Joe Lauzon put on one the best performances of his career Saturday night, scoring a third-round submission win over a resurgent Jamie Varner at UFC on FOX 4. Lauzon's terrific showing was impressive enough to earn him the rarely seen victory, Submission of the Night and Fight of the Night trifecta.
Though a fighter can never have too many great performances the win truly could not have come at a better time for Lauzon, who dropped his previous contest to Anthony Pettis via first-round knockout.
The victory should be enough to help fans forget about that failure, and should do wonders for Lauzon's progress back up the lightweight ladder. As the 28-year-old preps to begin that climb, let's take a look at five potential candidates who would make for a suitable first rung.
Nurmagomedov debuted in the UFC with an impressive rear-naked choke win over Kamal Shalorus, then took a step up in competition, earning a unanimous decision victory over Gleison Tibau.
The next logical step in the career of Nurmagomedov would be to fight someone better than Tibau, but not quite in tier of the Jim Millers or Gray Maynards. After all, there is no need for the promotion to rush the 23-year-old Russian into a bout against the division's top echelon just yet.
Waiting just south of the upper-crust is Joe Lauzon, who would provide a perfect measuring stick to gauge where exactly Nurmagomedov is in the division at this time.
And looking at things from the opposite perspective, it is a fight that makes sense for Lauzon as well. Nurmagomedov embodies a bounty of considerable worth, despite his lack of experience. Though a win over the Eagle might not earn Lauzon a title shot, it would definitely be a nice feather in his cap moving forward.
As an added benefit, this fight would more than likely not lack for entertainment.
Miller would provide a step up in competition over Jamie Varner, but Lauzon is no stranger to the upper-echelon of the lightweight division, already having contested Kenny Florian and Anthony Pettis.
Granted, Lauzon hasn't found a great deal of success at that level, but his performance against Varner at UFC on FOX 4 should most certainly gain him consideration for a big fight.
Miller is coming off a disappointing loss to Nate Diaz in a title eliminator and could really use a win. He would enter a fight with Lauzon as the clear favorite, so this fight makes sense for either guy.
For Lauzon, it's a chance to finally break through to that next level. For Miller, it's a chance to get back in the win column against a credible opponent.
Like Miller, Guida provides a stepping stone for Lauzon to greater heights, while retaining the possibility of getting back in the win column against a solid fighter.
Guida has dropped two straight contests, but still resides in the top portion of the divisional rankings. He would provide Lauzon with a tough, and possibly very entertaining fight, while bringing some influence on the division's title picture, albeit limited, to the table.
The bout would be a way for Lauzon to propel himself into more meaningful fights, and for Guida to reestablish himself as one of the division's pack leaders.
Stylistically, Guida and Lauzon could potentially put on a very fast paced contest that seamlessly moves through all realms of MMA.
Surging lightweight contender Mark Bocek would provide Lauzon with another solid competitor to test his meddle against.
Though the Canadian fighter doesn't have one of the fiercest reputations at 155, he grants an easy path to victory for no opponent. If Lauzon were able to scratch and claw his way to victory over Bocek he may not find himself at the top of the weight class, but it would certainly be a clear sign that he is ready to at least attempt an ascent.
The matchup between Lauzon and Bocek would be interesting, as both guys possess solid wrestling and even better submissions. Lauzon would enter with an advantage standing, but whether or not he could avoid being put on his backside would probably end up being the decisive factor in determining the outcome of the battle.
Lauzon took on Jamie Varner, so why not turn to Varner's nemesis next?
Cerrone is booked to take on Melvin Guillard at UFC 150, which is set for August 11, but win, lose or draw, the Cowboy will remain near enough to Lauzon in the lightweight pecking order for this fight to make sense. The outcome of Cerrone's fight against Guillard would really just determine who would be trying to leap frog the other.
Cerrone would provide Lauzon with an interesting test both on the feet and the ground. While J-Lau most certainly is the more efficient wrestler of the pair, and could use that advantage to influence where the fight took place, he would find a stiff challenge in wait regardless of his choice.
Of all the options open to Lauzon after his victory at UFC on FOX 4, Cerrone might be the one that makes the most sense.
It is also a matchup with some serious Fight of the Night potential.