What at first was thought to be little more than a reactionary comment after a brutally tough fight last month was made official on a conference call Friday afternoon.
UFC welterweight champion Georges St. Pierre reiterated his plan to take an indefinite leave from competing in mixed martial arts and has vacated his belt, effective immediately.
“I’ve being fighting for a very long time at a high level. It’s a lot of pressure,” St. Pierre said. “I’ve decided I need to take time off. I know the UFC’s a business and they can’t wait around for me, so I have vacated my title (out of) respect for other competitors.
“One day, when I feel like it, I might come back. But right now, I need a break.”
St. Pierre, the winningest fighter in the organization’s history, retained his belt with a controversial five-round split decision over Johny Hendricks at MGM Grand on Nov. 16 and immediately said personal issues and mental fatigue were weighing on him to the point where he had to walk away from the sport.
Later that evening, UFC president Dana White told the press after speaking with St. Pierre that he believed the champion was just going through a stressful period and would return for a rematch with Hendricks in relatively short order.
Friday’s announcement changes all that. White said Hendricks will now fight Robbie Lawler at UFC 171 in Dallas on March 15 for the vacant title.
St. Pierre said he will continue training, but the pressure of competition has just grown too intense. He cited his obsession with winning every fight as helping him become champion, but also delivering him to this point.
“It’s like every fight I’m carrying weight on my shoulders and every fight adds more weight. At some point, it becomes so heavy that i have a hard time carrying it myself,” he said. “Physically I’m 100 percent. I’ve never felt better. I just feel like I can’t go through another training camp right now and I don’t know when I’ll be able to.
“For me to keep my mental equilibrium, I need this. I need to have a normal life for a bit.”
The 32-year-old never used the word retire and thinks he will return at some point.
If and when he does, St. Pierre believes he will be able to get his title back.
“I’ve climbed Everest three times before,” he said. “When I lost to (Matt) Hughes, then (Matt) Serra, then with my injury,” he said. “If I have to do it a fourth time, believe me, I feel like I’m going to do it.”
White was infuriated when St. Pierre first hinted at stepping away in the cage after the Hendricks fight, then calmed down after a brief conversation with St. Pierre.
He said Friday he fully supported the decision of his company’s biggest pay-per-view draw to step away from competition at this point.
“I agree with Georges 100 percent,” White said on the same conference call. “He sat down and talked to us and said, ‘I have a lot of personal issues and I can’t imagine going into training camp,’” White said. “This isn’t baseball This is fighting. You have to be 100 percent mentally, physically emotionally and if you’re not, you should sit on the sidelines and wait until you get your stuff cleaned up.
“I think it’s the right move.”
St. Pierre set the UFC record for victories with 19 when he beat Hendricks, including 12 straight. He also holds organizational marks for time spent in the cage, championship rounds fought, total strikes landed, significant strikes landed, takedowns and takedown accuracy.
A bout between Glover Teixeira and light heavyweight champion Jon Jones, previously announced as the main event for UFC 171, will now shift to a yet-to-be-announced UFC 172 card.
Contact reporter Adam Hill at firstname.lastname@example.org or 702-224-5509. Follow him on Twitter: @adamhilllvrj.