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Georges St. Pierre leaving UFC for the time being, vacating title

Johny Hendricks and Robbie Lawler to fight for welterweight championship at UFC 171

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Sam Morris / Las Vegas Sun

Georges St. Pierre enters the MGM Grand Garden Arena for his title fight against Johny Hendricks at UFC 167 Saturday, Nov. 16, 2013. St. Pierre won with a controversial split decision.

UFC 167: St. Pierre vs. Hendricks

Georges St. Pierre hits Johny Hendricks with a left during their title fight at UFC 167 Saturday, Nov. 16, 2013 at the MGM Grand Garden Arena. St. Pierre won with a controversial split decision. Launch slideshow »

Georges St. Pierre stood his ground. Dana White came around.

When the longtime UFC welterweight champion revealed a desire to step away from mixed martial arts after controversially defeating Johny Hendricks last month, the promotion’s president went into a rage. White was adamant St. Pierre owed Hendricks and the fans a rematch.

The two were more harmonious on a conference call Friday, as St. Pierre reiterated plans for an indefinite hiatus but with White’s blessing.

“I agree with Georges 100 percent,” White said. “I think it’s the right move.”

St. Pierre cited mounting pressure that “becomes so heavy that I have a hard time carrying it myself,” but stayed otherwise vague on the reasons for his departure. He stressed that it was personal and not health-related.

The strain in the 32-year-old St. Pierre’s voice as he detailed fighting making him “crazy” was alone enough to convince White that his most popular fighter needed to take time off. St. Pierre will vacate his title, meaning a new welterweight champion will emerge for the first time since 2007.

White announced that Hendricks and Robbie Lawler would fight for the championship in the main event of UFC 171 — a previously announced light heavyweight title match between Jon Jones and Glover Teixeira will shift to UFC 172 — March 15 in Dallas.

“There’s no doubt the Johny Hendricks-Robbie Lawler will be an absolute gunfight,” White boasted.

But there’s no question it won’t hold the interest of a St. Pierre vs. Hendricks rematch. By winning 12 straight fights — the most in UFC history behind Anderson Silva’s 16 — St. Pierre became far and away the sport’s largest pay-per-view draw.

A second meeting with Hendricks, whom most thought defeated him if not for an erroneous decision, had the potential to turn into St. Pierre’s best selling bout. No amount of money — Forbes reported St. Pierre makes $5 to $6 million per fight on average — could change the champion’s mind, though.

“In order to keep a mental equilibrium — physically, I feel 100 percent and I’m still young — I can’t go through a training camp right now,” St. Pierre said. “And I don’t know when I can.”

But he will. St. Pierre gave strong indications that he would fight again eventually, and White had no doubts that the fighter would keep his word.

Sacrificing the title, White said, allows St. Pierre flexibility to work on his own timetable.

“I believe one day I will come back,” St. Pierre said. “The problem is, I don’t know how long. I don’t want to make anyone wait. I want to come back when I feel like it.”

Either way, St. Pierre expressed comfort with his legacy. He set out to become the greatest mixed martial artist ever, and if he didn’t achieve that, he came awfully close.

St. Pierre walks away from the UFC sitting second in the pound-for-pound rankings, behind Jones, with pages of others records and accolades from a nine-year, 21-fight career.

And it’s not over.

“Just instead of having a red sticker on my glove, I will have a blue and be the challenger, St. Pierre said.

Case Keefer can be reached at 948-2790 or [email protected]. Follow Case on Twitter at twitter.com/casekeefer.

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