Let’s talk about two separate things. The first is that the judging of UFC 167’s main event between Georges St. Pierre and Johny Hendricks was atrocious.
Factoring in the significance and the stage, it was perhaps one of the very worst decisions in UFC history. Hendricks clearly earned the victory and the UFC’s welterweight title after five rounds but only one judge scored it his way. Even that judge inexplicably only had Hendricks winning by a single round.
And yes, the robbery was particularly heart-wrenching given that Hendricks may not even get an automatic rematch since St. Pierre announced a vague leave of absence from MMA after the bout.
UFC president Dana White disagreed vehemently with the decision despite the fact that it kept his biggest cash cow, St. Pierre, the champion. White also jumped on GSP’s back for having the gall to want to step away from the sport without the certainty of calling it a retirement.
So, to review – the first thing is that St. Pierre is still champ even though he doesn’t deserve to be and the welterweight division is at least temporarily being held in a frustrating limbo. Now, the second thing – St. Pierre’s walking away from competition.
St. Pierre doesn't deserve criticism for stepping away from fighting. In fact, it may very well be the right move for his health.
We can dismiss and forgive St. Pierre the cryptic and non-committal way in which he announced his departure after UFC 167. Fighting professionally is his identity and even if he feels he needs to stop doing it, it can’t be easy to say the words and commit to it permanently.
As he often does, White erred in publicly lambasting the fighter in a way that made it seem St. Pierre’s announcement revealed a character flaw of some sort.
It did not and St. Pierre should probably retire.
It is easy to ignore all the punishment and injuries someone as dominant as St. Pierre has yet accumulated over the years. In January, St. Pierre will have been fighting in the UFC for ten years.
He fought for a couple more professionally prior to that. Before his pro career, St. Pierre trained since childhood.
As all fighters can tell you, the most damage comes not in fights but in the gym over years of hard training. The head-rattling sparring and joint-grinding work of training camps is what most often adds years to the numerically young bodies and minds of pro fighters.
Even so, St. Pierre is getting hit more often than ever before in his fights. Of all the total strikes landed on “Rush” in his UFC career, about half have come in his past three contests alone. St. Pierre has almost been knocked out in two out of his last three fights.
More alarming are some of the troubles St. Pierre has said he’s experiencing. At Saturday’s post UFC 167 press conference, St. Pierre spoke of experiencing terrible anxiety and of having difficulty sleeping.
Last April, St. Pierre also told UFC commentator Joe Rogan on his podcast that he often lost track of time. These can all be signs of pugilistic dementia.
People may not have heard St. Pierre’s earlier talk of losing track of time. That may be because of his suggested explanation for it.
St. Pierre did not tell Rogan he was worried that his memory was going or that he was suffering from some early onset dementia as a result of getting hit in the head so much over the years.
In fact, St. Pierre didn’t seem to think that he was losing track of time at all. He said that he often laid down in bed for just a few minutes only to look at his clock upon getting up and seeing that hours had in fact passed on the bedside clock. He told similar stories of that happening to him in his car while driving.
St. Pierre brought these stories up as examples of why he is afraid of aliens.
Georges St. Pierre has taken blows to the head for most of his life, is now suffering from terrible anxiety and sleeplessness and thinks it is possible that aliens routinely abduct him.
If the long-time UFC champ thinks it is time to step away, who are we to tell him otherwise. Yes, the UFC will need to sort out the mess of what to do with his title, but after they do that and people like Hendricks get another, hopefully more fair shot, everything will be just fine.
The fact of the matter is that no athlete’s brain comes away unscathed after a decade in professional contact sports like football, boxing or MMA. We don’t know the extent of the damage St. Pierre’s brain has suffered but if he walks away now and ensures that he won’t sustain any more training-related trauma, nothing and no one will be hurt.
The UFC and St. Pierre himself may have to find new ways to make money but that is a small price to pay.
Follow Elias on Twitter @EliasCepeda