Gilbert Melendez may fight in spring

Bellator MMA CEO Bjorn Rebney is hopeful that highly ranked lightweight Gilbert Melendez will be officially signed and fighting in a Bellator cage by the spring.

Melendez (22-3) announced last week he had agreed to terms with Bellator on a multiyear deal. The UFC, for which Melendez competed twice in 2013, has the right to match Bellator's offer.

The exact length of the matching period remains unclear. UFC co-owner Lorenzo Fertitta told ESPN.com last week, "I'm sure we will have plenty of time to consider."

On Monday, Rebney expressed optimism that the process would not prevent Melendez from fighting on the company's first pay-per-view offering, which is expected to take place this spring.

"One thing Gil spoke to me directly about is he wanted to get busy right away," Rebney said. "We have a huge PPV coming up with a 155-pound title fight in the spring. Conceptually, we could have [Gil] fighting on that same card.

"I think [the matching period] is a 21-day-period. Hopefully, [the UFC] will provide an answer quick and we'll be able to start doing some great stuff with Gil."

In addition to the planned pay-per-view event, Rebney said Melendez could land on a Spike TV broadcast within the same time frame.

"His first fight out of the box, in all likelihood, wouldn't be for the title," Rebney said.

Melendez and his manager, Rodolphe Beaulieu, contacted Bellator last month -- presumably following a 90-day exclusive negotiating period with Zuffa, parent company of the UFC.

Rebney, who unsuccessfully tried to sign Melendez in 2008, wasted no time making an offer.

"It was surprising, because Gil is one of the top lightweights on Earth," Rebney said. "It was a spectacular call. I had to ask twice if they were sure he was available.

"The offer Gil has agreed to is long-term and has a lot of pieces to it. Obviously, the fight piece is really compelling because of the level of talent we have here at 155, including [Eddie] Alvarez, [Michael] Chandler and [Will] Brooks. There is also a collection of opportunities we worked on [involving] on-air and marketing opportunities."

Prior to Bellator's announcement, UFC president Dana White stated he was "done" negotiating with Melendez and Fertitta would handle the matter moving forward.

In 2012, a similar situation unfolded when the UFC attempted to sign Alvarez, a restricted free agent, to a multifight deal. Bellator elected to match the offer.

Counter lawsuits between Alvarez and Bellator ensued, as Alvarez claimed the Bellator deal wasn't the financial equivalent to Zuffa's. The sides settled out of court in mid-2013 and Alvarez returned to Bellator.

"The interesting thing about it to me is this is the first time the UFC is faced with having to use matching rights to keep an elite, top-tier, fan-favorite," Rebney said.

"The bottom line is that this is great for fighters and our sport. That might sound a little counterintuitive coming out of the mouth of a promoter, but when you step back and take a look at the bigger picture, having two major players in MMA is far and away the best situation for fighters."