Dana White warned Gilbert Melendez to agree terms on a new contract with the UFC or find a new home, and it seems that the former Strikeforce lightweight champion has called his bluff by exploring the latter option.

“Hey guys. As soon as I was a free agent, I had my team call Bellator, and Bjorn made an amazing offer that would allow me to reach my goals,” Melendez revealed on Twitter. “It’s an opp. to be apart of something special and I could make history testing myself against some of the toughest LWs in the world.

“If the UFC wants me they have the right to match. Ill let the fans know more as soon as it’s settled.”

Bellator CEO Bjorn Rebney also confirmed that he had offered a multi-fight, multi-year deal with the current No.2 ranked UFC lightweight fighter.

“The moment Gil was legally able to explore the free agent market, Gil’s management team reached out to me, and we began figuring out how to bring Gil to Bellator,” Rebney stated in a press release. “It’s no secret that I’ve been a big ‘El Nino’ fan for many years. Gil was one of the first fighters I tried to sign when I launched Bellator back in 2008, and he’s grown and developed into one of the best and most exciting lightweights on earth. Gil has a vision for what he wants to accomplish both inside and outside the cage, and we can help make his vision a reality.”

So, the UFC now have a major headache that’s very much of their own doing. As he often does, White has attempted to play hardball to get his way, but on this occassion it’s in danger of backfiring badly and he’s not only risking the possibility of losing one of the best lightweights in the world to the UFC’s biggest rival, but he’s also going to risk incuring the wrath of the fans over the way this situation has been handled.

White’s nothing if not stubborn though, as was illustrated by the fact that he never did get around to reaching a deal with Fedor Emelianenko in his prime a few years despite a consistent vocal outcry from fans, so it’s by no means certain that he will back down and agree to Melendez’s contract demands.

Interestingly, his decision may also have broader repercussions as Melendez’s long time trainer Cesar Gracie has thrown the cat amongst the pigeons by threatening that if his fighter does leave for Bellator then the rest of his fighters may follow suit.

“@gilbertmelendez won’t be punked by @danawhite. If not careful our other guys will be leaving @ufc for @BellatorMMA,” Gracie wrote on Twitter, though it should be noted that within the hour he had removed the threat from his account.

With the likes of Nick Diaz and Jake Shields part of the Gracie gym that’s a warning shot that the UFC would have to weigh-up carefully, though Shields isn’t exactly considered a world-beater these days and Diaz has always had a volatile relationship with White.

So, this situation has now reached a pivotal moment and the hope will be that from this point forward common sense rather than ego’s prevail to bring this matter to a conclusion.