he couldn’t, he was either rocked by Iaquinta or outpointed by the Serra-Longo product.

Lee has youth on his side. At just 21, his grappling skills are going to continue to improve. He also has the time to develop his striking arsenal as a complement to his ground game. The loss puts Lee on shaky ground with the UFC, but he was also one half of one of the more entertaining preliminary cards on the bout, which could buy him a reprieve and a sophomore appearance with the promotion.

Potential: Low to Medium

Andy Enz — unanimous decision loss to Clint Hester

Remember the only guy that faced Uriah Hall on The Ultimate Fighter 17 and didn’t end up in a state of unconsciousness? You couldn’t be blamed for forgetting Andy Enz’s brief appearance on the show, where he dropped a decision to Hall in the preliminary round of fights. Enz never even made the TUF house, but he has the bragging rights when it comes to not being part of Hall’s ridiculous highlight reel from the reality series. Now, Enz also has his UFC debut out of the way. Much like how he survived Hall, Enz can at least be commended on having a ton of heart and a serious chin in his decision loss to another TUF 17 castmate, Clint Hester.

Enz displayed a brawling style against the more technical Hester. He was rocked early, but managed to recover and hang with Hester for three rounds. Unfortunately, Enz lacks the power behind his punches to do serious damage, and he also seems to lack anything outside of a brawling style. The MMA Lab product has won a number of fights via submission, but it was Hester who was able to take Enz down in this fight.

At just 22 years old, Enz has plenty of time to develop his skills. He was undefeated before running into Hester, and his MMA Lab teammates speak highly of him. Power can’t be taught, but if Enz can focus on wrestling and takedowns in order to bring opponents to the ground, then he can find more success with his submissions. However, the native Alaskan barely eked his way past two of the seven opponents he fought on the regional circuit, which isn’t a good sign for his UFC prospects.

Potential: Low

Rashid Magomedov — unanimous decision win over Tony Martin

Rashid Magomedov moved his career mark to 16-1 following his unanimous decision victory over Tony Martin on Saturday night. In doing so, he overcame a difficult first round and turned the tide in the second and third periods.

The Russian found himself on the receiving end of a very tight armbar applied by Martin in the opening stanza. Magomedov was clearly in pain, but he was able to maneuver himself out of danger. Beyond that initial scare, Magomedov looked good. It took him the first round to get comfortable and to find an answer for Martin’s size and aggression. In the second and third frames, he displayed superior striking, but it was his takedown defense that really aided him in capturing the victory. Martin wanted the fight on the mat, but outside of one takedown, Magomedov refused to let him have his way.

The 29-year-old checks in with the most accomplished record of any of the UFC 169 debutants. Prior to topping Martin, the Russian lightweight had been a fixture in the M-1 Global promotion, where he fought and defeated the likes of Alexander Yakovlev, Yasubey Enomoto, Rafal Moks, Igor Araujo and Shamil Zavurov and only lost to Magomedrasul Khasbulaev via a split verdict. He also held the promotion’s welterweight championship. Magomedov was the seasoned veteran among the newcomers, and he showed as much with his skill in escaping Martin’s armbar attempt.

Magomedov is a highly skilled fighter. He’s a Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu black belt and is a Master of Sports in combat sambo, boxing and hand-to-hand combat. His resume suggests that he’ll at the very least succeed against the lower tiers of UFC lightweight competition.

Potential: Medium

Tony Martin — unanimous decision loss to Rashid Magomedov

As impressive as Tony Martin was in the opening five minutes of his fight with Rashid Magomedov, the second and third rounds highlight the areas where the 24-year-old must still improve in order to excel inside the Octagon.

Martin exploded out of the gates with aggression and a slick submission game that led to an armbar attempt that nearly finished his Russian counterpart. Once Magomedov escaped, though, the momentum started to shift. Martin is a grappler, and he had difficulty working his stand-up against Magomedov. He also failed in his attempts to drag the Russian back to the mat. The most telling stat was in Martin’s takedown success rate. He was successful on only one of 10 takedown attempts. That one successful attempt marked the only time in which Martin was able to threaten Magomedov. Obviously, if he can take opponents down with more effectiveness, he’ll also find more opportunities to finish fights.

Against many other lightweights, the first-round armbar would have been all Martin needed to score the win. He is big for a lightweight, even compared to a former welterweight like Magomedov. Martin needs to learn how to use that size to his advantage in dragging opponents to the ground. Until he figures out that part of his game, he’s going to find it difficult to use his submission skills against UFC-caliber competition. But if he does figure it out, he could turn into a legitimate threat within the UFC’s lightweight division.

Potential: Low to Medium

Gasan Umalatov — unanimous decision loss to Neil Magny

There may be nothing worse than a UFC debut against an opponent who suddenly appears much improved. Gasan Umalatov found that out on Saturday night when he dropped a unanimous decision to Neil Magny.

Magny was coming off two straight losses and had never before flashed the same level of striking or grappling as he did against Umalatov. The Russian was left frustrated by his inability to get inside Magny’s reach. Umalatov tried to land winging punches, but he couldn’t find his range and was even taken down by the Grudge Training Center product.

Umalatov doesn’t have the same impressive track record as fellow Russian newcomer Magomedov, and he didn’t demonstrate that he has the chops to conquer the UFC’s welterweight division, even at the lowest levels. The 31-year-old now stands at 1-2 over his last three outings, which gives the UFC even less reason to keep him around.

Potential: Low

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