Georges St-Pierre was sitting in his Montreal home late one evening just a few weeks ago. He was alone, with the TV on, and he was flipping through channels. He stumbled upon a rebroadcast of his 2017 fight with Michael Bisping. That was the night GSP, the longtime UFC welterweight champion considered by many to be the greatest mixed martial artist of all time, came out of a four-year retirement and claimed the middleweight belt.
As he watched, St-Pierre could feel the thrill come back. He could feel it in his body, he told ESPN’s Ariel Helwani on Tuesday evening. “It’s a fun feeling,” said St-Pierre, “because you know the outcome.”
For GSP, it was a rarity to feel good while around fighting. “I never enjoyed one second inside the Octagon in my entire career,” he said.
That sounds shocking coming from a man who was 26-2 in his career. GSP made nine successful defenses of his 170-pound belt and set a UFC record for title fight appearances. He is on the short list of candidates for the GOAT discussion. Yet he says he was scared every step of the way.
St-Pierre said he isn’t sure if he’s a rarity in that regard, or if other fighters are lying when they show no fear. He told a story from January, when he served as a cornerman for his friend, UFC lightweight Nasrat Haqparast. GSP couldn’t believe the lack of nerves his Tristar Gym teammate was experiencing backstage.
“He was in the locker room very happy. He was like, ‘Man, I’m so excited to be here.’ I looked at him and I go, ‘Man, you’re a psychopath, bro,'” said St-Pierre. “Maybe I’m different. Maybe I’m a coward, I don’t know. I’m scared to death.”
St-Pierre’s nerves were so bad during his career that he believes they played a role in the colitis that ultimately sealed the deal on whether he would continue fighting. He revealed that during his fight career he went to a sports psychologist, who tried to get him to stop saying he was scared: “‘You’re not scared, you’re excited.’ I’m like, ‘Dude, I’m excited if I haven’t eaten for three days and I know I’m about to eat my favorite dish. I’m excited if I’m seeing a beautiful naked woman. I’m excited if it’s minus-15 in Montreal and I know that next week I’m going on vacation to a beach in a warm, exotic place. I’m not excited to go fight in a cage against another psychopath that’s gong to try to kill me, and maybe I’m going to be humiliated. I’m not excited about that. I’m scared.'”
And yet, before announcing his retirement last year, St-Pierre was in pursuit of a fight against lightweight champion Khabib Nurmagomedov. “For me, it was because I considered Khabib right now the best fighter in the world,” said GSP. “And he wanted to fight me as well. So I thought it was a good fan fight.”
But the UFC would not go for it, and St-Pierre understands why — especially after he had come out of retirement for the Bisping fight, taken away the 185-pound title and vacated it just 34 days later. “It you look on the UFC’s side, if I put myself in their shoes,” he said, “they didn’t want to take the risk of me winning the title and then vacating again.”
St-Pierre said he proposed making it a non-title fight, but the UFC had other plans for Khabib.
So is that it for St-Pierre? He hesitated to say so definitively on Tuesday, but said it would take a “180-degree turnaround” for him to fight again.
“I’m the happiest man in the world,” the 38-year-old said, adding, “An athlete has a window. You want to retire from the sport. You don’t want the sport retiring you.”
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