The UFC has agreed to match Bellator's offer sheet to keep top-ranked free-agent lightweight Gilbert Melendez, sources close to the situation told MMAFighting.com on Sunday.
Per the terms of the agreement, according to several sources, Melendez's deal guarantees that at least 75 percent of the 31-year-old's fights will be contested on pay-per-view moving forward. Additionally, income earned from Melendez's contracted pay-per-view points will kick in at a lower minimum buy rate than for any contract in UFC history, meaning Melendez will still earn pay-per-view point earnings on an event that performs poorly at the box office.
Melendez will also earn pay-per-view income regardless of his placement on an event, i.e., regardless of whether he fights in the main event, co-main event or main card.
Altogether, the terms of the deal will likely make Melendez one of the highest paid fighters in the current mixed martial arts landscape.
Upon learning of the deal, MMAFighting.com reached out to Bellator CEO Bjorn Rebney, who issued the following statement.
"It's my understanding that the UFC matched the deal we agreed to with Gilbert," Rebney said. "While I haven't yet spoken to Gilbert's management team, I have heard from various sources that the UFC matched our offer. We have a stacked lightweight roster and Gil would have made a great addition to it, yet I'm glad he was able to go out, explore the free agent market and get paid what he deserves. That's what the free market system is all about. I'm happy for Gil, that through this process he was able to ensure long term financial security for himself and his family. That's what the fighters that put it all on the line inside the cage deserve.
"This process has shown that in MMA, there are two legitimate options for fighters. And, as I said last week, with two large scale options for fighters in MMA, fighters negotiating power is dramatically improved. Our actions throughout this process accomplished that for Gilbert right now, and in the future it will do the same for countless additional fighters. Some will end up in Bellator and some will end up in the UFC. But, either way, the sport benefits. Now our focus turns to the task at hand, which is our Season 10 kickoff this Friday on Spike TV."
UFC officials did not immediately return requests to comment.
Currently the No. 2 ranked lightweight on the UFC roster, Melendez agreed to terms with Bellator MMA on an undisclosed "multi-fight, multi-year" deal in mid-February following soured contract negotiations with the UFC. Due to the terms of Melendez's original Zuffa contract, the UFC retained the right to match any competing offer, which it has now elected to do.
Melendez holds a 1-1 record under the UFC banner. Following the collapse of Strikeforce, where Melendez served as the promotion's long-reigning lightweight champion, Melendez fought to a controversial split decision loss against then-UFC title holder Benson Henderson in his Octagon debut. He followed up that performance with a ‘Fight of the Year' candidate win over Diego Sanchez, which UFC President Dana White called "one of the best fights I've ever seen."
UPDATE: Following the release of this report, UFC officials announced that Melendez will coach opposite lightweight champion Anthony Pettis on season 20 of The Ultimate Fighter, which will be followed by a title fight between the two coaches in late-2014.