Gilbert Melendez Carves a Path in MMA Free Agency
By Christopher Jester
The landscape of free agency in mixed martial arts has changed forever. Thank Gilbert Melendez whose decision to test the free agency waters has initiated a game changer when prolific mixed martial artists decide to figure out their worth. As if daring UFC President Dana White after receiving an offer from rival Bellator, the UFC has decided to match their offer to retain the top-ranked lightweight. Although it was convoluted and mired with egos, the deal became a historic moment in MMA free agency.
The No. 2 ranked lightweight came to terms with Bellator last week, and the UFC reportedly matched the deal on the 23rd of February. That was a quick turnaround. Responding to whether it is a bad thing, last Thursday Dana White said, “Is it a bad thing? I thought this is what everybody wanted”
Quite sure, everyone wanted it but very few fighters are in the position to hanker for such a role. In many ways this worked because it was Gilbert Melendez. It also worked because very few fighters are willing to leave the UFC to fight somewhere else. But we have to remember that for years, Melendez was the best lightweight to never reach the UFC. He was on the outside looking in as the king of his little play pen.
The problem with that is he was never able to prove whether he was the best or not. Some may say he still has it, but likely in his mind that close split decision did not deter his thought process on who is the best lightweight in the world. So in a lot of ways, Melendez became comfortable with fighting outside of the UFC as the best lightweight. What made his role so important here is that he actually was in a position to measure his worth, unlike many of fighters that came before him.
You can have a huge name like Quinton “Rampage” Jackson going into free agency, but if you do not have the value to back it up – your options are limited. Melendez had not just the fans vote at his backing but he had what mattered: accomplishments, a good record, and prominence in the rankings. If you are going to try and bluff, you have to have the right cards and Gilbert Melendez had a full house. Out of the deal, Melendez was able to get a contract that guaranteed a minimum of 75% of his fights will take place on pay-per-view with the other 25% likely airing on some Fox related channel.
Additionally, regardless of his bouts location on a card, Melendez will garner PPV earnings. To top it off, he will gross PPV income regardless of how it performs on sales.
But it is not just about the UFC maintaining Gilbert Melendez on their roster. He will also get to coach against UFC lightweight champion Anthony Pettis on the 20th season of The Ultimate Fighter. Therefore giving him a title shot only one fight after coming up so short against then-champion Benson Henderson. Sounds like everyone came out pretty darn well.
Even when you think about Bellator, they too found some recognition out of this deal. They proved that they are a legitimate choice in free agency. If the UFC is no longer your topic choice, then Bellator is the next best thing and they come out of this deal looking like a sweet treat to any mouth-watering fighter nearing free agency.
It comes down to this: this whole deal worked out great for Gilbert Melendez but even better for free agency in general. No longer are fighters torn at their choices because one is the top dog and the other is the bottom leagues. The options are available now, and Bellator has earned its way to become a genuine threat to the UFC when fighters attempt to test the waters. Fighters now have some weight to throw around in the negotiating phase, and it has opened up an interesting future for fighters looking to analyze their measure in the field of mixed martial arts.
Follow Christopher “sLapDatSuCKa” Jester on Twitter @sLapDatSuCka
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