Not long after Gilbert Melendez signed a contract with Bellator, he received a phone call from UFC CEO Lorenzo Fertitta. The UFC had the right to match the Bellator contract, and Fertitta wanted to discuss Melendez's long-term goals.
The fruits of that discussion were a new-long term UFC deal for Melendez that will result in him serving as a coach on Season 20 of The Ultimate Fighter against lightweight champion Anthony Pettis. The series, which will highlight women's strawweight fighters, will film beginning in May and air first on Fox Sports 1 on Sept. 10.
Pettis and Melendez will fight for the title sometime later this year after the conclusion of the show.
Melendez said the deal will enable him to build his brand, but he admitted Fertitta's involvement in the matter made a difference. Fertitta got involved in the talks after UFC president Dana White was unable to make headway with Melendez representative Rodolphe Beaulieu.
"Getting a call from Lorenzo himself makes you feel elite," Melendez told Yahoo Sports. "It makes you feel important and wanted. Of course, Dana is the man and they're both great businessmen. It's great to be recognized and get that respect. I feel I'm a great investment for them and they made me feel that way, as well."
Melendez said he never had any hard feelings toward the UFC, even when talks weren't going smoothly. He said everything was about business and making the best deal for himself.
He noted that he would have been happy in Bellator, particularly since it has two elite lightweights in champion Eddie Alvarez and former champion Michael Chandler. But he said the list of great potential opponents in the UFC is appealing to him.
He is eager, he said, to not only face Pettis for the belt, but to get the exposure that coaching on TUF will provide.
"I'm really looking forward to that experience and I'm looking forward to seeing the new 115-pound women's division and coaching those ladies," Melendez said. "Doing [television] is something I've always wanted to do, and have loved to do. I always wanted to be on camera and be an ambassador for this sport.
"I love to coach and this is a great opportunity for me to build my brand and build my team's brand, as well. It really builds up an awesome main event against an awesome competitor. I am very jazzed on the whole situation; very excited on the whole situation. I was pumped by the idea and it definitely helps."
Melendez, 31, is 22-3 in his mixed martial arts career and 1-1 in the UFC. He is coming off of a victory over Diego Sanchez on Oct. 19 in Houston at UFC 166 that is widely regarded as one of the best matches in UFC history.