Gilbert Melendez could be Bellator bound. | Dave Mandel/Sherdog.com
Bellator MMA has come to terms with former Ultimate Fighting Championship lightweight title contender Gilbert Melendez, though the UFC still has the right to match Bellator’s offer and retain Melendez’s services.
The Viacom-owned promotion announced the news Friday afternoon, revealing Bellator’s intention to sign the onetime Strikeforce champion. Specific terms of the agreement were not disclosed, though it is a multi-fight and multi-year deal, according to Bellator’s release.
“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 CEO Bjorn Rebney in the release. “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.”
Melendez’s UFC deal expired following his UFC 166 decision victory over Diego Sanchez this past October, and the fighter’s management has since been unable to come to terms with the Las Vegas-based organization. “El Nino” was initially expected to face Khabib Nurmagomedov next weekend at UFC 170, but the booking was scrapped last month shortly after it was announced.
A 31-fight pro, Melendez ended his Strikeforce run on a seven-fight winning streak and challenged for the UFC belt in his Octagon debut, falling to Benson Henderson in a split decision last April at UFC on Fox 7. The Californian began his pro career in 2002 and has never been stopped in 25 in-cage appearances, picking up 11 knockouts along the way.