I have no idea what goes on in the minds of great fighters like Georges St-Pierre as they sit backstage, battered, bleeding and bruised, getting their gloves cut off their hands after a tough decision victory.
It has to be a terribly surreal situation, rife with joys and demands the normal person will never know; such is the life of a professional combatant. They fight in front of 15,000 or more in the arenas (if they are lucky) and if Mars is very kind, they fight in front of millions on pay-per-view.
And let’s be honest, Mars has been very kind to St-Pierre.
A multi-millionaire many times over, St-Pierre has just notched his ninth defense of his UFC welterweight title, making him the greatest welterweight champion in the company's history. It’s a staggering feat truly reflective of a man who, not all that long ago, dropped to his knees and begged the UFC to give him a title shot.
But now, after a hard-fought battle with Johny Hendricks, he is talking about taking some time off for personal reasons. Obviously, he has a right to walk away from the sport, without a doubt—just not right now.
Yes, it sounds harsh as hell, but St-Pierre knew what he was getting into when he dropped to his knees and begged for a chance to fight Matt Hughes for the throne. Well, he got it, and once you get the crown, there are demands that come with the title—and make no mistake about it, when you become king, you are in service of the sport until you are defeated or until you retire.
If St-Pierre had wanted to retire after his fight with Koscheck or Shields, then no one would have said much, nor should they have. To be sure, this isn’t about St-Pierre having the right to gather unto himself his own body and soul for the means of healing, because he has that right, and no one is trying to take that from him.
People are crying out that Dana White is this unreasonable, demanding, greedy jackass who is just singling out St-Pierre for unfair treatment, just because he can.
This, of course, is wrong on many levels.
When Randy Couture defended his UFC heavyweight crown for the very first time, against Pedro Rizzo at UFC 31, fans were treated to an incredibly close fight that left both men badly battered. Couture ended up getting a unanimous decision victory that surprised many, including Couture himself.
White then went on to schedule an immediate rematch between both men (at UFC 34), because the sport needed a definitive answer as to who was really the best.
Couture, having spent weeks on the sofa, unable to walk because his leg had swollen many times its normal size (thanks to countless leg kicks from Rizzo), got off said sofa and went back to training.
He wasn’t doing it because he agreed with White, and he wasn’t doing it because he thought he lost and needed to prove something to himself.
Couture stated he didn’t think there was a need for a rematch since all three judges had given him a close decision victory. But he did it anyway because that’s what the fans wanted—and what they were wanting was certainty.
They wanted to know, for sure, who the king really was: In Round 1, it looked like Couture, but in Round 2, it looked like Rizzo, and the rest of the rounds were a toss-up, with Round 5 looking like it belonged to Rizzo.
So, Couture fought Rizzo again and crushed all doubts as to who was the better fighter by beating Rizzo down for three straight rounds until the fight was called.
This, of course, is but one of many examples of when White took on the mantle of bad guy in order to ensure that the sport got what it needed. He made Frankie Edgar rematch BJ Penn, then he made Edgar rematch Gray Maynard. Then, when Benson Henderson narrowly took the title from Edgar, he made Henderson rematch Edgar.
Why? Because the sport needed to know, for sure, who the king really was.
Now, do not mistake me; I do not think that White’s every whim is what is in keeping with the true needs of the sport, nor do I think he is right all the time. I could go on all day about how I feel that he has, bit by bit, started to act as if the sport is there to serve him instead of vice versa.
But calling for St-Pierre to put aside any talk of a sabbatical in order to give Hendricks an immediate rematch? That isn’t White being selfish or uncaring; that is White just being reflective of the demands that come with wearing the greatest title in MMA: the UFC belt.
In short, that is White being necessarily harsh and absolutely correct.
Maybe he should have called for Jon Jones to give Alexander Gustafsson an immediate rematch (I think he should have, especially for the sake of consistency), but that is a different fight and a different division. Right now, he is calling for St-Pierre to fight Johny Hendricks once again, and unless St-Pierre is going to retire, he should answer the call with vigor.
Let us not forget that the welterweight title has already seen one interim champion during St-Pierre’s reign, and that was just last year. For a period of 10 months, Carlos Condit was the interim UFC welterweight champion while St-Pierre was on the sidelines, healing a bad leg injury and wondering if he even wanted to come back.
Now, just two fights after reclaiming the throne, he wants to go on vacation?
If St-Pierre is having issues in his life that are of a serious nature and are simply demanding his undivided attention right now, then he should retire. God knows the man has earned it.
But if this is just a matter of indecision or anxiety in the face of the complexities of a life ongoing, then he needs to fight.
His chosen vocation is that of a professional combatant, and as such, he has been utterly blessed with the right combination of skills, athleticism, coaching, dedication, desire, fortitude and, perhaps above all else, opportunity, to reach the highest level; that of UFC champion.
No one is saying he can’t retire if he wants to. That is his right, and I have no doubt White would respect it, given how important St-Pierre has been for the growth of the sport in Canada, not to mention how consistently St-Pierre has stepped up and delivered against the best of the best in a terribly competitive division.
But there is a big difference between retirement and taking a “time out” from a sport that is running 365 days a year.
We should all give him just a little while to clear his head after such a fight; he’s earned that, 1,000 times over. Hendricks hurt him many times and according to one judge out of three, honestly defeated him.
This wasn’t just a fight—it was a true title fight, and St-Pierre barely bested a man who confounded his detractors (those who said he was sure to gas after three rounds) and rose to the occasion, giving his all for five full rounds toward one end:
For the chance to become champion.
St-Pierre emerged on the other side of that fight as the victor, and to the victor go the spoils: the money, the fame, the legacy of greatness and so much more.
All of these things St-Pierre has earned—save the right to hold the title hostage.
Mr. St-Pierre, you have fought honorably and fought incredibly well for 44 rounds since defeating your conqueror, Matt Serra, some 80 months ago. You have always stepped up and faced the best opposition available, without question, and your dominance has never been in question, your title never in true jeopardy, until this last weekend.
To say you have been a superlative champion is honest and just, and I say that without question or reservation. Of all the past UFC welterweight champions—men such as the great Pat Miletich, your countryman Carlos Newton (the first ever Canadian UFC champion), two-time champion Matt Hughes, BJ Penn and Carlos Condit—no one has done it better than you.
But you are being rightfully called upon, once again, to represent the best interests of the greatest title in mixed martial arts: that of UFC champion.
Step up, or step aside.