(This story first appeared in Monday’s USA TODAY.)
After six years as arguably the most reliable, bankable champion in the UFC, welterweight titleholder Georges St-Pierre would like a little time off.
This, according to UFC President Dana White and fans outraged by St-Pierre’s narrow split-decision win vs. challenger Johny Hendricks (15-2 mixed martial arts, 10-2 UFC) in UFC 167, is unacceptable.
“I can’t sleep at night, man,” St-Pierre (25-2, 19-2) said during the postfight news conference. “I’m going crazy. I have issues, and I need to get out for a while. I don’t know what I’m going to do.”
According to White, what he’s going to do is give Hendricks a rematch, and it probably will happen sooner rather than later.
“His problems aren’t as bad as he thinks they are,” White told news reporters after a private chat with St-Pierre. “We’ll get through this.”
That was after he’d had a chance to talk with the champion about what, specifically, St-Pierre meant when he said he wanted to step away from the sport for a little while.
When White first heard him say it to the nearly 15,000 fans at MGM Grand Arena, he was apoplectic.
“You don’t just say, ‘Hey, I’m going to take a while off, and maybe I’ll be back and maybe I won’t,’” White said. “You owe it to the fans, you owe it to that belt, you owe it to this company and to Johny Hendricks to give him that opportunity to fight again. Unless you’re going to retire.”
The only thing St-Pierre was sure of after taking a battering from Hendricks was he wasn’t sure what he wanted to do.
That didn’t seem to sit well with White, who assured reporters the rematch would happen and there wouldn’t be a prolonged “waiting situation” before it did.
It didn’t sit well with Hendricks’ team, either. “We’re looking forward to a rematch and believe we should be the champion already,” Ted Ehrhardt of Team Takedown, Hendricks’ management group, said Sunday in an e-mail. “As Johny said, the next fight will not be a decision.”
If there’s any fighter who has earned a little time off upon request, however, it’s St-Pierre.
Although many fans and media members thought he didn’t deserve the win against Hendricks, few can deny he has been the consummate company man for the UFC throughout his title reign.
As White told USA TODAY Sports in November 2012, “He’s a guy you can rely on in every way, shape and form. He’s a guy you can build your business around.”
Of course, you can only do that if he’s around. But if he doesn’t want to be around, at least until he gets his life sorted out, doesn’t he deserve the chance to make that call without being pressured into a quick return?
White might not think St-Pierre’s personal problems are worth him taking time off, but they aren’t White’s problems. It also won’t be his face getting punched if Hendricks and St-Pierre meet again.
For complete coverage of UFC 167, stay tuned to the UFC Events section of the site.