So, you're on a six-fight winning streak in one of the toughest divisions the UFC has to offer. You've defeated the division's fifth-, 10th-, 11th- and 14th-ranked fighters in the process. You even managed to KO the No. 14 fighter in the division above you. That should be enough to grant you a shot at the title, right?
Well, kind of.
Who should Cub Swanson fight next?
Cub Swanson, the UFC's second-ranked featherweight—behind only Jose Aldo and Chad Mendes—is just a little more than a month removed from a five-round unanimous decision win against Jeremy Stephens at UFC Fight Night 44. Though his performance would warrant a title shot, the current featherweight landscape complicates things a bit.
"I'm not really one to cry about things, I'm just excited to be in the position I'm in," Swanson said after his victory at the UFC Fight Night 44 post-fight press conference. "I've worked real hard, so, I mean, there was another fight that was a good opportunity for me, then I would take it. I'm not really trying to wait forever."
That's just it; after waiting 357 days in between his last two fights, there's no way the UFC can allow, or force, Swanson to wait an extended period of time as he prepares for his title shot. Understandably, Swanson wanted the title shot and the UFC was willing to comply, according to Dana White, per UFC's "The Download":
Let me tell you what, Jeremy is ranked No. 10 but he's not the No. 10 fighter. He's better than that, and Cub took big f****** shots from him early, ate his shots and came back and fought a beautiful fight. I'm very excited for his future. Cub's going to get what he wants, let's just put it that way.
But after Aldo pulled out of his original fight against Mendes in August, things got a little more complicated for Swanson and the UFC brass. Considering Aldo and Mendes aren't scheduled to fight for the crown until late October at UFC 179, Swanson wouldn't be getting a crack at the belt until February at the earliest.
And that's if everything goes as planned.
But with more people favoring Mendes as the rematch nears, it's not completely implausible to see the Team Alpha Male fighter snatch the strap away from the incumbent champion and force a rubber match between the new-found rivals. The rematch would likely take place in February or March, meaning any title bouts excluding a paired Aldo and Mendes could only take place around June or July—tacking on another 350-day layoff for the established contender.
This is where Frankie Edgar comes in.
Edgar is facing almost identical circumstances. He's ranked highly amongst the UFC's featherweights. He's deserving of a title shot. He spent 365 days in between his last two fights against Charles Oliveira and B.J. Penn.
It wouldn't be fair to force Swanson to square off against the former UFC lightweight champion, but it makes sense. Fighting each other would clear up some space atop of the ever-crowded featherweight pack and design a clear-cut contender for a spot atop the featherweight mountain.
The long wait isn't the only variable that should be concerning Swanson right now, though—the UFC has some other favorable rising featherweights waiting for their chance at UFC gold.
Conor McGregor, the UFC's ninth-ranked featherweight and arguably its most popular star, could be in line to justify a title shot of his own with a win over Dustin Poirier at UFC 178 in September. A victory against the No. 5 featherweight would likely catapult the Irish sensation into the top five. A microphone would likely catapult him into a title fight.
And if there's anything we can take away from Alexander Gustafsson's current misfortune, it's that the UFC can snatch away a title shot just about as fast as it can grant it. Because for as much as it wants to put on bouts between two viable opponents, it would much rather put on fights between two viable opponents who can make headlines.
Kristian Ibarra is a Featured Columnist at Bleacher Report. He also serves as the sports editor at San Diego State University's student-run newspaper, The Daily Aztec. Follow him on Twitter at @Kristian_Ibarra for all things MMA.