Chris Leben's suspension ends as of November of this year. The UFC seems to like to book fights up to 3 months in advance, so now's our chance to speculate before Leben's possible return falls within that window.
Here are five options that, for me, have some level of appeal:
1. Hector Lombard
After that godawful performance against Boetsch, Lombard needs the fan-friendly firefight that the UFC promised its fans after signing him. Leben is just the guy to give it to him.
With a granite chin, a willingness to take a punch to give a punch, and a penchant for moving forward regardless of circumstances, Leben is the sort of guy likely to bring the best out of Lombard. And, quite honestly, Lombard vs. Leben is, on paper, an epic war thta should wash out the stain of Boetsch/Lombard.
Another striker who can give Leben the stand-up war that he's always after.
Leben is really the perfect "next step up" for Philippou. Going from Hamman to Fikuda, a guy of Leben's level is exactly what Philippou's career needs. It's a perfect test at the perfect time for Costa.
3. Loser of Okami/Palhares
Basically a chance for Leben to get his career on track through a win over a big-name opponent or, conversely, a credible rebound fight for a fighter who will be facing the possibility of three straight losses. A win over a credible, "name" fighter like Leben would keep Okami or Palhares in the conversation and at the top of the division. Meanwhile, even after two straight losses, a win over either of these two would rank among Leben's best wins and perhaps push him toward regaining some of that momentum he lost when he was knocked out by Brian Stann.
4. Winner of Watson/Tavares
Admittedly a low level fight, but given that low level, it may be just what Leben needs to rebound.
Conversely, he'd also be serving a valuable gatekeeper function for two lower level prospects in a division badly in need of prospects. Watson or Tavares can beat a guy like Leben convincingly, it'll help make for another fighter with buzz in the MW division. And, of course, it'd be another guaranteed stand-up battle that fits Leben's MO perfectly.
5. Cung Le
Basically the UFC version of what Strikeforce was attempting to achieve when it paired Cung with Scott Smith: pit Cung against a more convention striker known for his power, heart, and sheer endurance. As we saw in the Smith fights, the result was lots and lots of entertainment.
Leben/Le would be similar, but at a higher level, with Leben constantly coming forward and threatening Cung with his power while taking huge kicks until he either dies or Cung gasses (at which point, Cung dies).