Bellator MMA made a splash Friday, announcing that they have come to an agreement to bring in former Strikeforce lightweight champion Gilbert Melendez.

Melendez, who competed for the UFC lightweight title last year, is 22-3. He lost to Benson Henderson via decision, but rebounded to top Diego Sanchez and complete his contract.

The UFC does still hold matching rights to the deal signed between Bellator and Melendez.

“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,” said Bellator chairman and CEO Bjorn Rebney. “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. We are in the business of developing and showcasing the greatest fighters on earth. That’s what we intend to do here with Gil and it’s what we’ll continue to do in the future.”

The deal is a multi-fight, multi-year contract that would allow Melendez to face the likes of current Bellator champion Eddie Alvarez, former champion Michael Chandler and others.

“As soon as I was a free agent, I had my team call Bellator,” Melendez posted on Twitter. “Bjorn made an amazing offer that would allow me to reach my goals.

“It’s an opportunity to be apart of something special and I could make history testing myself against some of the toughest (lightweights) in the world.”

Melendez did add “If the UFC wants me they have the right to match. I’ll let the fans know more as soon as it’s settled.”