Georges St-Pierre’s retirement exemplifies his greatness

MONTREAL – An all-time great has hung up the gloves for good.

Georges St-Pierre officially called it quits on his mixed martial arts career on February 21, at a press conference at the Bell Centre, home to some of his most memorable fights over the course of his 15-year UFC run.

“There’s no tears. I’m very happy to do it,” said the 37-year-old.

“It takes a lot of discipline though to retire on top. It was a long process in my mind, but it’s time to do it… I always said that I want to retire on my own and not be told to retire.”

St-Pierre (26-2) most recently fought at UFC 217 in November of 2017, returning from a four-year hiatus to challenge Michael Bisping for the UFC middleweight title at Madison Square Garden. When the bell rang, St-Pierre showed zero signs of ring rust, ultimately securing a third-round submission to become a two-division champion.

Combat sports are nothing if not unforgiving. More often than not, the fighters themselves are the last to know when it is time to walk away. By capping off his career with the middleweight title, St-Pierre, long considered to be one of the most intelligent fighters to grace the Octagon, showed that at this stage of his life, his legacy in the sport was more important than any potential “money-fight.”

So, now that the final chapter of his career has officially been written, how will St-Pierre be remembered?

Bursting onto the UFC scene in 2004, St-Pierre climbed the welterweight ladder to the top, capturing his first taste of UFC gold by defeating Matt Hughes, avenging the first loss of his career, at UFC 65 in 2006. After losing the title to Matt Serra at UFC 69, an entire nation rallied behind him as he began his quest for a rematch, culminating with a dominant victory over Serra at UFC 83 at the Bell Centre.

St- Pierre after re-capturing the UFC welterweight championship at UFC 83 | Photo courtesy: UFC |

From that moment on, it became the St-Pierre era. He had a way of nullifying an opponent’s strength, making phenomenal fighters look average. St-Pierre himself wasn’t the best in any one discipline, but he was in a class of his own when it came to blending styles.

After nine defenses of his welterweight crown, St-Pierre walked away from the sport in 2013, citing concern over drug testing standards, as well as the mounting pressure to remain on top. Had his career ended there, he would have undoubtedly gone down as one of the best to strap up the 4oz. gloves. The perfectionist in St-Pierre wouldn’t allow it to end that way. He needed to leave no doubt about his place in the history books, leading to the title fight with Bisping.

Becoming a two-division champion, especially after such a long layoff, put an exclamation mark on his already legendary career. He had accomplished everything there was to accomplish inside the Octagon.

While racking up titles, title defenses, and UFC records left and right drew much attention, there was something else to St-Pierre that endeared him to fans the world over, something human.

In an era where the sport of mixed martial arts was trying to establish itself as a legitimate sport, St-Pierre became the face of the movement, wearing suits to press conferences, granting media availability, and showing respect and appreciation to virtually every opponent he faced. St-Pierre wasn’t simply a fighter, he was a martial artist, taking a much different approach to the game than many before or since. Simply put, he was just as classy outside the Octagon as he was dominant inside it. 

He would speak openly about his childhood, being bullied and beaten up daily. He would say at every opportunity that fighting scared him. Perhaps most stressful of all, however, was the fear of humiliation, the fear of failure, for the whole world to see.

It was his trademark openness that made his press conference announcing his retirement so special. St-Pierre was jovial, at peace, and ready to move on with his life. He no longer had to worry about being humiliated or live in fear of being hurt or hurting somebody else. He could look back at all that he had done over the course of his iconic career and smile, knowing that the ride was over, legacy intact.

Georges St-Pierre: all-time great.

He is perhaps more worthy of that title than any other he has ever worn.

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