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Firas Zahabi believes Georges St-Pierre will ultimately return to the UFC: ‘It’s who he is’

Esther Lin, MMA Fighting

Speculation continues to swirl regarding former UFC welterweight champion Georges St-Pierre and a possible comeback to mixed martial arts, as St-Pierre is scheduled to ease back into training at the end of October following a lengthy rehabilitation period from surgery to repair a torn ACL in his left knee.

St-Pierre vacated his long-held UFC title last December after announcing his indefinite hiatus from the sport that catapulted him into global prominence. In the time since, UFC President Dana White has continued to insist that St-Pierre will return, while St-Pierre's former manager Stephane Patry reported last week that the Canadian star had officially made his decision.

That report turned out to be erroneous, and longtime friend/coach Firas Zahabi subsequently clarified on Monday's edition of The MMA Hour that St-Pierre remains "undecided" on his future.

"He has no plans right now," Zahabi said. "We're supposed to start some martial arts training by the end of this month, and we're going to take it from there, step-by-step. Everybody wants to know what his decision is going to be. The guy hasn't rolled on the mat yet. I mean, how can he know?

"I don't think he could really know, and there's no reason for him to rush back with a decision. He has no definite plans whatsoever, that's the bottom line. That's not the answer everybody wants to hear, but it's the truth. No matter what anybody tells you, he still has not made up his mind."

From his UFC debut in 2004 to his final fight in 2013, St-Pierre grew from an athletic prospect into one of the biggest draws the sport of mixed martial arts had ever seen, becoming a two-time UFC welterweight champion, then defending the belt a record nine consecutive times, culminating in his razor-thin split decision victory over Johny Hendricks.

The spotlight ultimately grew tiresome for St-Pierre, as he cited both a desire to take some time off for himself and escape the sports' mounting PED crisis as reasons for his departure. Nonetheless, St-Pierre never officially labeled himself as retired, and if Zahabi was a betting man, he says he'd wager that fight fans will see St-Pierre compete at least one more time before the 33-year-old calls it quits.

"I think so. I think Georges cannot separate himself from MMA, from martial arts," Zahabi said. "I don't think he could. I think it's carved out a part of his psyche, I think he's done it since he was so young, I think it's who he is. It protected him in the school yard, it created him living. I don't think he could successfully separate himself from MMA.

"But I also don't think he's going to go into fighting until he's 50, either. I think he's always going to be involved in martial arts, and when his body can't fight anymore, I think he's a smart enough guy to tell himself no. But I was working out with him two weeks ago and his body is in ridiculous shape. I mean, his fitness is incredible. So I can't see why not. But again, I don't want to speak for him, that's his decision. I'm just thinking that he's in such great shape right now that, I assume if he gets the motivation to do a fight, he'll do it."

Zahabi noted that doctors have cleared St-Pierre's knee as fully recovered, at least structurally, and that the ligaments are "supposed to be stronger than before." He also added that St-Pierre appears to be in a good place mentally, and that freed from the pressures of media and that 12-pound belt, the welterweight's life appears far more balanced than in the past.

It's not as if Tristar Gym is suffering either, as in St-Pierre's stead, Canadian heir apparent Rory MacDonald has ridden a sizzling 2014 campaign into welterweight's number-one contender position. The UFC has yet to make anything official, but MacDonald is likely to fight the winner of December's title rematch between champion Johny Hendricks and challenger Robbie Lawler.

And should MacDonald claim the belt, St-Pierre would be left in a curious one-eighty from the scenario that dogged the two Tristar welterweights throughout St-Pierre's final few fights, when St-Pierre was the champion and MacDonald was the contender who refused to fight his friend and teammate.

"I don't know, I don't think we're there yet," Zahabi said when asked how Tristar would handle the situation. "I don't want to create a problem that doesn't exist. I don't know what would happen. We would sit down and talk about it like brothers, like gentlemen. That's who were are, everybody is very courteous, everybody is very friendly.

"What Rory did by saying, ‘hey, I won't fight GSP,' that was huge, because that was a life-changing fight for him. That was a fight that would've catapulted him right away to number-one contender. The UFC would've marketed the hell out of that fight -- they would've said, look, let this kid skip to the front of the line. And he didn't take it. That's huge for me. That's loyalty. So for me, I want to return the favor. Georges is a very loyal guy and so is Rory, so we work well together. There are things more important than money."

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