Go to the Globe and Mail homepage

Jump to main navigationJump to main content

UFC fighter Georges St-Pierre gestures as he announces a pause in his fighting career, Friday, December 13, 2013 during a news conference in Quebec City. (JACQUES BOISSINOT/THE CANADIAN PRESS)
UFC fighter Georges St-Pierre gestures as he announces a pause in his fighting career, Friday, December 13, 2013 during a news conference in Quebec City. (JACQUES BOISSINOT/THE CANADIAN PRESS)

SEAN GORDON

GSP steps out of the octagon to rekindle a normal life Add to ...

His friends will tell you watching a fight card at Georges St-Pierre’s house is an exhausting experience – he’s constantly pacing, texting, whipping up a snack, throwing in a load of laundry.

He might also, with a quick glance, predict the outcome of a bout – which ends seconds later, exactly as he said it would.

More Related to this Story

What he won’t do: sprawl on a couch.

Now, the guy who can’t sit still is vowing to teach himself how to do just that.

The Ultimate Fighting Championship’s 170-pound champion – and perhaps the planet’s best-known Canadian – is stepping away from the sport he has come to personify, saying the pressure and fame have become too much to bear.

He didn’t utter the word retirement – “it’s not a word I like to use,” he said Friday – but it’s likely that’s what his indefinite hiatus will become.

St-Pierre’s vacating the mixed martial arts title he defended in a controversial fight with American Johny Hendricks last month, and should he return to the UFC – “I don’t know when, I don’t know if” – it will be as a challenger.

“I need to take a break for my own mental health, to recharge … I haven’t had time for a normal life, and now I’m going to take the time to have one,” he said.

The first order of business will be to spend Christmas and New Year Eve’s with his family near Montreal, something he said he hasn’t done in years.

The announcement of St-Pierre’s extended break from the fighter’s life came via conference call with loquacious UFC president Dana White, and a few minutes later, he bounded onto a stage set up on the hockey rink of a Quebec City shopping mall.

Fans had been lining up for six hours for a chance at an autograph and hand-shake – 400 of them were admitted to a maze-like lineup, several thousand more took in the scene from the mall concourse – they cheered lustily when St-Pierre made his entrance.

Louis Théberge, a 56-year-old fight fan at the head of the autograph queue (he had arrived at 8 a.m.), carried several posters and hand-painted likeness of St-Pierre.

“[The hiatus] is a little disappointing, but at the same time I think he probably needs it. When you have a couple of stains on your kitchen floor, you have to mop them up, he has some housecleaning to do,” he said. “It’s okay, it’s fine. He’s a champion, he’s our Muhammad Ali.”

Sporting a Quebec Nordiques retro jersey, St-Pierre joked: “I just got off the phone with [NHL commissioner] Gary Bettman, the Nordiques are coming back!”

In his first public appearance since the Hendricks fight, which he won in a split decision – White loudly denounced the verdict after the fight, saying the challenger had won – St-Pierre appeared relaxed and buoyant.

Fielding questions from reporters, he expanded on his reasons for taking time for a reset. He likened his life as an athlete to lugging a bag of bricks on his back wherever he goes.

“Every passing day, every fight, every training camp, adds another brick,” he said.

And the burden – the fame, the notoriety, the pressure to win – has simply become too heavy to bear.

The legendarily competitive St-Pierre explained how he becomes entirely consumed by his preparation, noting that when the referee raised his hand to signify a victory over opponent Nick Diaz, he was already thinking about how to beat Hendricks, his next opponent.

“When I eat, when I’m driving, before I go to sleep, I’m completely obsessed … you have to be a little nuts and obsessive if you want to achieve great things,” he said.

The decision to take a break has been percolating for some time, he said, and predates the Nov. 16 tilt with Hendricks.

St-Pierre said “nobody can understand” what he’s had to deal with, and that his day-to-day existence (he is recognized and stopped everywhere he goes, whether in Montreal or some far-flung part of the world) is “completely insane.”

Unlike many pro athletes, St-Pierre is going out at the very pinnacle of his career, and he is doing so after an emotional, bruising fight with Hendricks, parts of which he said in a postbout interview he had forgotten – a classic concussion symptom.

St-Pierre insists his mental faculties are just fine, the damage from the Hendricks fight was “superficial,” he is in tip-top physical condition and will continue to train at TriStar, the Montreal gym where he works with long-time coach Firas Zahabi.

But it’s clear hanging up the gloves after a pro career that started when the 32-year-old was 19 won’t hurt his long-term cognitive health.

Bullied as a child in his hometown of Saint-Isidore, Que., St. Pierre took up martial arts in order to learn how to defend himself.

He’s become quite good at it: St-Pierre has stepped into the UFC octagon 22 times, and on 15 of those occasions a title belt was on the line (he won all but two).

He leaves as UFC’s biggest, most bankable star, and as the most-decorated welterweight in the history of the sport.

White called St-Pierre “the gold standard in everything,” adding he supports St-Pierre’s decision.

“I think it’s the right move,” he said.

St-Pierre has only lost twice since joining the UFC – he fought on a Quebec-based pro circuit before signing on – and the last of his defeats was in 2008; he has won his last 12 consecutive fights.

He has a record 19 wins, and has won more title bouts than any other fighter. St-Pierre has also spent more time in the octagon than any other athlete, landed more blows and scored more takedowns.

It’s an impressive legacy, but while St-Pierre says is “content” with what he’s achieved, he also alluded to not succeeding in “taking the sport to the next level” – presumably an allusion to drug testing.

Opponents have occasionally accused St-Pierre of skulduggery and subterfuge (whether it be through the liberal application of Vaseline or performance-enhancing drugs), and when he proposed an upgraded anti-doping testing regime for himself and Hendricks, the offer went unheeded.

Though detractors accuse St-Pierre for taking a low-risk, conservative approach to fighting, his genius lies in attacking his opponent’s perceived strength, and in meticulous preparation.

And the fans plainly love it – St-Pierre has made millions for himself, and tens of millions for White and his partners.

If there was a rift between St-Pierre and White after the Hendricks fight – the former recounted how a UFC press officer tried to prevent him from going to the postfight news conference – there are no longer any hard feelings

St-Pierre says if he returns to fighting, it will be with UFC.

But that day will only come if St-Pierre wants it to.

In the know

Most popular videos »

Highlights

More from The Globe and Mail

Most popular