Georges St-Pierre bids adieu to MMA in emotional news conference

·Combat columnist

Saying he was set for life financially and detested actually fighting, former UFC champion Georges St-Pierre bid adieu to the sport that saved him from childhood bullies in a 50-minute news conference Thursday at the Bell Centre in Montreal, only 17 miles from where he was born in Saint-Isidore, Quebec.

St-Pierre, who held UFC titles at welterweight and middleweight, retires as one of the greatest fighters in mixed martial arts history as well as one of its top draws. He grew up poor and turned to fighting to learn how to defend himself against bullies.

“Growing up, I was not a confident kid; I was looking down like this,” St-Pierre said, bowing his head. “Martial arts taught me confidence. Sometimes people link martial arts to violence and a lot of bad stuff, but for me, martial arts saved my life. It enabled me to channel all of my [aggression] because I had a lot of [aggression] when I grew up.

“If it had not been for martial arts, I don’t know where I’d be. I don’t know if I’d have been able to channel all that energy and all that negativity that I had when I was younger. It saved me.”

Canada’s Georges St-Pierre announces his retirement from mixed martial arts during a press conference in Montreal, Thursday, Feb. 21, 2019. (AP)
Canada’s Georges St-Pierre announces his retirement from mixed martial arts during a press conference in Montreal, Thursday, Feb. 21, 2019. (AP)

St-Pierre said he was inspired to get into martial arts when he saw Royce Gracie compete at UFC 1. He also said he was “a huge fan” of Wayne Gretzky, the NHL’s all-time scoring leader and tried to pattern himself after Gretzky in terms of the way he carried himself.

He said he realized that without his fans, he wouldn’t have been able to do what he loved and he pointed to Gretzky as an example of an athlete who did things the right way, both in competition and outside of it.

“Growing up watching Wayne Gretzky, I tried to mold myself to him,” St-Pierre said. “I wanted to be him, just in a different sport, not only as a performer but as a role model. I always wanted to try to be this way. I’m not perfect. Of course, I always try to show perfection in front of the cameras, but I’m not perfect. I have, like every human being, I have issues. I have problems, but I tried to give a positive image to my fans.”

St-Pierre said he wanted to fight UFC lightweight champion Khabib Nurmagomedov, which would have given him the opportunity to win a title in a record third different weight class, but said the UFC had other plans for Nurmagomedov.

He said he believes Nurmagomedov is the best active fighter and said part of the reason he wanted to fight him is because a win would have enhanced his legacy. But when the fight couldn’t be made, St-Pierre said he knew it was time to walk away because he no longer had the motivation to push himself to be the best.

St-Pierre said those closest to him, particularly his father, Roland, were relieved by his decision to walk away from the sport.

“Fighting is what I loved to do in my life, but this is not my life,” St-Pierre said. “My life is who I am with my friends and my family outside of this. It’s just a little part of what I do that goes away and it’s OK. I’m going to fill it up with other things. For me, today is a very happy day. Most of the people who love me, they wanted me to quit a long time ago. They’re like, ‘Georges, you’re crazy. What else do you have to prove? Why are you doing this?’ Especially my dad. My dad’s been bugging me for years to take my retirement, even before I came back [to defeat Michael Bisping to win the middleweight title]. He said, ‘What’s left that you need? You have all the money. What’s left?’ I did it because I felt I wanted to do more and more. I know now he’s watching me and he’s very happy and it’s going to take away a lot of stress on him, because what we do, it’s a sport but it’s not a game.

“You play football. You play baseball. You play hockey. You play golf, but you don’t play fighting. Especially in full-contact sports like fighting, like boxing, athletes should not be told to retire. They should take their retirement when they’re on top.”

That’s what St-Pierre did, leaving as one of the richest and most successful mixed martial fights ever. It was a long way for the poor kid who put plastic bags on his feet so he could run in the winter to prepare for fights, as he shouted “War!” like former boxing champion Marvelous Marvin Hagler would do.

He said he is a perfectionist and said that trait caused him anxiety and stress in training camp and that retiring would relieve that greatly.

“The last person to know when it is time to retire is the fighter himself,” St-Pierre said. “In life, I don’t always know what I want, but I know damn well what I don’t want. And what I don’t want is to retire too late.”

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