On October 19, 2013 Gilbert Melendez defeated Diego Sanchez by unanimous decision at UFC 166. The three round contest was labeled an instant classic and captured "Fight of the Night" honors for the event, earning each fighter an extra $60,000. The fight also marked the expiration of Melendez's deal with the UFC.
Several months passed, and when the two sides were unable to come to an agreement on a new deal, Melendez (22-3) dipped his toe in the free agent waters. It didn't take long for Bellator to offer Melendez a contract to fight with their organization. Melendez and his camp must have liked what they saw from Bellator because they signed the deal.
UFC contracts are written with a matching clause, so the UFC had to then decide, do they let Melendez, one of the top fighters at lightweight go to a competitor or do they match the offer and retain his services. In the end, the UFC matched the offer.
Melendez appeared on MMAJunkie Radio and refused to talk specifics on his new contract, but did offer, "You can just say, I got taken care of and leave it at that. I feel like I got fair market value, and there's plenty of fighters out there who deserve fair market value."
The first fight for Melendez on his new deal will be a title fight against UFC lightweight champion Anthony Pettis (17-2). That fight will come after Melendez and Pettis serve as coaches on season 20 of The Ultimate Fighter.
When that fight does occur, on the UFC's end of 2014 card, Melendez will be out of action for more than a year. That layoff is something that doesn't concern the former Strikeforce champion in the least, "I could see if you're not in the gym and you take a whole year off, and you don't train. Then you can become pretty rusty, but I stay in the gym and help my buddies out, and it's just something I do. I'll definitely be ready - I'm always ready."
When talking about his opponent, Melendez said he feels Pettis is a great fighter with a creative striking game, but he added, "It's nothing I fear at all. I feel quite confident in this matchup, and I think stylistically this is the matchup I've been wanting for a long time."
Pettis' kicks have become his signature, earning him "Knockout of the Night" honors in two of his last three UFC bouts. When the subject of those kicks came up, Melendez seemed unconcerned, "I'm not scared of those kicks at all, and I think I can walk right through them. He's good at what he does, but I think I'm better in a bunch of different dimensions."