When former Strikeforce lightweight champion Gilbert Melendez was revealed to be in an ongoing contract dispute with Dana White and the UFC earlier this week, most thought White saying he was “done” with negotiations and that Melendez should start “looking elsewhere” was a ploy to get “El Nino” and his team to hurry up and get a deal signed with the world’s biggest promotion.
The disagreement apparently stems from White’s dislike of Melendez’ manager, who also manages former UFC welterweight champion Georges St. Pierre. It may or may not be a coincidence that “GSP’ has recently fallen out of White’s good graces after vacating the welterweight belt after UFC 167.
However, it appears that Melendez’ issues with the UFC are very real, so real that he has reportedly accepted a multi-fight, multi-year contract with the UFC’s direct competitor Bellator MMA.
The UFC has an opportunity to match the contract offer, something that could potentially keep Melendez tied up in legal proceedings and out of the cage for a substantial amount of time.
A similar situation unfolded last year when current Bellator lightweight champion Eddie Alvarez was thought to have Bellator CEO Bjorn Rebney’s blessing to explore his options with the UFC before a matching clause arose, keeping Alvarez tied up in court for the better part of the year.
With Alvarez regaining the belt from arch nemesis Michael Chandler last year, the door is now open for “El Nino” to face both of those top 155 pounders in the near future, if all goes well.
And Rebney is on the other side of the coin this time around, however, as he had praise for his potential signee, stating the following via today’s press release (transcribed by MMA Mania):
“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. 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.”
There’s obviously more to this story that we don’t know about. Regardless, Melendez has accepted an offer to move on, and he deserves respect for standing up to the UFC and White, who have fallen under intense scrutiny regarding fighter pay and overall treatment of their cash cows. St. Pierre recently said he would only return to the UFC if things happened “like he thinks they should.”
But that’s not a concession the UFC is willing to grant most of its fighters, if any. Maybe losing a title challenger who is one of the best lightweights in the world will be a solid wake-up call, but probably not.
Whose side are you on? Do you respect Melendez’ decision? Should the UFC re-evaluate how they do business with fighters?