The UFC has announced that it has matched Bellator MMA’s contract offer to lightweight Gilbert Melendez.

In addition to matching the contract, the promotion has revealed that Melendez will coach The Ultimate Fighter 20 opposite current lightweight champion Anthony Pettis. Pettis and Melendez will fight for the 155-pound title in late 2014.

TUF 20 will begin filming in May and will debut on Fox Sports 1 on Sept. 10. It will mark the first, all-women’s installment of the reality series. The cast will consist of 16, 115-pound fighters and winner will be crowned the inaugural UFC strawweight champion. Just five of the 16 spots on the show remain open as the rest of the roster was filled when the promotion acquired the contracts of 11 fighters from Invicta Fighting Championships in late 2013. The full roster includes Invicta FC champ Carla Esparza, unbeaten Joanne Calderwood and scrappy Aussie Bec Rawlings, among others.

Melendez had been in a lengthy negotiation period with the promotion. When the two sides could not agree on terms, he was allowed to pursue offers from other promotions. Bellator MMA stepped up and offered the former Strikeforce champion a contract, but the UFC retained the right to match. Now the 31-year-old Californian will return to the Octagon and once again challenge for UFC gold. Melendez fell short against then-champion Benson Henderson via controversial split decision in April of last year, but bounced back with a thrilling, “Fight of the Night” performance against Diego Sanchez at UFC 166.

Pettis, meanwhile, has been out of action with a knee injury since defeating Henderson by first-round armbar at UFC 164. While numerous fighters have been vying for the right to challenge Pettis, the UFC has now made it clear that his first defense will come against Melendez.

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  • Peter Banh

    [quote] According to several sources, Melendez’s deal guarantees that at least 75 percent of the 31-year-old’s fights will be contested on pay-per-view moving forward. Additionally, income earned from
    Melendez’s contracted pay-per-view points will kick in at a lower minimum buy rate than for any contract in UFC history, meaning Melendez will still earn pay-per-view point earnings on an event that performs poorly at the box office.

    Melendez will also earn pay-per-view income regardless of his placement on an event, i.e., regardless of whether he fights in the main event, co-main event or main card.

    Kudo to Gilbert!! This is your great reward for stepping up to fight for what you deserve. More and
    more fighters will follow suit. Thanks Bjorn and Bellator for step up to compete with the UFC. The game has change. UFC is no longer a monopoly. This is a win win situation for the fighters and MMA.