For once, Georges St-Pierre is finally enjoying a life without the nuances and personal obligations that come along with being a UFC champion.
The former welterweight champ was just finishing an afternoon training session before picking up the phone to speak with MMA journalist Ariel Helwani on The MMA Hour on Monday. One could tell just from the cheery sound of St-Pierre’s voice that his decision to step away from fighting was the right choice:
It was my choice to give up the title. Nobody ever forced me to fight, and nobody ever forced me to stop, and I wanted to stop. …When I fought Carlos Condit, I was very hungry. When I fought [Nick] Diaz, I was not as much hungry. When I fought [Johny Hendricks], I was even less hungry, and I felt like I needed to step out to see if I wanted to do this or not again. I didn’t have as much fun as I used to—too much pressure, too much critics, a lot of problems.
The critics came down especially hard on St-Pierre after his title fight with Hendricks back in November 2013. In the past, people have often criticized the French Canadian star for fighting safe or coasting to decisions, but against Hendricks, he stood toe-to-toe with arguably the most dangerous puncher in the welterweight division and eked out a controversial split decision.
After the fight, St-Pierre announced he would be taking some time off to deal with personal problems in his life, a decision he likely regretted. The ripple effect from St-Pierre’s spontaneous announcement sent UFC President Dana White over the edge at the post-fight press conference.
Instead of warm praises for a great fight, St-Pierre was greeted with an onslaught of negativity and basically pushed into a corner to make a choice—defend the UFC title or get out of the way.
St-Pierre went with the latter during a media conference call in December, when he announced he would be taking an extended hiatus from fighting.
When I was young, I was like 20 years old, I didn’t give a damn about anything. The only thing in my mind was fighting. I didn’t care about anything else, I didn’t have nothing else on my mind. The more you grow up, the more problems you have, the more expectations, the more bulls**t you have in your life too. The more important things you have in your life, sometimes, it’s hard to keep a priority the priority.
During a scrum with the French media in January (h/t MMAFighting’s Ariel Helwani), St-Pierre attributed fallacies in the UFC's drug-testing module as one of the main reasons he decided to leave. White nonchalantly responded on The Dan Le Batard Show that St-Pierre was “crazy” and “way out of line.”
Since the public spat with White, St-Pierre wants to make it known that he’s not out to hurt the UFC or disparage its reputation. He even reworded his statements to point the finger at the entire system, rather than just blame the UFC, during his appearance with Helwani:
I didn’t want to make problem for the UFC, but I talked about what I wanted. It’s a big problem in the sport, and I want these things to be done. Otherwise, I will not come back to fighting.
…I was with Chris McCormack, world champion in triathlons, in a promotion, and I talked with some of the guys in Brazil, he’s a Judo Olympic guy, champion. All of these guys can be tested randomly every time. We talk about how they just ban TRT, but really MMA is the only sport they allowed TRT in. It was a normal thing. It probably should have been done a long time ago. The problem is not only TRT, it’s the way they do the tests. They can ban anything they want, but if they don’t test for it, it’s a problem.
...The problem is not the UFC, it’s the system. It’s a new sport, and the last thing I want is to hurt the UFC. I just want to elevate the sport.
St-Pierre’s absence left a huge void in the UFC’s welterweight division, which was stitched up in Saturday night’s vacant title bout between Hendricks and Robbie Lawler. The bout has already garnered early praise as a potential “Fight of the Year” candidate.
Fortunately for Hendricks, he came out on the winning side of the dogfight this time around, netting a clean 48-47 sweep over his adversary.
One would think St-Pierre’s passion for competing again would be reignited by watching White place the UFC title around another man’s waist. Quite the contrary—the former champ felt nothing but the same joy and excitement experienced by any other MMA fan on Saturday night.
“No [the itch didn’t come back]. I was just watching as a fan, and it was a lot of fun,” said St-Pierre.
Arguably the greatest fighter in MMA history is serving as nothing more than an everyday fan. Now that will take some getting used to.
Jordy McElroy is a featured columnist for Bleacher Report. He is also the MMA writer for Rocktagon.