For years, UFC welterweight Georges St-Pierre set the standard for his peers. He was always in magnificent condition. He was constantly looking to evolve as a fighter. He landed a mega-sponsorship deal with UnderArmour.
He did every interview, showed up on time at every appearance, and was unfailingly polite and congenial. He was always a gentleman and was a classy representative for the sport.
On Friday, when he announced plans to take a sabbatical to tend to undisclosed personal issues and relieve the pressure he feels from being the face of the sport, he showed yet again how a true professional does things.
St-Pierre announced during a conference call Friday that he would vacate his title and take time off from the sport that made him rich and famous in order to try to resolve his private matters. He vacated his title "out of respect to the other competitors." St-Pierre could have asked to hold onto the title for several months until he was more sure what he wanted to do. Given what he has done for and meant to the UFC, he would likely have been permitted to do so.
But St-Pierre's tenure in the UFC has been defined by class, and he showed it again and again as he explained why he is walking away for the time being.
He's healthy and said the bruises he suffered in his split-decision victory over Johny Hendricks at UFC 167 on Nov. 16 have healed.
"I'm 100 percent, and I've never felt better physically," St-Pierre said.
Many are skeptical of his decision because he makes so much money for doing what he does. White said on the conference call Friday that St-Pierre has made enough money in his 21-bout UFC career that he never has to work another day in his life.
His bouts were annually the UFC's biggest events, and he raked in significant amounts of money from his pay-per-view successes, as well as from his many sponsors. In addition to UnderArmour, he was sponsored by Gatorade, Affliction and Mission Skin Care, among others.
Honor and respect have always been the foundations of traditional martial arts, and though he became fabulously wealthy by fighting, St-Pierre embraced them fully.
So he felt compelled to do the right thing when he knew that his heart wasn't in it fully. In this case, the right thing was to surrender the title and temporarily retire.
He's going to continue to train and try to improve, and if he gets the urge to fight again, he will. But if the urge never comes back, he'll be content to have retired at 32, at the peak of his powers, a star like few others the UFC has ever known.
St-Pierre dearly loves MMA, but didn't love the demands being so visible placed upon his privacy. That, as much as anything, has been toughest for him to deal with as he's gotten more and more famous.
He isn't a narcissist and doesn't need the attention of adoring fans heaped upon him to keep him motivated. He can train for the love of the sport and not for any other reason now than he's on hiatus.
He'll continue to help train his teammates at Tristar in Montreal, but doesn't want to find himself back in a training camp. Mentally, it would be too much at this stage for him to deal with, and he correctly recognized it and did something about it.
"Of course, of course I will [help my teammates] but it's just that I won't have the pressure of competing," St-Pierre said. "What made me the champion, and what made me who I am, my biggest quality, is also a big issue for me: I'm completely obsessed about something.
"When they tell me, 'You're going to fight that guy on that day,' I start right away thinking about it. And not only thinking about it, but getting completely obsessed about it. I think about it constantly, when I go to bed, when I eat, when I drive my car. It's completely crazy. So when I don't have this thing, I can focus more on a normal life."
Life in a fish bowl isn't fun, and St-Pierre has learned that in the last eight years. When personal issues are added, it can make every day seem like an eternity. Every problem seems like a massive issue.
He's denied a report that is father is deathly ill, but hasn't addressed the issue further.
Perhaps when he has his affairs in order, he'll think about fighting again. If he does, it would be great for the sport because he's the rare kind of athlete who comes along just once in a generation. But if he does not, that will be fine, as well. No matter how well-paid he has been, St-Pierre has done far more for mixed martial arts than it could ever do for him.
"Georges has been here forever and he's been an absolute professional in everything he's done and in the way he's carried himself until this move here," White said. "His legacy is that he's the greatest welterweight ever. And as far as working with us, there's nobody better. If I had 475 guys like Georges St-Pierre, my life would be a lot easier.
"He is the gold standard in everything. You can tell. You guys can just tell by his tone of voice and the way that he's talking that he's tiptoeing around the real issue here. He has these personal problems he's dealing with and he handles everything like a professional."
He's going out on top, with his dignity intact and his reputation as both a superb gentleman and world-class athlete intact.
It's hard to imagine a better way for anyone to say goodbye. In the ring, outside the ring and in announcing his retirement, Georges St-Pierre showed us all how it's done.
- Martial Arts
- Sports & Recreation