Gilbert Melendez reaches deal with Bellator; UFC still retains matching rights

Melendez is close to leaving the UFC after poor contract negotiations.

Josh Hedges/Zuffa LLC/Zuffa LLC via Getty Images

Earlier this week it was revealed that contract negotiations between the UFC and former Strikeforce lightweight champion Gilbert Melendez had broken down to the point where president Dana White was forced to walk away from the situation entirely.

White told UFC Tonight’s Ariel Helwani that Melendez’s manager was impossible to deal with while putting together a new contract and saying ‘if he wants to fight in the UFC, he better talk to Lorenzo (Fertitta) quick’ or ‘he better start looking elsewhere’.

Following the expiration of his current deal with the UFC, that’s apparently what Melendez’s management did and on Friday it was announced that they’ve reached in principle a multi-fight, multi year deal for the top lightweight contender to join Bellator Fighting Championships.

According to a press release from the California based promotion, Melendez has agreed to a contract with Bellator pending matching rights currently held by the UFC.

Because of his existing deal with the UFC, the Zuffa-owned organization can choose to match any offer made to Melendez within a certain period of time, which would bring him back to compete in the Octagon.

If the UFC doesn’t match the deal, however, Melendez can sign with Bellator and begin competing there in the near future.

Melendez took to Twitter on Friday night to explain his decision to leave the UFC for Bellator.

Melendez is currently ranked No. 2 in the world based on the UFC rankings just behind former champion Benson Henderson.  Most recently, Melendez defeated Diego Sanchez at UFC 166 in a ‘Fight of the Year’ candidate before he was briefly attached to a bout against Khabib Nurmagomedov at UFC 170 next weekend in Las Vegas.

Because of his existing contract situation, Melendez was pulled from that card as the UFC attempted to re-sign him to a new deal.  It appears now if the UFC wants to bring him back, they will have to match whatever offer Bellator made to the fighter this week or he will exit the promotion after only two fights inside the Octagon.