Georges St-Pierre may come back to the fight game. Or perhaps he won't. But in walking away from the sport, if only temporarily, in the manner he did on Friday afternoon, St-Pierre once again displayed the class and professionalism that have been a hallmark of his professional tenure in the Ultimate Fighting Championship.
Retirements in mixed martial arts are nothing new. How often have we seen a fighter decide to hang up the gloves, only to return months later when he misses the thrill that fighting for his professional career sends coursing through his body?
How long have we seen a fighter, struggling with injuries and the effects of age, refuse to see the ebbing light at the end of the tunnel and be forced into retirement?
Fighters, and other athletes, often stay past their expiration dates. That's the name of the game. Chuck Liddell only decided to hang up his gloves after Dana White essentially retired him. Without the UFC president's refusal to book him into more fights, there's every chance we'd still see Liddell hobbling his way to the Octagon today.
Tito Ortiz has won one meaningful fight in the last seven years. And yet, there he is, signing with Bellator and repeating ad nauseam how he's feeling great and training well and ready to fight Rampage Jackson just days before revealing to the world what we already knew: His body can't handle the rigors of training for a fight.
Still, he soldiers on, whether it's because he just can't tell himself the truth or the people around him don't have the conscience to do it for him.
St-Pierre has a conscience, and he is a realist. When he decided he had enough with the sport, he walked away...for now, anyway. Perhaps forever. And though White attempted to downplay the issues that St-Pierre was going through—as if the sheer belligerent and forceful nature of his personality would be enough to make St-Pierre realize what a huge mistake he was making—the champion remained firm.
He needed time off. On Friday, he got his wish. And White—who famously railed on one of the most dedicated and respected athletes he ever had simply because St-Pierre felt he needed a break—was quiet and contrite. He said St-Pierre was making the correct move. That he had personal problems to deal with. White finally fell in line with what St-Pierre was trying to tell us all after UFC 167, if only he could find the words.
In much the same way that he handled every aspect of his tenure with the UFC, St-Pierre handled his departure with class. He didn't want to keep the championship hijacked or prevent other fighters from achieving their own goals while he sorted out things back home.
So he handed over his 12 pounds of gold, saying that he might come back. And if he does return after this indefinite leave of absence, he said that he would be as diligent as ever in pursuing the championship that is no longer his to claim.
He told Bleacher Report at his Friday press conference, "If I decide to come back, I will be at the top of the game."
Johny Hendricks and Robbie Lawler will fight for the welterweight title in March. Let us hope against hope that no matter who wins, the man who assumes that elevated position and straps the championship belt around his waist will carry himself with the same grace, class and professionalism that St-Pierre did since winning the belt for the first time in 2006.
And let us hope that if St-Pierre chooses to never return to the Octagon—and that is a real possibility—he finds the peace and solace in retirement that he's never been able to find in the bright spotlights of the fight game.
He deserves that much, and he deserves our thanks.
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