Ball is in UFC's Court After Gilbert Melendez Agrees to Deal With Bellator

By Rick LaFitte
Gilbert Melendez
Andrew Richardson USA TODAY Sports

Outstanding lightweight competitor Gilbert Melendez has made a bold move by agreeing to a multi-year deal with Bellator. The deal comes in the wake of news earlier in the week from UFC President Dana White that contract negotiations with the former Strikeforce champion and current No. 2 ranked contender weren’t going well. White’s frustrations with Melendez’s camp had gotten to the point where he was quoted as saying he was done with the negotiations and if Melendez wanted to stay with the promotion he needed to call CEO Lorenzo Fertitta to get a new deal done.

Instead, once he became a free agent, Melendez’s management team reached out to Bellator CEO Bjorn Rebney, who has, according to Melendez, made an amazing offer that would allow him to reach his goals. Rebney says for his part that he’s been a big fan of “El Nino” for years and actually tried to get him signed back in 2008 when Bellator first launched. The UFC holds matching rights when it comes to that offer. It’s a great situation for Melendez to be in as he will be getting what he wanted financially one way or the other.

Melendez has an impressive 22-3 career mark but only two of those fights occurred inside the Octagon. He lost a very close five-round split decision in a title fight against then champion Benson Henderson in his UFC debut. Even though he lost to “Smooth,” his stock didn’t drop at all, and then Melendez took things to a whole new level in his next bout. He earned a unanimous decision victory over Diego Sanchez in an epic war at UFC 166. The sensational affair in Houston was an instant classic and one of the best fights of 2013.  Melendez was riding high after that terrific performance, but unfortunately hasn’t appeared in the Octagon since. He had been tied to what would’ve been an exciting matchup at UFC 170 against Khabib Nurmagomedov, but for one reason or another the bout never materialized.

It’s clear that the UFC has the better wealth of talent in the 155-pound weight division and that more future challenges could be found for Melendez with that promotion. However, the thoughts of Melendez moving on to Bellator to fight the likes of current champion Eddie Alvarez and former champion Michael Chandler would also be tremendously appealing. It will be very interesting to see whether the UFC elects to match the Bellator offer and keep one of their best lightweights on board, or if they decide to let Melendez walk away.

Rick LaFitte is an MMA Writer for Rant Sports.

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