Canada's Georges St-Pierre set to end glittering mixed martial arts career
Neil Davidson, The Canadian Press
Published Wednesday, February 20, 2019 12:31PM EST
Last Updated Wednesday, February 20, 2019 7:41PM EST
Georges St-Pierre's fighting days are over. For good this time, it seems.
The 37-year-old mixed martial arts star from St-Isidore, Que., will make it official at a news conference Thursday at Montreal's Bell Centre, according to a source.
It is a reluctant departure, in part. St-Pierre wanted a high-profile fight with UFC lightweight champion Khabib Nurmagomedov. But it appears the UFC has other plans for the unbeaten Russian.
Nurmagomedov, via social media, responded to news of GSP's imminent retirement by offering a fight in November.
"After this fight you can retire. I grow up on your fights, and have nothing but respect for you ... it would be honor for me to share Octagon with one of the greatest fighters of all time," he wrote.
The UFC not Nurmagomedov makes the fights, however.
St-Pierre, a two-division champion, leaves with a record of 26-2-0 and a 13-fight winning streak. His success inside the cage, fuelled by hours of meticulous preparation, put MMA on the map in Canada and helped fuel the UFC's worldwide expansion.
While he has fought just once since stepping away from the sport in late 2013 after nine straight welterweight title defences, St-Pierre made headlines in November 2017 when he dethroned middleweight champion Michael (The Count) Bisping in his comeback bout at UFC 217.
St-Pierre gave up the 185-pound crown a month later, citing health issues (ulcerative colitis). Despite that limited activity, he still stands eighth in the UFC's pound-for-pound rankings.
During his career, St-Pierre survived knee surgeries and other injuries as well as accusations from men he beat that he cheated (steroids, according to Nick Diaz, and greasing up with Vaseline according to B.J. Penn). UFC president Dana White questioned his mental strength after he lost his first title defence.
Through it all, St-Pierre kept retooling and winning.
In recent years, he toured the world while keeping an eye out for high-profile fights. Once the UFC's poster boy, he grew at odds with the organization over drug-testing (he wanted more), sponsorship, pay and other issues.
At his best, the fighter known as GSP was like a combat sports Bill Belichick. He specialized in taking away his opponent's advantages.
It made for methodical, if not always pretty wins. Of his nine welterweight title defences, eight were by decision.
At UFC 87 in August 2008, St-Pierre was successful on seven of nine takedown attempts against Jon Fitch, an accomplished former Purdue wrestler.
Fitch came into the fight having won his last 15 bouts. But after 25 minutes with St-Pierre, Fitch looked like he had been in a car wreck -- both eyes blackened, his left almost swollen shut. There were stitches above and below his left eye and below his right.
St-Pierre dominated Penn, then the lightweight title-holder, in a champion-versus-champion showdown at UFC 94 in January 2009.
"We wanted to discourage him and then drown him in the later rounds," explained Montreal trainer Firas Zahabi, who headed up a GSP coaching staff that would rival that of a CFL team in numbers.
The strategy worked to perfection. St. Pierre took Penn out of his comfort zone and laid a beating on him, landing 92 significant strikes to Penn's 16.
Referee Herb Dean, on the advice of doctors and with the agreement of the Penn corner, stopped the bout after four rounds. A battered, bloodied Penn headed to hospital while St-Pierre celebrated.
St-Pierre won the 170-pound title at UFC 65 in Sacramento in November 2006, stopping Hall of Famer Matt Hughes in the second round. Two years earlier at UFC 50, the Canadian had been submitted by Hughes with one second remaining in the first round.
St-Pierre admitted later he was in awe fighting his idol.
Not so the second time. GSP nailed Hughes with a kick to the head and finished him off on the ground. The first thing St-Pierre did with the championship belt was give it to his mother, whom he hoisted on his shoulders in the cage.
