When Georges St-Pierre walked away from the UFC shortly after defeating Johny Hendricks by a slim margin in their 2013 title bout at UFC 167, it was viewed as a stunning piece of news. The welterweight legend said he wanted to focus on his personal life, but he never ruled out a return to action. That return eventually did come almost exactly four years later, after a couple of false starts. Now, however, the Canadian great has announced his retirement from the sport. So, what can we make of his comeback?
There’s certainly no argument that St-Pierre’s career as a whole is an amazing legacy. By his sixth professional outing, GSP was already competing for the UFC. He was submitted in his first title bid against Matt Hughes at UFC 50, but it strengthened his determination as he climbed the ladder once more and toppled Hughes for the crown two years later. His first reign was short-lived, of course. Matt Serra, who had earned a title shot through The Ultimate Fighter reality show, shocked the heavy favorite with an early knockdown and finish. St-Pierre again clawed his way back up to beat Hughes for the interim strap and Serra to avenge his prior loss and unify the championship.
The champ never lost another bout in his career. He went on to defend his title against the likes of Jon Fitch, B.J. Penn, Josh Koscheck, Carlos Condit, Nick Diaz and the aforementioned Hendricks before stepping away. The Canadian had come to be known as perhaps the best 170-pound fighter of all time.
His return to action four years later came after a number of misfires. He tore his ACL and required surgery. He went through contract negotiations with the UFC. He struggled through an eye injury. The move to middleweight also complicated things. However, the return did finally come.
St-Pierre made his comeback at UFC 217 in November of 2017. It marked his first foray into the 185-pound weight class, but his previous accomplishments allowed him to immediately challenge Michael Bisping, the reigning champion at the time, for the middleweight gold.
The former welterweight champ impressed against Bisping. The Canadian star was able to score a knockdown of the Brit in the third frame. He couldn’t get the TKO finish on the ground, so he instead found the rear-naked choke and put Bisping to sleep for the technical-submission finish.
St-Pierre’s return created a lot of possibilities. UFC President Dana White stated that a title defense against Robert Whittaker was next on the docket for St-Pierre. Odds were released for a potential match-up with Conor McGregor, too. The only problem? Just 34 days after he claimed the middleweight crown, GSP vacated the title after coming down with ulcerative colitis.
St-Pierre’s illness brought a quick end to his title reign, and it also led to the revelation that he struggled with related issues while trying to bulk up for the middleweight division. It was apparent that he would not continue to fight at the heavier weight, but a return as a 170-pounder was not out of the question.
More intriguing dream matches presented themselves. UFC lightweight champion Khabib Nurmagomedov called out St-Pierre, but this was before GSP had been medically cleared to fight again. The UFC wanted St-Pierre for a fight with Nate Diaz, but GSP declined. He also suggested a drop to lightweight to meet either Nurmagomedov or McGregor, but that idea was ruled out by White.
In the end, fans instead received word that St-Pierre would call it a career at a press conference scheduled for Feb. 21, 2019. Indeed, the Canadian star made it official on that day.
In a way, GSP goes out on top. No, he doesn’t hold a UFC title as of his announced retirement, but he also did not lose after his stunning defeat in 2007 at the hands of Serra. He was perfect through his last 13 fights, including 12 welterweight outings and one middleweight championship affair. It’s certainly a better end to a career than what fans witnessed for other stars, like Chuck Liddell and the aforementioned Hughes.
Yet, there’s always that element of what-if to St-Pierre’s departure from the sport. The TriStar Gym representative is still only 37 years old, and he hardly looked like a washed-up fighter. Whittaker suggested St-Pierre looked slower than the GSP of old when he fought Bisping, but it was still a championship win over a guy who dethroned Luke Rockhold for the belt. St-Pierre, long criticized for grinding out opponents, even managed to score a finish of his British counterpart.
Furthermore, there were some very enticing possibilities out there for St-Pierre. Had he been able to continue to compete at 185 pounds, he could have tangled with Whittaker, a TUF alum who had found a home at middleweight after struggling for consistency as a welterweight earlier in his UFC tenure. Whittaker, a 28-year-old New Zealander, has claimed victories Brad Tavares, Uriah Hall, Derek Brunson, Ronaldo “Jacare” Souza and Yoel Romero (twice) during his middleweight campaign. He’s a talented rising star in his prime, and a fight with GSP could have served as a true test as to whether St-Pierre was still elite.
Then, there’s McGregor. The Irishman draws more eyes to the sport than perhaps anyone else, but GSP has his own knack for setting pay-per-view records in his native Canada. If these two men had shared an Octagon, the resulting numbers could have been a huge boon for the UFC.
Whereas McGregor would have struggled to overcome GSP’s wrestling abilities, Nurmagomedov could have given St-Pierre another huge challenge to overcome. The lightweight champ has a habit of ragdolling opponents and controlling them on the mat, but nobody holds a candle to GSP’s own reputation as a master of ground control.
St-Pierre can’t be faulted for hanging up the gloves. He posted an excellent 26-2 career mark and competed at a high level for a span of 15 years. However, his comeback has to be considered a disappointment. He did add yet another huge victory to his legacy, but he also left fans wanting more, including those fights with Whittaker, McGregor, Nurmagomedov and even Nate Diaz. St-Pierre has few equals in the sport, but lots of fans are now left to wonder how he’d fare against these marquee opponents.