Longtime welterweight champion Georges St-Pierre has elected to take what he described as an indefinite absence from mixed martial arts. St-Pierre, who has served as one of the most dominant and popular champions in the history of the company, has also vacated his championship.
The French-Canadian fighter made the announcement on a Friday afternoon conference call with UFC President Dana White. The call was simulcasted live across Canada by nationwide cable sports network SportsNet.
"I've been in this sport for a long time," St-Pierre said. "I know the UFC is a business. But right now, I need to take a break. One day, when I feel like it, I might come back."
White announced that St-Pierre's now-vacant championship would be up for grabs on March 15 when Johny Hendricks takes on Robbie Lawler at UFC 171, and later confirmed via Twitter that the bout would serve as the card's main event.
St-Pierre said that he had made his decision before the fight with Hendricks.
"It's like every fight I am carrying weight on my shoulders. And with every fight you add weight. So at some point it becomes hard for me to carry it," he continued. "Mentally, I just feel like I cannot go through another training camp right now. And I don't know when I will be able to again, and I don't want to make the UFC wait. So I will vacate my title. And some day, when I come back, I won't have the red stickers on my glove. I will have the blue sticker, and I will be the challenger."
White agreed with St-Pierre's decision.
"He said he has a lot of personal issues," White said. "This is fighting, and you have to be 100 percent. And if you aren't, you should sit on the sidelines until you get your stuff cleared up."
St-Pierre said he would use his time off to continue training and getting better, but also to live a normal life without the pressures that a full training camp and media obligations bring.
The rumors surrounding a possible St-Pierre hiatus—or outright retirement—began prior to his UFC 167 title defense against Hendricks in November. St-Pierre played coy at the time, saying he would have more information following the fight.
That night, St-Pierre defeated Hendricks, but did so in controversial fashion. After the fight, St-Pierre appeared to be in a confused mental state. He said he wanted to step away for a bit—to "make a point" in his life and deal with things concerning him outside the cage.
At the post-fight press conference, St-Pierre was not interested in clarifying his statements, but did offer some potentially troubling remarks about his mental status.
"Not right now. I can't tell you. I just came out of a freaking war," St-Pierre said. "The guy hit like a truck, you know? My brain got bashed left and right inside my skull, you know?
"I just need to think. You know what I mean? And see what's going to happen," St-Pierre said. "Nobody can understand my life. It is crazy. But I will take this time off and I will come back stronger."
White was confident that St-Pierre would return to face Hendricks in a rematch, but it now appears his confidence was unfounded.
St-Pierre made his mixed martial arts debut on January 25, 2002, defeating future UFC compatriot and Tristar Gym teammate Ivan Menjivar by a first-round technical knockout at UCC 7 in Montreal. St-Pierre continued fighting in the Quebec province exclusively for the next two years before making his UFC debut at UFC 46, where he defeated Karo Parisyan.
After one more win in UFC 48 over Jay Hieron, St-Pierre would face Matt Hughes for the welterweight championship, but lost when Hughes slapped on an armbar in the first round. St-Pierre fought one time outside of the UFC, then racked up four consecutive UFC wins to earn another title shot against Hughes.
On November 18, 2006, St-Pierre beat Hughes in the rematch to earn his first welterweight title, stopping the champion in emphatic fashion after a stunning head kick sent Hughes crumpled to the canvas in the first round.
He would hold the belt less than six months, however, as he lost to Matt Serra in a bout considered to be one of the greatest upsets in the history of the sport. Serra, who earned the title shot by winning The Ultimate Fighter 4 reality TV show tournament, was a sizable underdog heading into the fight against St-Pierre, but caught GSP with a hard shot in the first round to win by TKO.
It was the last time St-Pierre would lose in the UFC.
He beat Hughes to capture the interim welterweight title, then unified the belts by easily beating Serra at UFC 83. He would defend the championship nine more times in the ensuing five years before vacating the belt on Friday afternoon.
"I wanted to be the greatest," St-Pierre said. "I wanted to bring the sport to a new level in my home country. We'll see if I come back or not."
Jeremy Botter is a lead MMA writer for Bleacher Report. All quotes were obtained firsthand.