Gilbert Melendez Agrees to Terms with Bellator, May Leave UFC

Steven RondinaFeatured ColumnistFebruary 14, 2014

USA Today

Huge news coming out of the Cesar Gracie camp as word broke Friday that elite lightweight Gilbert Melendez has agreed to terms for a contract with Bellator MMA. The news was broken by Bellator via press release, with CEO Bjorn Rebney stating:

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. It’s no secret that I’ve been a big 'El Nino' fan for many years...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 do in the future.

The UFC still holds matching rights to Melendez, meaning his days with Zuffa are not necessarily over quite yet. However, they are put into a position where they must pay Melendez what he feels he is worth or allow him to leave for Bellator.

The writing was on the wall for this, but the news is nothing but shocking. UFC President Dana White recently appeared on UFC Tonight on Fox Sports 1 and had pointed words regarding Melendez's future in the UFC. 

I'm done. It's not going well and I couldn't care less at this point. I like Gilbert Melendez very much. I just don't like his management. If Gilbert Melendez wants to fight in the UFC he better call Lorenzo Fertitta quickly, but he should also probably start looking elsewhere.

He did just that, it seems, and he may not be alone. Melendez's longtime trainer tweeted the following: 

@GilbertMelendez won't be punked by @danawhite if not careful our other guys will be leaving @ufc for @BellatorMMA

— Cesar Gracie (@CesarGracieBJJ) February 15, 2014

In addition to Melendez, Gracie is also a coach and handler for Nate and Nick Diaz. The popular longtime contenders have both butted heads with UFC brass of late. Most recently, Nate Diaz subtly sparred White for calling him out on taking a short-notice fight with Khabib Nurmagomedov. In reality, the UFC and Diaz simply couldn't come to terms with Diaz, according to his manager.

Melendez and the Diaz brothers are three of the better and most popular fighters in the UFC, and potentially losing them translates to an increase in Bellator's standing with fans and ratings.

Once again, this is not yet a done deal. The UFC has the right to retain Melendez should it chooses to match the contract he has drawn up with Bellator.

This is a major story to watch for fans, so be sure to keep an eye on Bleacher Report for more news as it develops.