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SportsColumnistsMark La Monica

Au revoir, Georges St-Pierre, you were one of the greatest ever to do it

Georges St-Pierre announces his retirement from mixed martial

Georges St-Pierre announces his retirement from mixed martial arts during a press conference in Montreal, Thursday, Feb. 21, 2019. Photo Credit: AP/Ryan Remiorz

The cloud over Georges St-Pierre's legacy in mixed martial arts does not hang. It floats.

No rain looms, only sunshine. No doom. Just smiles and applause for one of the greatest MMA fighters the world ever encountered.

St-Pierre officially retired on Thursday at a news conference inside the Bell Centre in Montreal, a venue he once ruled in the city he called home, in the country he hoisted onto his shoulders to help deliver his sport to his people, and his people to his sport.

"It takes a lot of discipline to retire on top," St-Pierre said Thursday. "I always said I wanted to retire on my own, not be told to retire.

“I don’t always know what I want, but I do know what I don’t want. What I don’t want is to retire too late."

St-Pierre, 37, hasn't fought since November 2017, and that was his first fight in more than four years. So, "on top" is subjective, as is his place in the pantheon of the sport (it should be very high on everyone's lists, however; if not, find another list).

What is not subjective, though, is this: a 26-2 career record, the most title fight victories in UFC history with 13, nine straight defenses of his welterweight title (the most in the division's history and third longest streak in UFC history), most takedowns landed with 90, and becoming the fourth fighter in UFC history to win titles in two different weight classes when he beat Michael Bisping at UFC 217 at Madison Square Garden.

Those are some facts. Not all of them. With St-Pierre, a list of stat facts may challenge the generally accepted principle that the internet has unlimited space.

Yet with all those victories, massive career-defining moments, dollars and championships, do you know what St-Pierre called his proudest moment of his career? That time he got blasted in the head by Carlos Condit. It was a head kick in the third round of their title fight at UFC 154 on Nov. 17, 2012.

"I fell down and I was able to stand up. It sounds weird, people think it will be the wins, but for me it was when I was dropped and got back up," St-Pierre said. "It shows I had the guts to come back from an obstacle and was able to overcome it."

St-Pierre won that fight, as he did 93 percent of the time he made that walk to the cage.

One of the two times he didn't win was against Long Island's Matt Serra at UFC 69 in 2007. St-Pierre was the champion heading into that night, with Serra a 10-1 underdog. The first-round knockout of St-Pierre remains the biggest upset in UFC history. It also remains the most important moment in St-Pierre's fighting career. He never lost a fight again. Never took another opponent lightly again.

“When I lost to Serra and got humiliated, it took a huge hit to my ego, my pride," St-Pierre said.

When St-Pierre returned in 2017 to challenge Bisping for the middleweight title after stepping away from the sport for four years, he did so with his legacy in mind. He had nothing left to prove, and very few avenues to pursue improvement to his resume. The challenge of moving up 15 pounds in weight, and doing so after four years away from competitive fighting, was enough to motivate St-Pierre. He won the title from Bisping that night via third-round submission, only to vacate it 33 days later when diagnosed with ulcerative colitis.

Before making his retirement official on Thursday, St-Pierre had been vying for a fight with UFC lightweight champion Khabib Nurmagomedov. When it didn't materialize, St-Pierre decided to bring an official end to his fighting career.

“For a fighter where I am right now in my career, the most exciting thing and also the scariest thing to do is to fight an opponent who seems invincible," he said. "And that’s where Khabib is now. It would lift my legacy.”

St-Pierre said he was more interested in one fight at a time rather than committing to a number of fights. He said the UFC had other plans.

“I don’t have the same motivation I used to have," St-Pierre said. "I'm not the same person I used to be ... I don’t have the hunger anymore."

He doesn't need any of that. He walks away from MMA on his own terms. Most fighters don't get that opportunity, let alone hold news conferences in a 21,000-seat arena that are well-attended by the media and well-chronicled via those watching on live streams. No, most fighters retire via a tweet that you may or not see, or via an interview you may or may not watch, or they simply aren't signed to new contracts and decide to move on.

St-Pierre never was "most fighters," though. Not in the cage, not out of it. He wore suits to media events well before anyone else. He actively spoke out for drug testing in his sport. He conducted himself with class and professionalism and brought a level of credibility to the sport, helping carry it from fringe to mainstream. Before Jon Jones had his Nike deal, and before UFC signed on with Reebok, there were commercials, magazine ads and in-store cardboard cutouts of St-Pierre in UnderArmour.

“Georges has cemented his legacy as one of the pound-for-pound greatest fighters ever,” UFC President Dana White said in a statement. “He beat all the top guys during his welterweight title reign and even went up a weight class to win the middleweight championship. He spent years as one of the biggest names in MMA and remains one of the best ambassadors for the sport. He put Canada on the MMA map.”

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