Cerrone plays it smart by airing his druthers

In the UFC, the latest winner will always have the most compelling case. That’s the nature of hype, and hype has always been the game. More specifically, hype is the essence that drives the thing forward.

By know everybody knows this. And if they don’t, they should pay attention to Donald Cerrone.

Last week Nate Diaz beat Jim Miller to claim the disputed top contender seed behind titleholder Benson Henderson and challenger Frankie Edgar. On Tuesday, Cerrone beat Jeremy Stephens for three loud rounds only to make his case even louder in the aftermath: He’d like a fight in Denver at UFC 150, against anybody, but preferably against Nate Diaz, who put a surgical beatdown on him in December.

This was of course fishing on “Cowboy’s” part.

Cerrone knows the likelihood of the UFC granting a rematch of a one-sided fight that happened only a few months ago isn’t great. Having thought of that, he made another point clear: That he wasn’t himself that night in December. With that being his fifth fight in 2011, he was just an old husk, not the full ear of corn. Besides, he fought a dumb fight. Just too stubborn.

Now, the Donald Cerrone that methodically picked apart Jeremy Stephens -- that was the genuine article. That’s the one who would threaten Diaz’s bearings if the UFC would give him the chance.

Cowboy was just planting seeds. He knows he has a point. He was smart enough to make his point while momentum was on his side, having just beat Stephens impressively. Forget that Stephens isn’t a top ten lightweight, in the 155-pound division jockeying for position is mandatory. On UFC on Fuel’s post-fight show, Chael Sonnen said he’d like to see Cerrone catapulted into a title shot right away. That’s how swift the tide rolls back in for the latest victors.

Problem is, there will be others soon enough, and they will have arguments of merit and timing and will carry updated casualty lists.

So, just where do things stand in the UFC’s lightweight division? Because on June 22 in Atlantic City, N.J., Clay Guida and Gray Maynard -- two perennial contenders -- would like to know. The winner of that fight then becomes the day’s fresh case-maker. To help promote that fight, we’re sure to hear about the winner being in the proverbial title mix. We’ll hear each guy make his case for it, too.

At this point it might be easier to hold a raffle for the next lightweight title shot, provided that Diaz has the most tickets in the bowl. There are so many deserving fighters hovering near the top.

Was Cerrone overshooting to throw Diaz’s name out there? No. His aim was just right. Maybe his doing that gets Diaz’s blood boiling enough to call matchmaker Joe Silva to book it. And why not? Over the course of years, the UFC has been good about listening to those audacious enough to call their own shots. If Cerrone’s not given Diaz, he’ll likely get one of the scintillating young stars like Edson Barboza -- should he get by Jamie Varner at UFC 146 next week -- or Anthony Pettis. Pettis has been dog-eared for that title shot since downing Joe Lauzon at UFC 144 with that head kick. He’s the forever No. 1 contender B.

Where does the winner of Maynard/Guida factor in? What about if/when Eddie Alvarez makes his way into the UFC’s 155-pound cluster? It all depends on the what/when/where at lightweight. Who went last, who did what, who got the last word.

But if you can’t pass half a dozen contenders in one swoop, call out the guy at the front whom you suspect isn’t cut out for idling for months on end. Call out Diaz in a rematch, the guy who displaced you. And if that can’t be arranged, settle for a top-five fight in your hometown of Denver. That’s how you handle things coming off a dominant victory over a career .500 UFC fighter like Stephens.

Ask for it all, and settle for something far better than you might deserve.