Has Gilbert Melendez done for UFC fighters what Curt Flood did for baseball?
Curt Flood was a baseball player for the St. Louis Cardinals in the 1960s. Never truly a star, Flood was an exceptional defensive center fielder, a three-time All Star and two-time World Series champion with the Cardinals.
On Oct. 7, 1969, Flood made history. And not for anything he did on the field.
Flood was traded by the Cardinals to the Philadelphia Phillies, along with three of his teammates. He refused to go. Citing the team's poor record, awful stadium and what he believed to be a racist fan base, Flood said he would not play for Philly, risking the forfeit of his $100,000 contract.
In a letter to the baseball commissioner, Flood demanded to be a free agent. At the time, that didn't exist in baseball. The "reserve clause" kept players with the team that initially signed them basically for life or until they were traded away.
Flood ended up suing Major League Baseball and the anti-trust case went all the way to the Supreme Court. He lost. But his peers won. Three years after Flood challenged the establishment there was free agency in baseball. The reserve clause was gone and in its place was the 10/5 rule -- a player could veto a trade if he had spent 10 years in the majors and five with the same team.
Curt Flood was a three-time All Star with the St. Louis Cardinals who refused to be traded in 1969 and then sued MLB. His loss ended up being his peers' gain.
How does this relate to MMA? Maybe it's a stretch. But Gilbert Melendez might end up being the sport's answer to Curt Flood.
Melendez's contract with the UFC expired and earlier this month he agreed to terms with Bellator. As part of his previous deal, the UFC had the right to match any offers he agreed to within a specific window. Over the weekend, the UFC matched and the top lightweight signed what is reported to be one of the most lucrative contracts ever given to a non-champion in MMA.
According to MMA Fighting, Melendez's deal stipulates that at least 75 percent of his fights will be on pay-per-view. His pay-per-view points (a share of the revenue) will kick in at a lower buy rate than for any contract in UFC history. Plus, the 31-year-old was given the chance to coach against Anthony Pettis on the historic Ultimate Fighter 20 and will fight Pettis for the UFC lightweight title at the end of the year.
"The UFC is the biggest stage in the world, they have the best fighters in the world and the toughest lightweight division in the world," Melendez told FOX Sports. It's the Mecca for MMA, no doubt in my mind. Bellator's a great organization as well, but this is where I wanted to be. There's no other place I wanted to be."
The deal will just be a blip on the radar for most casual fans. But it could end up setting a tone for free-agent fighters in the future. Why wouldn't UFC fighters want to test the waters with organizations out there like Bellator, World Series of Fighting and ONE FC seemingly willing to spend serious money?
Gilbert Melendez (left) put on the Fight of the Year for 2013 in his brawl with Diego Sanchez back in October.
And good for the UFC to issue this reportedly ground-breaking contract. If Melendez would have gone off to Bellator, it would have stung for sure. It would have been a PR nightmare. But honestly, would it affect the UFC's bottom line? Probably not at all. Melendez is one of the best lightweights in the world, there's no doubt -- maybe the best. But he's not one of the top 10 or even 15 draws in the company.
"Gilbert's out there testing the market," UFC president Dana White said last week. "Good for him."
It isn't like the UFC is not willing to pay top dollar for fighters. But this is a business. It's supply and demand. When there's no competitor, the UFC sets the market. Melendez was at the perfect place at the perfect time.
And everyone benefited from what he did. Melendez gets the contract he deserves, the UFC shows it's serious about keeping the best fighters in the world under one roof and Bellator gets some positive press for trying to snatch a star from the big boys.
Curt Flood didn't get to enjoy the fruits of his labor (pun intended). Melendez will. And so will all of the other nearly 500 fighters on the UFC roster.