UNCASVILLE, Conn. – Now that the dust has settled a little bit in the Gilbert Melendez sweepstakes, Bellator CEO Bjorn Rebney has had time to think about the big fish that got away. Bellator had signed the coveted free agent Melendez to a contract on Feb. 13, only to see the UFC match the offer the offer ten days later.
Even though Melendez was retained by Zuffa, Rebney says he still feels good about the whole thing.
"If it helped the sport it terms of giving fighters like Gil who are amongst the best in the world get a bigger stake in the game -- which they deserve -- I think it's a good thing," he told MMA Fighting on Saturday night after Bellator 110 at Mohegan Sun. "I think it's good for the sport. What's good for the fighters is good for this game."
Melendez was not only re-signed with perks that include such things as appearing on pay-per-views 75 percent of the time and getting a stake in those at lower buy rates, but he was cast opposite lightweight champion Anthony Pettis coaching The Ultimate Fighter 20. Asked if the UFC was forced to give him the coaching spot per the language of the original Viacom contract, Rebney didn't mince words.
"I know they did," he said. "Because being a part of the Viacom family and having Spike as a legitimate partner of mine and ours, we can offer things to fighters like the theatrical stuff and the reality programming, and we offered some of those things to Gil. There was no way [the UFC] could match the deal without giving Gil on camera opportunities and huge PPV participation -- and to the best of my knowledge he'll have the best PPV participation in the UFC now.
"Which is great. Good for Gil. He's a good dude and a heck of a fun guy to watch fight, and he's one of the good guys in the game. I've known Gil for a lot of years. I like him. I'd have preferred he fight here. But, you know what? He's going to have financial security for his family and he's not going to have to worry about buying a house and paying off debts."
Melendez won't be the last free agent that Bellator will try and sign away from the UFC, just as Eddie Alvarez won't be the last to sign with the UFC only to be retained (albeit controversially in his case) with Bellator.
"I think it's indicative of how the system should work," Rebney said. "The UFC had matching rights -- we have matching rights.And you negotiate those matching rights when you sign a guy like Gil, or when you sign a superstar fighter. And the idea is, if you support that fighter and build him up over the years, you should be able to give somebody the equivalent of whatever they were offered and then retain their services, because you helped build them up and the fighter helped build up your organization. We made Gil a great offer. It had a lot of perks in it in terms of on air stuff and in terms of pay-per-view at lower levels than I've ever seen in this sport, and in higher participation than I've ever seen in this sport.
"Since I first got into this I've always thought that the guys who fuel the machine are the fighters. People aren't buying par-per-views to see my face or Dana [White]'s face, they're buying it because of fighters like Quinton 'Rampage' Jackson or Michael Chandler or Eddie Alvarez, etc. They should be a very large scale beneficiary of that process when it goes for premium TV. I hope the bar does get set. We're going to win some of those guys, we're going to lose some of them, and they're going to match on some."