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Firas Zahabi on Georges St-Pierre: ‘I don’t want to be the one pressuring him’

Esther Lin, Sportsfile

Now that Robbie Lawler has defended the welterweight title against Rory MacDonald, the division is so wide open that his next defense could be any of several names. Should it be somebody like Tyron Woodley, who has won a pair of fights in a row (though the last one was a split decision over Kelvin Gastelum)? Should it be former 170-pound champ Johny Hendricks, in the rubber match of the trilogy?

Or…could it be…could it be Georges St-Pierre, who walked away from fighting in 2013, thus putting his belt up for grabs for Lawler and Hendricks to begin with.

Now that St-Pierre’s Tristar training partner MacDonald is (at least for the time being) no longer hovering near title contention in the UFC’s packed welterweight division, could this be the moment that GSP comes back?

St-Pierre’s longtime coach Firas Zahabi was a guest on Monday’s edition of The MMA Hour, and he was pressed on the subject.

"Well, you know, I haven’t talked to Georges yet, but whatever he wants to do I’ll support him," Zahabi said. "For me, he’s the greatest welterweight of all time, so he can do whatever he wants. If he wants to get back in the game, that’s up to him. If he wants to stay out of the game, it’s up to him. There’s nothing to prove."

Zahabi, who was in MacDonald’s corner Saturday night in Las Vegas at UFC 189, said that he’s only been in contact with St-Pierre via texts.

"It was just, ‘good job, good try, we’ll get back to it,’ and that’s it," Zahabi said.

St-Pierre himself was not on hand at the MGM Grand Garden Arena, having just got back from Europe where he has been shooting a movie.

The 34-year-old ceded his title after defending it against Hendricks at UFC 167, saying he needed time away from the pressure of the game. Since that time the popular Canadian champion -- who defended the welterweight title nine times between 2008 and 2013 – made it clear he’d only contemplate a return if the UFC did something about PED users in the sport.

As of this month, a third-party anti-doping agency (USADA) has been commissioned to conduct year-round out-of-competition testing to everybody on the UFC’s roster. Asked if that might have sway with St-Pierre, Zahabi said it might, but that he’s not going to twist his arm.

"I think it’s definitely a step in a positive direction," he said. "But I think Georges, he just has to train for fun and do what he feels like doing. He doesn’t owe anybody anything, now. So if he feels like he wants to take a fight on -- he might wake up tomorrow and feel like he wants to take a fight on -- I’ll back him up. If he doesn’t feel like it, he doesn’t feel like it. There’s always another fight. There’s always another thing to do.

"So for me, I don’t think that I get to put him in that situation we need to call out him and put pressure on him. He’s got to do what he wants. He’s paid his dues, he’s done his fights, and that’s it. Just enjoy your life. He’s put in his time."

St-Pierre has gone 18-1 since 2004, with his only loss coming at the hands of Matt Serra at UFC 69 in 2006. Since that time he has won 12 fights in a row to solidify himself as the greatest welterweight champion of all time. His fight with Jake Shields at UFC 129 in Toronto shattered the attendance and live gate records for the UFC. He’s made plenty of money in his career, and continues to do so.

All of these things go into Zahabi’s reasoning to leave St-Pierre alone in deciding his future, whether it’s in movies, in fighting, or in some other sphere.

"There’s nothing for him to prove left," he said. "For me, there’s nothing left to prove. So if he wants to do it, it’s out of pure, sheer enjoyment, for the kicks of it, for the adventure of it all. He’s given up so much of his time and energy in his life to do what he did, and now he’s enjoying his time as a retired champion…or a sabbatical if you want to call it, whatever you want to call it. And tomorrow if he calls me and says he wants to do another fight, I’ll be there for him. But I don’t want to be the guy who’s pressuring him."

Asked why St-Pierre just doesn’t come out and say he’s retired, just so people won’t continue bugging him with the same questions, Zahabi said that it’s because nothing’s set in stone.

"I don’t think he’s decided," he said. "That’s the bottom line. He’s just getting some perspective. He’s trying new things in his life to see what he likes to do. He’s still a very young guy, and I don’t know if he’s going to find another interest or if he’s going to get bored with his day-to-day routine. Right now he’s shooting a few movies, let’s see how that goes."

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