Gilbert Melendez is a scrappy dude. He’ll always find a place to fight.
Part of Team Cesar Gracie, he hangs with guys like Nick and Nate Diaz, and Jake Shields. And although he’s not as flamboyantly colorful with his language as the Diaz brothers, or as reserved on the microphone as Shields, he represents sort of the core muscle of the group: he’s tough and doesn’t take anything from anybody.
So the idea that Melendez may not be on the same track with the UFC during contract negotiations shouldn’t come as a big surprise.
For a guy like Melendez, “fighting in the UFC under the big lights,” isn’t that big of a deal. Melendez just likes to fight. And although he wants to make money, he’s not solely driven by it.
When guys like Nick Diaz, Shields, Alistair Overeem and Dan Henderson were walking out on Strikeforce to sign for more money in the UFC, Melendez stayed. When they talked about dream fights when Strikeforce was still around, Melendez called for a unification of the UFC and Strikeforce lightweight titles “inside the hexagon,” Strikeforce’s six-sided cage.
Melendez got his title shot in the UFC against Benson Henderson and lost a split decision, in a fight that many observers believed Melendez won. The loss was a huge letdown. Melendez then outpointed Diego Sanchez for his first victory inside the Octagon.
The truth is that Melendez does not need the UFC. He’s a big enough brand on his own. And he might actually have it better in Bellator, where he could be part of their PPV efforts. Melendez would be a name draw who could challenge Eddie Alvarez or Michael Chandler for the lightweight championship. Melendez for years has talked about wanting to fight Alvarez.
The UFC is the biggest, most powerful promotion in the world, but Melendez became a star in Strikeforce without the UFC. He could maintain his star status in Bellator, and would probably make decent money in the Viacom-owned company.
More than likely, Melendez will reach a contract deal with the UFC. It’s always easier to stay where you are at than to go somewhere else. Even though UFC president Dana White has said he is done with Melendez, he would probably recognize that Melendez is a top lightweight and should be fighting for him.
But if Melendez walks, he’ll find a home in Bellator or somewhere else. He’s a scrappy dude and fighters will find a place to throw it down, even if it means the lights aren’t quite as bright.