Gilbert Melendez is officially back in the UFC — and he’ll be getting another lightweight title shot later this year. According to a press release distributed last night, Melendez has agreed to a new contract with the UFC, and will challenge reigning champ Anthony Pettis for his belt after the two 155-pounders appear as rival coaches on The Ultimate Fighter 20: The Strawweights. The season will begin filming in May, and will premiere on FOX Sports 1 on September 10th. The date and venue for Pettis vs. Melendez haven’t been announced yet.
Outside of the TUF gig, which almost seems like punishment, Melendez’s brief flirtation with free agency couldn’t have gone any better. Before Bellator tried to snap him up, Melendez was being offered high-risk, low-reward fights against undefeated Russians in the UFC, along with contract terms that were clearly less than he was hoping for. Now, his price has been pumped up in a bidding war, and he’ll be strolling right back into a title fight. (It seems likely that Bellator offered Melendez an immediate title shot themselves, and the UFC was forced to match this perk in order to secure a new contract for El Niño.)
And so, the UFC hangs on to one of the most talented and entertaining lightweights in the world, and the fans get to keep watching Melendez on MMA’s biggest stage. The only loser here is Bjorn Rebney, who was thrilled at the prospect of having Melendez on his roster, only to have the UFC re-sign him, basically out of spite. Ah well. At least he can comfort himself with the fact that he performed a very important role in the marketplace.
Melendez most recently won a decision against Diego Sanchez in a Fight of the Year candidate at UFC 166. Before that, he lost a split-decision against Benson Henderson in their title fight at UFC on FOX 7, and before that, Melendez won seven straight fights in Strikeforce. Anthony Pettis is currently recovering from knee-surgery.
So, will the latest TUF-stunt get you to tune in again? And who ya got in Melendez vs. Pettis?