"I'm done," spat a venomous Dana White, his wrath to be felt by a mere mortal as it had so many times in the past. "If he wants to fight in the UFC, he better talk to Lorenzo quick."
And just like that, it was over. White had won, crushing his opponent like a bug trapped in a tiny octagonal cage, there solely to be stepped on by the boss and discarded with even less ceremony.
That's life in the fight business, particularly the top of the MMA mountain: accept White's terms or get lost. He will not be engaged in bullying unless he's the one doling out the figurative wedgies, and if you want to risk your livelihood by testing him on it, then do so at your own peril.
His opponent this time was Gilbert Melendez, perhaps the uncrowned champion of the 155-pound division, and a man who had ridden his own iron will through trying times already during repeated attempts to join the UFC in the past.
And he altered the fantasy narrative above by beating White clean. For once, the UFC president didn't win. He couldn't bully his way into enforcing his own favor. A mortal didn't come rest at his feet, but instead called his bluff and won the hand.
Sure, White likely prefers that which is written above to the truth, particularly when he's grown so accustomed to said narrative, but it wasn't meant to be this time.
Melendez took White's hostility and threats and turned them into a lucrative offer from Bellator, then sat back and waited for Lorenzo Fertitta to call and clean up the mess that his negotiations had become.
The result? Everything short of a line of personalized Gilbert Melendez designer cagewear. Though to be fair, we haven't seen the whole deal yet. That could be coming too.
|Benson Henderson||Loss||Decision||5:00, Rd. 5||April 20, 2013|
|Diego Sanchez||Win||Decision||5:00, Rd. 3||October 19, 2013|
Melendez will coach The Ultimate Fighter against Anthony Pettis before he gets a crack at the lightweight title again. He'll be given the chance to continue his career as an analyst for FOX. He's guaranteed to be on pay-per-view at least three out of every four fights, of which he'll get a cash cut.
To put it mildly, Melendez made out alright.
But that's what's coming from the contract—the exposure, the big fights, the big money. He earned that with years of hard work and good showings in the cage (and sometimes ring), and he earned it with a willingness to take the biggest fight of his life against Zuffa and win it handily on all judge's scorecards.
What's next, though, for Melendez as an entity in the UFC? What of the things that aren't negotiated on paper, his daily dealings with the men he just battered in the boardroom the way he's battered so many in combat?
One would like to think that his successful negotiating tactics won't cast him with a black mark from the head office, but it's hard to think that it's all water under the bridge. The way Melendez got his terms may very well change the face of the sport, and there are plenty of dudes who have already caught the scent of that trail.
Who won the Melendez-UFC negotiation?
History indicates that might be a tough pill for the UFC to swallow, and if it's an issue that they see get out of hand in a hurry, they may look at Melendez as Patient Zero for the outbreak. Contract or not, they're not going to offer him much additional support if they feel jilted down the line by the deal he negotiated.
If his life outside the cage doesn't get harder though, Melendez is in a position to flourish inside it. He'll only get big fights from here on out, and he'll only be paid big purses for his work. At a time when the UFC needs big names more than ever, he's a big name with a big contract who's going to get big usage from the promotion.
At the end of the day, that's all any fighter wants. Sometimes they have to get it by any means necessary.
Then again, for a collection of athletes that make their living battering one another in a steel cage, should anyone be surprised? The fight is what they live for, and winning it is more important than anything.
Melendez knew that all along. Now White and the UFC do too.