St-Pierre, who joined Carlos Newton as the only Canadian to ever hold a UFC title, found himself a champion in a sport that was not permitted in Ontario and several other provinces at the time.
He helped legitimize MMA and, in April 2011, headlined UFC 129 at Toronto's Rogers Centre, drawing a then-UFC-record crowd of 55,724 to see him decision Jake Shields.
There were bumps along the way. St-Pierre's first reign as champion lasted less than five months as he lost his first title defence, discombobulated by a Matt (The Terror) Serra blow to the head in a shock upset at UFC 69 in April 2007.
St-Pierre's training for the fight had been disastrous. His father was seriously ill and a cousin was in a coma after a car accident. There were other family issues. Injuries cut into his preparation.
As St-Pierre's training goes, so do his fights. Both were a disaster. More than a loss, UFC 69 was a humiliation.
"It taught me what it takes to become world champion," St-Pierre said at the time. "And when I lost to Matt Serra, it taught me what it takes to stay world champion. You know when you become world champion at 25 years old and everybody around you --in the gym, everywhere -- tell you how great you are and things like that, it makes you believe that you're in a box that separates you from the other fighters. But this box, this line is an illusion."
St-Pierre changed managers, training and put his career back on track.
On the advice of sports psychologist Brian Cain, he looked to rid himself of the mental albatross of his title defeat by scrawling Serra's name onto a brick and hurling it into the icy waters off Montreal's South Shore.
"Actually I thought it was kind of weird but I felt better after," St-Pierre said.
He dominated Serra in winning back his title at UFC 83 in Montreal in April 2008. St-Pierre took Serra down four times and had a 42-3 edge in significant strikes before stopping him at 4:45 of the second round.
He has not lost since, although his split decision win over Johny Hendricks at UFC 167 in November 2013 was razor-thin. St-Pierre, whose battered face belied the decision, stepped away soon after.
Citing the pressures of being champion and of being in a constant limelight, St-Pierre said his life has become "completely insane" and a "freaking zoo."
A gentleman outside the cage, St-Pierre rarely indulged in trash-talking. He felt his English would not do him justice and he did his talking inside the cage.
His clean image did wonders for a sport that allows its athletes to kick each other in the head and punch someone when they're down.
His manners were for real.
In 2008, he missed an interview session with a visiting reporter who was left standing outside a Montreal gym. His manager at the time advised that St-Pierre had suffered a minor injury earlier in the day and had forgotten about his interview with the reporter.
The journalist told the manager not to worry, given they had already had a previously scheduled appointment for the next day. Nevertheless, St-Pierre drove to the gym to collect the reporter and took him for dinner to do the interview. Then he drove the reporter to his hotel, apologizing again.
While other fighters wore T-shirts and sweats, St-Pierre -- taking a page from some champion boxers -- always wore a suit for his post-fight news conferences.
His preparation for fights was legendary, incorporating everything from gymnastics to power-lifting. Just watching a GSP training session was exhausting as he did pull-ups with a 75-pound weight chained to his waist.
St-Pierre comes from humble beginnings on the South Shore. His father spent more than 60 hours a week on a floor-recovering business, installing carpet and ceramics. His mother nursed the elderly.
"We didn't have a lot of money but I always ate my three meals a day," St-Pierre recalled. "I grew up with the mentality that I had to work to get what I want.
"My parents already helped me financially but they never gave me something for free. It's probably the best gift they ever gave me. I grew up with that value."
He took up karate as a kid but moved into mixed martial arts -- giving up hockey because his family couldn't afford both -- after being seduced by the sight of Royce Gracie in the early days of the UFC.
In his late teens, he went to school and trained in MMA. He also held down three jobs, working as a bouncer at the Fuzzy Brossard nightclub, working at a floor recovery store and working for the government teaching activities to delinquent kids. To this day, he remains proud that he earned his floor recovering certificate.
St-Pierre won his first fight as a pro in January 2002, defeating Ivan Menjivar. Four more wins and he was in the UFC.