The UFC and Gilbert Melendez have been at odds over a new contract for the lightweight fighter ever since he fulfilled his initial contract by defeating Diego Sanchez at UFC 166 in October.
Negotiations devolved to the point where company president Dana White told UFC Tonight earlier this week, “I’m done. It’s not going well at this point. I like Gilbert Melendez very much, but I don’t like his management.”
Melendez is managed by Rodolphe Beaulieu, who also represents former UFC welterweight champion Georges St-Pierre.
White went on to say that if Melendez wants to fight in the UFC that he should contact Lorenzo Fertitta immediately, but he might also want to start considering fighting elsewhere.
It appears that Melendez took White’s words to heart.
Bellator MMA on Friday issued a statement saying it had “agreed to a multi-fight, multi-year deal structure” with Melendez to pit him against the likes of Eddie Alvarez, Michael Chandler, Will Brooks, Dave Jansen, and Bellator’s other lightweights.
“The moment Gil was legally able to explore the free agent market, Gil’s management team reached out to me and we began figuring out how to bring Gil to Bellator,” said Bellator Chairman & CEO Bjorn Rebney.
“It’s no secret that I’ve been a big ‘El Nino’ fan for many years. Gil was one of the first fighters I tried to sign when I launched Bellator back in 2008, and he’s grown and developed into one of the best and most exciting lightweights on earth. Gil has a vision for what he wants to accomplish both inside and outside the cage and we can help make his vision a reality. We are in the business of developing and showcasing the greatest fighters on earth. That’s what we intend to do here with Gil and it’s what we’ll continue to do in the future.”
Bellator admitted that the UFC currently holds matching rights on Melendez, so it is not yet a done deal that he’ll be exiting the Octagon.
Although in lieu of White’s recent comments and his heavy criticism of Bellator when they refused to let Eddie Alvarez walk away during his matching period with them, it seems that he’s prepared to let Melendez leave.
“As soon as I was a free agent, I had my team call Bellator, and Bjorn made an amazing offer that would allow me to reach my goals. It’s an opportunity to be a part of something special and I could make history testing myself against some of the toughest lightweights in the world,” Melendez tweeted on Friday, before adding, “If the UFC wants me, they have the right to match. I’ll let the fans know more as soon as it’s settled.”
UFC officials declined comment when contacted by MMAWeekly.com at the time of publication.