We reported earlier this week that top five lightweight Gilbert Melendez had agreed in principle to sign with Bellator MMA after negotiations with the UFC fell through. The UFC still holds matching rights, so the deal isn’t complete and he very well could re-sign with the UFC. If he goes to Bellator, there are many people, like Dave Meltzer, who think the move would be a game changer.
The only thing that would be changing would be the potential zeros on the checks of Melendez and his ranking as a top lightweight.
I pointed out earlier this week that there are only two marquee fights for Melendez in Bellator. Those two fights would be against current Bellator champion Eddie Alvarez, or former Bellator champion Michael Chandler. I should point out that neither fighter is a consensus top five lightweight at the moment.
I should note that Bellator’s offer hasn’t been made public, but we do know that Melendez made a base salary of $175,000 for his title fight against Ben Henderson at UFC on FOX 7. That salary was likely part of his Strikeforce contract that carried over when Strikeforce closed up shop in January 2013. Melendez was (1-1) in the UFC with the victory coming in a “fight of the night” performance against Diego Sanchez in his last outing which completed that Strikeforce contract. It should be noted that Ben Henderson only made $200,000 for his title defense win against Gilbert Melendez, and that figure included a $100,000 win bonus.
So from a business standpoint, it probably doesn’t make a lot of sense for the UFC to pay a fighter like Melendez that amount of money when he’s not the current champion. If the UFC asked Melendez to take a 50% cut in pay, he would still make roughly what the two top lightweights in Bellator are making at the moment(not including potential undisclosed fight bonuses many UFC fighters receive for the performances or sponsorship packages that fighting in the UFC could influence).
If the UFC decides not to match Bellator’s offer and allow Melendez to leave, it doesn’t really change anything in the grand scheme of things. All it does is inflate the payroll for Bellator lightweights when Michael Chandler only made $95,000 in his last fight as Bellator lightweight champion against Eddie Alvarez. Alvarez made $160,000 for the bout which included a $80,000 win bonus.
It’s not like the UFC hasn’t allowed more high profile fighters to leave the fold to fight for other promotions. Former UFC champion Rampage Jackson is now on the Bellator roster. He was and is a bigger name in MMA to casual fans when compared to Melendez.
Do you remember when Roger Huerta declined to sign with the UFC and Bellator scooped him up? Do you remember Cheick Kongo, Josh Neer, Lavar Johnson, Diego Nunes, Marcus Davis, Houston Alexander, and Ben Saunders? They all left the UFC and signed on to fight in the Bellator promotion. Granted, these fighters were not top five in their weight class at the time, but the UFC has a splendid track record of determining when and if a fighter is expendable. Hello Rampage Jackson, King Mo Lawal, Roger Gracie, Thiago Silva, and Tim Sylvia.
We’ll just have to wait and see if the UFC feels like Melendez fits that mold in the coming weeks.