Gil Melendez was a key fighter in Strikeforce's plan to challenge the UFC. Thus, by Dave Meltzer's calculations, he had a higher base pay in Strikeforce than did any UFC lightweight at the time. When the UFC purchased Strikeforce in 2011, the show/win figures on the existing contracts transferred to the UFC.
Melendez received $175,000 in show money vs. Benson Henderson, and presumably a higher figure still for his wild fight with Diego Sanchez in October. That was the final fight on his contract, and when it came time to negotiate a new one, Melendez and UFC president Dana White could not come to terms.
Bellator stepped in and offered Melendez a contract he found acceptable. The UFC now must agree to match the terms, or see one of their top lightweights switch promotions.
Although Tito Ortiz and Quinton Jackson signed with Bellator, Rampage had one win his last four fights, and Ortiz has one win his last nine fights.
By contrast, Melendez had only one loss his past nine fights, and that was a razor thin to then UFC lightweight champion Benson Henderson. This is a big deal.
In an interview with MMAFighting's Dave Meltzer, Bellator founder and CEO Bjorn Rebney said he is in interviews with other top talent as well.
"Some of them you'd know by first name alone, and some are guys you've never heard of who will become the next Michael Chandler, Daniel Straus, Eddie Alvarez and Eduardo Dantas," said Rebney.
"We're going to continue to sign the best fighters, whether they are from a favela in Brazil, the frozen tundra of Siberia, or they are fighting in the UFC. That's the mission. The fighters are the ones fueling pay-per-view buys or fueling cable television ratings. You're not fueling ratings by promoting Bjorn or Bellator. Promoting the fighters should be first and foremost.
"We're going after everybody, more-and-more often. I think there's a bigger picture issue. The biggest thing is there are two major players in MMA. It's far and away better for the fighters. When a fighter has one option, he has no power at the negotiating table. But when he has two options, the fighter has all the negotiating power. That's actually counter intuitive, coming from the CEO of a fight company. But that's the truth. And my checkbook may take a shot because of it. But if the fighters can earn what they feel they deserve, overall we and the sport will be in a better place. You're going to see much more of this as we move forward, guys coming from the smallest regions where we find undiscovered talent, to the superstars from the UFC and other guys we find in the United States."
"(Melendez's contract) includes on-air opportunities, entertainment opportunities behind-the-scenes, some marketing opportunities, really, the whole genesis is Gil-specific. The key to the deal is building the Gilbert Melendez brand, not the Bellator brand or the Bjorn Rebney brand. The fighter's brand is what's important. The focus was on talking to Gil and his team. How do we leverage all the different resources to build the `El Nino' brand, and that's what got us all on the same side of the table to put this structure together."
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