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Gilbert Melendez was ‘ready to move on’ from the UFC, undecided on fighting future

Gilbert Melendez defeated Diego Sanchez for his first UFC win at UFC 166.
Gilbert Melendez defeated Diego Sanchez for his first UFC win at UFC 166.
Esther Lin, MMA Fighting

Gilbert Melendez wasn’t sad or upset when he got the call that he was being released from the UFC.

In fact, the 37-year-old veteran actually welcomed the news that he was being cut because in a strange way he was seeking a change of direction in his career and there was no better way to do it than leaving the UFC behind him.

“There’s no disrespect there but yes, they were ready to move on and I was ready to move on,” Melendez explained when speaking to MMA Fighting. “I just want to be able to steer my ship a little bit better. They’re steering the Titanic over there. That’s exactly what it is, it’s mutual.”

According to Melendez, as much as he enjoyed competing in the UFC, he never felt like he had full control over his career and admittedly that was a tough pill to swallow.

“I think the UFC’s a fantastic organization. Dana White’s done some amazing things out there, and the UFC has done some amazing things for myself and for fighters, it’s a great platform but I do believe they have their agenda,” Melendez explained. “I know this has been said before — if you’re not the champion or the No. 1 fighter or the biggest needle mover, you really don’t have much say.

“Even some of those people who are needle movers don’t have much say at times. What I’m looking for in the future if I do compete, if I go to a new organization, is to be with someone who might have the same agenda as me. I believe I am a talented fighter and an entertaining fighter and a good person to put your money behind.”

To make it clear, Melendez doesn’t fault the UFC for releasing him after suffering five straight defeats, which was capped off with a unanimous decision loss to Arnold Allen back in July.

That fight came after a two-year long layoff where Melendez was already questioning his future in the sport while simultaneously devoting more and more time to his gym, The El Nino Training Center.

Still, the former Strikeforce lightweight champion welcomed the news that he was no longer under contract because it now gives him the freedom to truly decide what’s next for him.

“I think I always wanted to fight again on my terms,” Melendez said. “The right opponent, the right location, the right time of year and the right build up, all that kind of stuff. There is that. Knowing that I can have the opportunity to steer my ship again about trying different things out. I haven’t been a free agent in I don’t know how long.

“It’s fun to be able to think maybe I’ll go back to Japan and fight. Maybe ONE FC has interest in me and having me out there. Maybe I just do some grappling. Maybe I go to [Tijuana] and just go have a boxing match for fun. I can do whatever the heck I want. To me, that’s kind of exciting. Like others who have left the UFC, or those who have not been part of the UFC’s agenda, it’s nice to go have some fun other ways. Like outside the UFC but still in the mixed martial arts game.”

Following the loss to Allen earlier this year, Melendez put out a public statement where he graciously accepted the defeat while hinting that he may not fight again, although no decisions were going to be made in that moment.

Even now several months later, Melendez isn’t ready to commit to fighting again but he’s also not saying that he’s going to call it a career and retire because the right opportunity might still come along to draw him back into the cage again.

“I don’t know if will ever fight again. I don’t know,” Melendez said. “It would have to be something that makes sense for me, it has to be fun, everything has to work out well but it’s fun to know that I’m free and I’m not locked down to anybody. If something really neat comes my way, I can jump all over it.

“I know myself. I love training. I love challenging myself. I may wake up tomorrow and create the right opportunity or I may wait for the right opportunity. I never really want to retire, I want to stay ready for the right opportunity. I always want to stay in shape, you never know what’s going to happen.”

One option that seems obviously would be Melendez contacting Bellator president Scott Coker, who was previously his promoter under the Strikeforce banner.

Melendez was one of Coker’s most loyal stars when he was fighting for him prior to Strikeforce being sold to the owners behind the UFC in 2011.

“I think there’s a strong possibility I could team up with Scott Coker in the future,” Melendez said. “He’s a great promoter. I believe he’s someone I can work with but as of now, we haven’t started talking about it but I always liked his style. I always liked the way he ramps up. There’s always a possibility of us reconnecting.

“Of all the promoters out there, of all the organizations, he’s the guy I know best and he’s a guy that always worked well with and he’s always been good to me. A guy that will hear me out, he hears his fighters out at times. There’s a strong possibility we’ll have a conversation and definitely a possibility that we can work together again.”

Right now, nothing is set in stone regarding Melendez’s future in fighting and that’s actually the way he wants it.

Maybe he’ll decide to forge ahead with a return to action or perhaps he’ll just focus on coaching and leave the door slightly cracked open just in case somebody comes along with an offer he can’t refuse. He’s already signed up to participate in the Quintet Team Grappling competition where he will join longtime friend and teammate Jake Shields in representing “Team Strikeforce” against grapplers from the UFC, PRIDE FC and the WEC.

What Melendez wants more than anything right now is the option to decide for himself and his release from the UFC will finally allow him to do that.

“I’m ready for the next chapter whatever that is,” Melendez said. “Maybe it’s jiu-jitsu, maybe it’s coaching, maybe I’m just an analyst. We’ll see what happens. But I do know this, I will be training. I love MMA. I watch the fights.

“I have no ill will towards the UFC. This is the game. I’ve already anticipated this chapter happening. This is inevitable for all fighters. I’m cool with it.”

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