Well, Jeremy Stephens didn't beat Cub Swanson at UFC Fight Night 44, but he sure kept things interesting until the very end. The hard-swinging featherweight couldn't quite snag Swanson but still managed to wound him a couple times.
Still, while Stephens was a mid-tier lightweight for most of his career, he remains one of the best fighters at 145 pounds. That offers him plenty of options and plenty of opportunities for high-profile, exciting fights.
Which fighters in particular make the most sense as potential opponents for Stephens? Who could we see him against next?
Chan Sung Jung
While Chan Sung Jung was quick to call out Swanson following his win, Stephens makes much more sense as an opponent. Jung is rapidly approaching the anniversary of his ugly, boring, oddly devastating loss to Jose Aldo and needs somebody to shake off the rust against.
That isn't to say Stephens is a mark by any means. He showed himself to be uncharacteristically measured and patient against Swanson in spite of his loss. That makes a devastating knockout a very strong possibility against anyone outside Swanson and Aldo.
Jung vs. Stephens is an interesting matchup that would also be incredibly exciting. Both fighters would have a lot to gain by beating the other, so...you know...make it happen, Dana White!
Dennis Siver and Jeremy Stephens have a lot in common. They're both featherweights. They're both particularly heavy hitters. Oh, and they both lost to Cub Swanson! More importantly, though, they're Top 10 featherweights needing to put themselves back in the win column.
Both Stephens and Siver are fan favorites. Stephens is one of the ultimate "JUST BLEED" fighters, while fans still remember Siver for his crushing spinning kicks from way back. However, with the recent strides Stephens has made in his striking, alongside Siver's traditionally honed skills, this fight has the makings of the kind of "human chess match" we just saw at Fight Night 44.
A hypothetical Siver vs. Stephens fight lacks the booking power of a Jung vs. Stephens pairing, sure. Still, I can't think of too many cards that wouldn't greatly benefit from such a tantalizing matchup.
Now we just have to wait and see how long it takes for Siver to come back from his failed drug test...
The Loser of Dennis Bermudez vs. Clay Guida
Clay Guida and Dennis Bermudez are two of the better-established featherweights. Bermudez is one of the best up-and-coming fighters in the UFC, while Guida is a fellow former lightweight that went through a renaissance by losing 10 pounds.
The winner of their bout will be dangerously close to title contention. The loser will be looking to bounce back with a win over an established, fairly recognizable veteran...like Jeremy Stephens. The fight lacks the "wow" factor of a fight with Siver or Jung, but this is a logical, "real" fight.
Both are strong wrestlers, but Stephens' takedown defense has improved remarkably over the last few years. This would be a legitimate test for either fighter and is the most likely to actually come to fruition.