UFC welterweight champion Georges St-Pierre will vacate the title he has held since 2008 to undergo an indefinite leave of absence, St-Pierre announced Friday on a media conference call with UFC President Dana White.
"I've been fighting for a long time," St-Pierre said. "22 fights in the UFC. 15 of my fights were for a world title. I've been fighting a very long time for a high level. It's a lot of pressure, a lot of criticism, and I've decided I need to take time off. I know UFC is a business, and it can't wait for one person. They have to keep things rolling, so I've vacated my title for the respect of the other competitors."
Neither St-Pierre, 32, nor White specified a timetable for the welterweight great's return, although St-Pierre clarified that he was not definitively retiring.
"I believe one day that I will come back," St-Pierre said. "The problem is I don't know how long. I cannot put myself in another training camp right now. I feel like mentally I need a break. That's why, I don't want to make anybody wait. I just want to do it when I feel like it, and I'll become stronger when I will. It's going to be up to me.
"If I give you a date, I immediately put myself back into a date, into pressure, (and) I'm going to start thinking about it. It has to be on my terms. I don't know when, I don't know if. I don't know, I think I will. I can't say 100-percent. But right now I don't want the people thinking about me."
White, for the most part, remained optimistic that St-Pierre will return.
"I do believe that Georges St-Pierre will fight again," White said.
"Georges St-Pierre has always been 100-percent professional. I couldn't say enough good things about him. It is what it is. It's actually, at the end of the day, it's really not that big of a deal. The guy's got some things that he needs to deal with. He was classy enough to say, ‘I'm not going to jam up the 170-pound division while I deal with these things. I'm going to step aside and handle my stuff, and then I'll be back.'
"I cannot express to you enough how bad Georges St-Pierre does not need money," White added. "Georges St-Pierre has a lot of money, and he could walk away forever if that's what he chose to do. I honestly don't believe that he will do that. I think he will come back. He needs to button some things in his personal life and then you'll see him again."
In St-Pierre's stead, No. 1 contender Johny Hendricks and No. 3 ranked Robbie Lawler will fight for the official UFC welterweight championship on March 15, 2014 in the main event of UFC 171, which takes place at the American Airlines Center in Dallas, TX.
St-Pierre's announcement comes nearly a month after his controversial split decision victory over Hendricks at UFC 167. Following the win, which marked St-Pierre's ninth consecutive defense title of his title, a weary St-Pierre vaguely elaborated on his need to take some time away from the sport due to personal issues.
"To tell you the truth, I love my sport," St-Pierre said on Friday. "I've never been a victim. I've never been a victim of anything. I choose this life. I choose to do this. Nobody ever forced me. But the problem is, as much as I choose to do it, now I choose to not do it. It's my right. I'm allowed to if I choose to not do it, because I feel mentally, it's a lot of pressure. Nobody can understand the situation that I am in. It's all this pressure, all this weight I carry on my shoulders has been building up over a long time.
"People are like, ‘You only fight maybe ever four months.' But what they don't understand is there's so much promotion going with it. It's the press tour, the Primetime, the cameras, the this, the trash talking, the build-up. Everywhere I go -- in restaurants, as soon as I step out of my house now in Quebec because the sport now is popular -- everybody says, ‘Hey, good luck with fight. Hey, the fight this. Hey, the fight that. Hey, what are you going to do to that guy?' They talk about me, about this, all the time, and it's completely insane. It's everybody day of my life. So nobody can understand this pressure."
St-Pierre noted that his feelings arose some time ago, and stepping away from the sport was a decision he'd considered prior to UFC 167.
Even if St-Pierre never returns to the cage, he'll go down among the most decorated fighters in the history of the sport. The two-time UFC welterweight champion owns the most wins in UFC history (19), as well as the second most consecutive title defenses in the UFC history (9), second only to Anderson Silva. He carries the record for most time spent inside the Octagon, and over the course of his six-year, 2,065-day reign as champion, St-Pierre developed into one of the top pay-per-view draws in MMA history.
"Georges has been here forever," White said. "He's been an absolute professional in everything that he's done. In the way that he's carried himself right up until this move here. His legacy is he's the greatest welterweight ever.
"He said, ‘I wanted to change the sport. I wanted to help elevate the sport. And he did that. He did that bigtime. Not just in Canada, not just in the United States, but all over the world."
St-Pierre exits the sport, however temporarily, riding a 12-fight win streak, with a career record of 25-2. He avenged his only two career losses, defeating Matt Hughes twice and stopping Matt Serra with a second-round assault in 2008.
Prior to UFC 167, St-Pierre also spearheaded a push for increased drug testing throughout the sport, although his efforts fell largely on deaf ears.
"There's a lot of things I wanted to do," St-Pierre said. "I wanted to be the greatest. I said before, I wanted to do things to be remembered. I wanted to do things to be remembered, to make a difference in the sport; make the sport reach another level. I tried to do it during my last fight. Unfortunately it didn't work. That means the people were not ready for it, unfortunately. I tried my best. I tried to do everything possible."