On paper, Cub Swanson's technical brilliance was supposed to carry him to victory over the tavern parking lot champion, Jeremy Stephens. While it was a nail-biter to the very end, Swanson showed that he is undeniably and unmistakably the best striker in the featherweight division.
Now, of course, the question becomes what's next for him?
The Jackson-Winkeljohn product has long been trapped in an awkward spot in the division, with losses to Ricardo Lamas, Chad Mendes and Jose Aldo. Wins are wins, however, and he has the resume to face anybody at 145 pounds. So who are the most likely candidates to face off with Swanson?
Don't confuse this with "the winner of Jose Aldo vs. Chad Mendes." If Aldo loses to Mendes, there's almost no way we don't see an immediate rematch barring an injury to the current champ. Should Aldo get past Mendes and remain in the featherweight division, however, Swanson makes sense as the next top contender.
Swanson is currently riding a six-fight winning streak with wins over numerous Top 10 fighters. There is no question at this point regarding his deservedness. For a long time now, the only thing standing in his way has been the excellence of those who have beaten him. The stars have aligned, though, and it might just be time for ol' Cub to get a title shot.
Cub Swanson isn't the only guy riding a six-fight winning streak right now. Dennis Bermudez shares that honor and is the only realistic alternative to Swanson getting a title shot at this time.
Who do you want Swanson to face next?
So...why not have an old-fashioned top contender's bout, hmm?
Swanson and Bermudez represent two of the most exciting featherweights in the game today. Swanson's legitimately dynamic striking against Bermudez's NCAA Division I wrestling pedigree makes this an always interesting grappler vs. striker matchup. Add in the fact that this would mark the first real test of Bermudez's career, and you have a truly intriguing fight.
Bermudez is in position to possibly improve his winning streak to seven as he takes on Clay Guida in July. That would make Swanson a logical next step for him.
Is the UFC's nutty Irishman deserving of such a profound jump up in competition at this point? Hell no. Even if he beats Diego Brandao in a few weeks, it's tough to come up with a sport-related reason he should face a Top Five fighter.
Alas, that's not how fights are made these days. Fights are made based on building up fighters the UFC wants to move toward title contention and holding down the ones they don't like. Swanson and McGregor are two guys the UFC likes, and playing them against each other ensures a super-compelling fight that yields an exciting contender for the champ.
For McGregor, beating Swanson all but assures a title shot, and there's no questioning that he is the most marketable, identifiable fighter at 145 pounds. For Swanson, this guarantees more exposure than almost any other potential opponent.