The mixed martial arts (MMA) world was shocked yesterday (Dec. 13, 2013) when now-former Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) Welterweight champion Georges St-Pierre formally announced on an emergency phone conference that he would be taking a indefinite leave and vacating the title that he's held and defended since 2007.
St-Pierre hinted that he needed to take some time off following his UFC 167 title defense against Johny Hendricks at the MGM Grand Garden Arena in Las Vegas, Nevada. In the lead up, there were rumblings within his camp that the bout could possibly be the last time fans saw "Rush" enter the Octagon.
During the conference call, St-Pierre cited the increased pressures that come with being a champion and how he has not been able to lead a "normal" life in a few years. However, he was careful to not say the word "retirement" as he's open to the possibility of returning to action once he's able to get his personal life back in order.
While St-Pierre's announcement was shocking, this isn't the first time that a champion has walked away while still under contract.
The most famous case was Randy Couture, who tried to use a loophole to leave the promotion so he could pursue a payday and a fight with Fedor Emelianenko in Affliction. The UFC was quick to respond and the two battled it out in court for a year before Couture returned to face Brock Lesnar at UFC 91.
During period of time when the two sides were battling in court, Couture's UFC contract was frozen, which essentially means that it became impossible for the timing of the terms to lapse.
Once "Rush" dropped off the call, UFC President Dana White was asked the status of St-Pierre's contract with the promotion. White confirmed that while he was free to pursue options outside of MMA, St-Pierre's contract with the UFC was frozen until he returned from his indefinite sabbatical.
This decision is important for two reasons. The first is that it allows the UFC to set up a returning St-Pierre with whoever is holding the UFC title at the time. That match up would surely bring one of the biggest pay-per-view (PPV) buy rates in the promotion's history.
More importantly is that it prevents St-Pierre from attempting to sign with a different promotion. With the precedent set with the legal battles with Couture, the contract with the UFC would be upheld in court should St-Pierre's camp attempt to challenge the legality.
Friday the 13th may have been a horror scenario for Dana White now that his biggest draw has walked away from the sport, but he should take some solace in knowing that if GSP ever wants to return to fighting, it's going to happen under the UFC's banner and inside the UFC's cage.