Gilbert Melendez reaches deal with Bellator, UFC has matching rights


Bellator has issued a press release announcing their new deal with the former Strikeforce champ. The ball is in the UFC's court.

It's been clear for a little bit that the UFC and former Strikeforce champ Gilbert Melendez have been at loggerheads. First there was the planned bout against fast-rising Lightweight Khabib Nurmagomedov that was planned for UFC 170 but couldn't come together, reportedly due to contractual difficulties with Melendez.

Then there was UFC president Dana White telling Melendez to "hit the bricks" earlier this week and referring him to UFC CEO Lorenzo Fertitta for any future negotiations. Dana claimed he just couldn't get along with Melendez' manager.

Now the UFC's only serious American competitor has announced that they have come to terms with Melendez. Here's the Bellator press release in toto:

Bellator & Gilbert Melendez Agree on Structure to Bring Top Lightweight To Bellator

UFC Now Holds Right to Match Offer

Newport Beach, Calif. (February 14, 2014) - At 22-3, Gilbert Melendez sits atop the UFC's lightweight division. With victories over Josh Thomson, Diego Sanchez, Shinya Aoki and Jorge Masvidal, "El Nino" is ready for a new crop of challengers as the Santa Ana native has agreed to a multi-fight, multi-year deal structure with Bellator that can pit Melendez against some of MMA's best, including Eddie Alvarez, Michael Chandler, Will Brooks, Dave Jansen and a host of top lightweights from around the world.

"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

Very disappointing for MMA fans who've been waiting for Melendez to face off against the best Lightweights in the world in the UFC ever since Zuffa bought Strikeforce in early 2011. Melendez fought twice in the UFC, taking then-champ Ben Henderson to a controversial split decision at UFC on Fox 7 and beating Diego Sanchez in a fight-of-the-year at UFC 166.

Fans of the American free enterprise system can take solace in knowing that there is still a way for a top fighter to get the deal he is happy with if he's frustrated with the UFC.

Update: Melendez has tweeted about the offer from Bellator:

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