Bellator MMA may have lost out on Gilbert Melendez sweepstakes, but they did manage to ink a new deal with current middleweight champion Alexander Shlemenko.
Bellator had signed Melendez to an offer sheet, but the UFC stepped up its counter, announcing on Sunday night that it had re-signed Melendez.
While Shlemenko doesn't come with the splash that stealing Melendez away from the UFC would have, it's important for Bellator to keep its top-tier talent under contract, and that's just what the promotion accomplished by signing Shlemenko to an long-term extension.
The 29-year-old Russian fighter returns to the cage at Bellator 114 on March 28, putting his belt on the line against Season 9 tournament winner Brennan Ward.
“Bellator has been my home for many years, and it’s where I want to be,” Shlemenko said. “Bjorn [Rebney] made me a promise and he lived up to that promise to provide me with a new deal.
“I have made a home here at Bellator, and I will continue to represent Russia in my efforts in the cage. I have gained millions of new fans both in the U.S. and in Russia and around the world during my time with Bellator, and I will enjoy being Bellator’s longest running champion. I will continue wearing that belt with honor during my time with Bellator, which will now be at the peak of my career.”
Currently riding a twelve-fight winning streak that includes victories over Brett Cooper, Maiquel Falcao, Doug Marshall and Vitor Vianna, the terms of Shlemenko's new contract were not disclosed.
“Alexander Shlemenko has been with this organization since its infancy, and has grown into one of the most dominant champions in MMA,” Bellator Chairman & CEO Bjorn Rebney said. “I can say without hesitation, Alexander has been a large part of the success we have enjoyed over the last five years and as the biggest name in Russian MMA, he’s been the catalyst to the largest TV deal in the history of MMA in Russia. It’s an honor to have him fight in this organization. I look forward to watching his career continue inside the Bellator cage for years to come.”