Let us travel to Dec. 16, 2010.
Jamie Varner just lost his final WEC fight to Shane Roller in the very first round, dropping his record to 0-3-1 over the course of his last four bouts.
The draw, to Kamal Shalorus, was not a loss only because of a one-point deduction to Shalorus for illegal groin strikes.
You have two options and you must pick one. Remember, Varner is effectively 0-4 over his last four fights.
In 2012 Varner will either be a Wal-Mart greeter or a legitimate UFC lightweight contender at a time when the 155-pound division is more stacked than ever.
Welcome to Wal-Mart, right?
Amazingly, Varner finds himself firmly planted in the latter proposition, and there is no denying 2012 has been the best year of his MMA career.
With a solid win over Melvin Guillard at UFC 155, Varner moves to 2-1 in 2012, with the sole loss coming in a Fight of the Year candidate against Joe Lauzon.
With such momentum, Varner finds himself in a nice spot inside the lightweight division, and there are a handful of opponents who make sense for his next outing.
Let's check them out.
Is Jim Miller a higher-level opponent than Varner deserves in his next fight?
Perhaps, but I still think this would be an amazing matchup between two lightweight standouts.
The UFC has a tendency to match up guys coming off wins on the same card, and with Miller's UFC 155 victory over Joe Lauzon, this bout makes a lot of sense.
Both guys are well-rounded, both come to fight, and both always find themselves in exciting bouts.
Just like Miller vs. Lauzon, I think this fight would be an absolute crowd-pleaser.
Furthermore, both Miller and Varner need another quality win before seizing a No. 1 contender fight, so why not see who is for real and who is just an awesome gatekeeper?
We have already seen this fight earlier this year, and it was a doozie.
Varner found success throughout the fight with his powerful striking and wrestling, and he was well on his way to a decision victory.
...And then Joe Lauzon hit a beautiful triangle, ending Varner's night and chance at victory in one swift flick of the hips.
In this UFC on Fox: Shogun vs. Vera matchup, Varner out-struck Lauzon 82 to 44 in significant strikes and hit 50 percent of his takedowns.
Needless to say, Varner can beat Lauzon, and with how exciting their first fight was, there is no reason not to have a rematch.
Rafael dos Anjos might be the best UFC lightweight nobody is talking about.
The Brazilian grappling sensation is 3-0 in his last three fights, and his striking has vastly improved in each outing.
Most recently, dos Anjos obliterated Mark Bocek at UFC 154, and I think a bout with Varner makes sense for both fighters moving forward.
Pictured is the loser of January's lightweight matchup between Donald Cerrone and Anthony Pettis (hehe).
While either of these fighters makes for a nice WEC-throwback 155-pound tilt, the winner will likely receive a title shot, so Varner would have to take on the loser.
If Varner draws Pettis, his renewed dedication to wrestling and grappling may be enough to lead him to victory, whereas Cerrone would provide a very tough test in all facets of the game.
I personally think Pettis will defeat Cerrone with superior striking in a bout that promises fireworks, but either lightweight would provide a nice test for Varner in his next outing.
Neither Matt Wiman nor TJ Grant has much name recognition to the casual MMA fan, but anybody who closely follows the UFC knows how capable each man is inside the Octagon.
Both Grant and Wiman are currently on nice winning streaks (three straight for Grant, two for Wiman), and the winner of this matchup will take a leap forward in the lightweight division.
Such a jump might just land him a fight with the rejuvenated Jamie Varner, and I, for one, would eagerly anticipate that bout.