The meaning of Gilbert Melendez signing with Bellator over the UFC

Kyle Terada-US PRESSWIRE

UFC Lightweight and former Strikeforce champ Gilbert Melendez' decision to sign with Bellator, and more importantly, Bellator's decision to make him an offer shows that the MMA free agent market is alive again for the first time since 2011.

We've already posted on the news Friday that UFC Lightweight Gilbert Melendez -- currently ranked #2 in the division in the UFC's own official rankings -- had elected to sign with rival promotion Bellator. Despite the anti-Bellator sentiment coming out of last year's ugly lawsuit with their former LW champ Eddie Alvarez, it seems that fan reaction has been split on the Melendez signing.

Please note that the UFC still has the right to match Bellator's offer and retain Melendez' services, but this will presumably require that they increase their offer.

Here's Dave Meltzer of MMA Fighting with some commentary about what it means for the MMA business:

The announcement on Friday that Gilbert Melendez had signed a multi-year contract with Bellator is a potential game changer for the entire industry.

No, Gilbert Melendez is not going to be the star that leads Bellator to overtaking, or even being competitive with UFC, as the leading MMA company in the world. But for top talent, everything is a little different today.

Since UFC purchased Strikeforce three years ago, the leverage for top fighters when it came to negotiating deals was all but gone. With only a few exceptions, UFC had all the top talent, and paid far better than anyone else. There were opportunities for bonuses not available anywhere else, and in a drying up sponsorship market, UFC was the place to be.

....

But for the industry, this was huge. Competition naturally raises the value of the performers, as well as their compensation level. Bellator has talked competition, but had yet to make a move to prove they really were. Until now.

Gilbert and his former Strikeforce rival Josh Thomson have more than proved that they are at least the equal of the very best in the UFC's LW division. There's nothing more to prove from a sporting dimension and I have no doubt in my mind that Michael Chandler and Eddie Alvarez could walk into the UFC tomorrow and hold their own against the very best LW's in the world.

The UFC has had more than three years to prove its contention that if it had complete control over all the top fighters in the sport that it would make the super fights the fans want to see and that the best would fight the best.

They failed to deliver on that promise.

Competition is good for fighters, fans and the sport. And very very good for Gilbert Melendez.

I'm still holding out hope that the UFC will match Bellator's offer and we'll get to see Melendez fight Anthony Pettis and company, but if not I'll make due with Melendez vs. Michael Chandler et al.

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