UFC releases Gilbert Melendez from contract

The UFC has released former lightweight title challenger Gilbert Melendez from his exclusive contract.

The 37-year-old Melendez (22-8), who was once in consideration as the best 155-pound fighter on the planet, exits the promotion on a five-fight skid.

"It was a fun ride with the UFC that I really enjoyed," Melendez told ESPN. "I feel I gave them one of the most entertaining fights in their history (against Diego Sanchez), and I appreciate all the UFC has done. They have done a bunch of cool stuff for all their fighters.

"That said, I do feel this release was mutual. I ready to move on. I feel like, if I were to fight again, I would like to do it on my terms and steer my own ship. The UFC is a fantastic organization, but they have their agenda, and unless you're a champion or a super-strong needle-mover, you don't have as much say in your career. If I do get back in the cage, I want it to be with a company that agrees with the path I want to be on. But I'm leaving the UFC on great terms."

Melendez is scheduled to compete in a grappling tournament titled Quintet Ultra on Dec. 12 in Las Vegas, which will air on UFC Fight Pass. The tournament includes high profile names such as Jake Shields, Chad Mendes, Anthony Johnson and Sean O'Malley.

Fighting out of San Francisco, Melendez joined the UFC in 2013 as a Strikeforce champion. He fought Benson Henderson for the UFC's 155-pound title in his promotional debut and lost a razor-thin split decision. He rebounded with a thrilling decision win over Diego Sanchez six months later but would fail to win another bout in the UFC.

His losses in the Octagon have come against top-level competition, including former champions Anthony Pettis and Eddie Alvarez. He dropped to featherweight in 2017, at which he suffered defeats to Jeremy Stephens and rising prospect Arnold Allen.

Melendez, who works as an MMA analyst for ESPN, took a two-year break between 2017 and 2019. He has not yet commented on his fighting future.