LAS VEGAS -- UFC president Dana White says he has no ill will toward Gilbert Melendez for going out and getting himself the best deal he can.
"Gilbert's out there testing the market," White said Thursday. "Good for him. I don't have any hard feelings for Gilbert Melendez."
But that's not going to stop him from taking shots at Bellator and corporate parent Viacom while the fighter widely considered the world's second-best lightweight watches his contract drama unfold.
A free agent, Melendez, who came one questionable judges' ruling away from winning the UFC title in April, came to terms with Bellator last week in a surprise move. The UFC is in a window in which it can match the offer, but no decision has yet been made.
White insists Melendez is looking to join Bellator when others are trying to get out.
"Guys are trying to f------ get out of that place," White said. "Guys are, they got these contracts you can't get out of. Look at what they did to Eddie Alvarez. Eddie Alvarez fought once in like two years. They promised all kinds of things that they never had. The difference is, we don't sue our fighters. We don't f---, if a guy wants to try to move on with his career, and test the waters, we don't sue them. We don't jump in and start suing our fighters. People are trying to jump that shit, not jump out of that shit.
Bellator CEO Bjorn Rebney told MMAFighting last weekend that the Melendez offer is part of a new era, in which the Viacom-owned company will aggressively pursue top-notch free agents when it makes sense.
White had a tart reply.
"That dude's out of his f--- mind," he said.
He then pivoted from Rebney to Bellator's corporate parent.
"Nobody can f---- deal with those guys," White said. "Viacom will sue you til you f------ bleed. Sue you til you bleed. That's a whole ‘nother ballgame over there. Everyone wants to talk like the UFC is bullies? They're the f----- bullies over there. They've got these contracts you can't get out of."
If Melendez ends up in Bellator, he'll form the nucleus of a solid lightweight division which also features Alvarez, who the UFC tried to land last year, and Michael Chandler, who last year signed a long-term contract extension with Bellator. White questioned whether Chandler, who lost his Bellator lightweight title to Alvarez in November, really wants to be in Bellator.
"Do you think Chandler wants to be there?" White said. "Chandler's sitting there thinking ‘I didn't want to sign that f------ deal.'"
Regardless of where Melendez ends up, though, White scoffs at the persistent belief among tinfoil-hat types that the UFC is a monopoly, at a time when one of his prime talents could end up in the hands of a well-financed competitor.
"It's one or the other," White said. "‘We're a monopoly. Guys can't make more money. Guys can't do this.' [Melendez] out there, it's free trade. He's out there testing the waters and seeing what he's worth. And now it's a big f------- issue. ... He's out there testing the waters man, that's how this s--- works. Is it a bad thing? I thought this is what everybody wanted."