For the first time in nearly six years, someone other than Georges St-Pierre will leave the Octagon on Saturday with the UFC's welterweight title belt strapped around his waist.
St-Pierre, who won the interim belt on Dec. 29, 2007, and then captured the full title on April 19, 2008, will be in Los Angeles when Johny Hendricks and Robbie Lawler meet Saturday in the main event of UFC 171 at the American Airlines Center in Dallas for the belt he voluntarily surrendered in December.
He'll try to catch the fight, he said, but there will be no feelings of melancholy as he watches another man being proclaimed the champion even though he never lost.
"This was my choice, it is what I wanted, so I won't feel badly at all" to see either Hendricks or Lawler crowned champion, St-Pierre said.
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He told Yahoo Sports the pressure of being champion "was just eating me alive, totally, and I couldn't go on one more second that way."
It's why he opted to take a sabbatical and surrender his belt.
Since then, he's settled into an odd kind of role in which he serves as a UFC goodwill ambassador, anti-drug crusader and fight analyst.
He offered thoughts about Saturday's title fight (he likes Hendricks), the skills of Hendricks and Lawler (both hit hard), and bans in Nevada, California and Brazil on the use of testosterone replacement therapy (he's pleased).
He mostly retired, he said, because the pressure from the competition was killing him. He's obsessive, he said, about every detail and after so long, it finally was causing him to snap mentally.
"When I have a fight, it completely takes over my brain and all of my thoughts," he said. "From the day they told me, 'Georges, you're going to fight this guy, or you're going to fight that guy,' I didn't think of anything else. When I was awake, it was always in my head and in my mind. I would completely obsess about every detail of that fight. 'Am I doing this right? Do I need to do this? Should I do that?' It was crazy.
"I started to fight because I loved it and it was what I wanted to do more than anything. But the pressure of it was so intense, and it was no way to live my life."
Another reason he stepped away from the sport, he concedes, is because he believes there is a drug problem in mixed martial arts and he wanted to call attention to it.
He tried to do it, he said, by offering to pay for a full drug screen panel for both himself and Hendricks when they met for the belt at UFC 167 in November, but that move backfired for a number of reasons.
And so, he knew that if he walked away from the sport and began speaking out publicly about the performance-enhancing drug problem, he'd draw plenty of attention to it.
"That should have been done a long, long time ago," St-Pierre said of the Feb. 27 decision by the Nevada Athletic Commission to ban TRT. "I don't want to attack any one individual or one organization, because if you do that, 20 others are going to come behind them. The problem is not any individual or any organization; it is the system.
"Tell me, is there any other sport that accepts testosterone therapy? I'll tell you, it's zero. There are none. There aren't any other sports which permit this. The only reason this could be allowed is if the guy has [testicular] cancer."
Doling out therapeutic use exemptions (TUEs) for TRT is only a miniscule part of the PED problem facing MMA. St-Pierre gets that and said the routine post-fight tests done by state athletic commissions are doing little to curb the problem.
It's more serious, he said, in combat sports than in most any other. He noted that in cycling, using PEDs might impact the outcome of the race, but one cyclist taking drugs wouldn't impact the health and safety of the others.
"If they lose a race to a guy who is a cheater, it might impact them financially, but there are no health risks," he said. "But in fighting, you lose a fight to a cheater, you not only lose financially, but you are losing on health, too. You're taking kicks and punches to the brain and so you lose in more ways than one."
He said it's obvious that PEDs work, which is why many fighters are seeking them out. He pointed out that Christopher Froome won the Tour de France in 2013 with a time of 83 hours, 56 minutes and 40 seconds, which was almost two hours slower than Lance Armstrong's winning time in 2002.
Armstrong, who has since admitted he was doping during all of his Tour de France wins, had a time of 82:05:12 in 2002. Froome's time would have placed him 63rd in 2002.
St-Pierre acknowledged there are always going to be problems and that cheaters are generally ahead of the testers. He said he fully supports random blood and urine testing, but understands the cost.
He said he was willing to pay for it for all of his fights, but said money is an issue.
"I'm fairly wealthy, but I can't pay for everyone's test," he said. "Maybe the UFC can do it. Maybe the commissions can do it just for the championship fights. But it has to be done because it's a very serious issue that isn't going away."
He said he is not bitter and still loves MMA, and is eager to see Hendricks-Lawler.
He picked Hendricks, though without a lot of passion.
"They both have a lot of punching power and could knock you out, so you never know when there is that kind of power what will happen," St-Pierre said. "If Johny catches him right on the chin with a good one, he could knock him out. But you know what? Robbie has a lot of power, too, and if he hits Johny right on the chin, it is the same result.
"But if I was forced to pick it, I would take Johny to win. He has the wrestling and grappling ability, and I think at the end of the day, that will be the difference."
He's still not sure what, if anything, will get him back into the cage. He said he's enjoying his time away from the sport, though he said he trains every day.
He is asked about a return all the time, he said, but he simply doesn't know.
"My life is a lot better because of fighting," he said. "I made a lot of money and I live a good life now and that is because of fighting. But it also was tearing me apart because of how I am.
"I just need to be off and away from it for now. I don't need the pressure of a big fight coming up and thinking about it every minute, every second. Right now, I'm enjoying my life. Maybe it will change later, and I will want to be back, and I will say it if I do. But I like where I am now."
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