UFC matches Gilbert Melendez's offer

Updated: February 28, 2014, 1:56 PM ET
By Brett Okamoto | ESPN.com

The UFC has exercised its right to match a contractual offer by Bellator MMA for the services of highly-ranked lightweight Gilbert Melendez.

Melendez (22-3) and the UFC announced a multifight deal on Sunday evening. The former Strikeforce titleholder will coach opposite UFC champion Anthony Pettis in the 20th season of "The Ultimate Fighter" reality series, which starts filming in May.

The season will feature female strawweight contestants and culminate in a bout between Melendez and Pettis for the UFC lightweight title.

"As athletes, we come to a point where it's a contract year," Melendez told ESPN.com. "I had a really good team that guided me in the right direction.

"I think I'm a great matchup for Anthony Pettis. He's evolved in front of our eyes and he's very tricky. He's a great fighter, but I don't think he's fought someone like me -- well rounded and not scared of him."

Earlier this month, Melendez agreed to terms with Bellator, but he was restricted from officially signing with the promotion as UFC held matching rights.

Melendez competed for the UFC twice in 2013. He fought Benson Henderson for the 155-pound title in April, losing via split decision. In October, he defeated Diego Sanchez by unanimous decision in a Fight of the Year candidate.

The California-based lightweight said he had made peace with his decision to sign with Bellator but admitted the UFC was always his first choice.

"You better believe it," said Melendez, when asked if he had hoped UFC would match Bellator's offer. "There are two awesome fighters in Michael Chandler and Eddie Alvarez [in Bellator], but UFC is the home of the best fighters in the world.

"Sometimes, you have to put your emotions aside and think about your future and your family. At the end of the day, I got the best of both worlds."

Terms of the UFC deal were not disclosed. When asked if he felt it was an unprecedented contract for the promotion, Melendez would only say he was happy with the way negotiations went.

"I'll put it this way, we agreed to a great deal," Melendez said. "I'm very happy with it, personally. As long as I'm happy it, that's all that matters. As far as unprecedented, the process was unprecedented -- but it had to be done."

Pettis (17-2) has not fought since winning the UFC title via first-round submission over Henderson in August. The 27-year-old champ is currently recovering from knee surgery.

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