The UFC announced late Sunday night it had agreed to a new contract with top lightweight contender Gilbert Melendez, ending a week of speculation on the fighter’s future in the organization.
After negotiations between Melendez’s management team and the organization reached an impasse, Melendez announced he had come to terms on a deal with rival Bellator Fighting Championships.
The UFC remained coy about whether or not it planned to exercise its matching rights on the deal, but ended the drama with Sunday’s announcement.
Melendez, a frequent studio analyst for ESPN’s mixed martial arts coverage, spoke to ESPN.com late Sunday.
He said that while he was ready to compete for Bellator, he was happy the UFC decided to match the offer.
“You better believe it,” the 31-year-old Californian told the website. “(Bellator has) two awesome (lightweight) fighters in Michael Chandler and Eddie Alvarez, but UFC is the home of the best fighters in the world.
“Sometimes, you have to put your emotions aside and think about your future and your family. At the end of the day, I got the best of both worlds.”
In addition to the new contract, details of which were not disclosed, Melendez will get a title shot against lightweight champion Anthony Pettis later this year.
Melendez and Pettis will coach against each other on the upcoming Season 20 of “The Ultimate Fighter.” The show, featuring an all-female cast of strawweight fighters, begins filming in Las Vegas in May. The episodes will air on Fox Sports 1 beginning Sept. 10.
Because the division is new to the UFC, the winner of Season 20 will be crowned the organization’s first strawweight champion.
Melendez will challenge Pettis at the conclusion of the season, likely in December.
Contact reporter Adam Hill at firstname.lastname@example.org or 702-224-5509. Follow him on Twitter: @adamhilllvrj.