A win meant there would be nothing left for Georges St-Pierre. A win over number one contender Johny Hendricks meant the UFC 170 pound champion would have the rarest opportunity in sports -- free reign to take the gold watch and just walk away, no questions asked. Really, there isn't a sane argument against leaving MMA off 10 straight wins in undisputed title fights. When St-Pierre got that win on Saturday night, he got nothing that was supposed to come with it. No one did.
The fight itself was so unlike any seen from either fighter that it felt broadcast from an alternate dimension obsessed with chaos. For all the endlessly interlocking complexities of the fight, there were natural, even astute, assumptions to be made. St-Pierre's 32 years and 26 fights had him on the end of the Jordan curve, the precarious point where even the most brilliant mind struggles to overcome a failing body. A fan who knows only this version of him would reasonably conclude that all footage of St-Pierre from before 2009 is the product of devilry and arcane magicks. Still, he has remained the best welterweight alive in seeming spite of this ongoing biologically guaranteed betrayal. This is what happens when a brilliant athlete embraces decay as an essential part of evolution.
Hendricks is none of that, which is what makes him the central casting alpha male successor. He's a two-time NCAA Division I wrestling champion who throws only two kinds of punches: ones that hurt and ones you wake up from. His fights are the vulgar displays of raw, unchecked power that St-Pierre is no longer capable of. This was universally acknowledged, and he was still tabbed a two-to-one underdog. It was King Stay King oddsmaking.
And then Hendricks did what Hendricks does: he hit the other guy dumb hard. This was to be expected, just as it was to be expected that St-Pierre's counter-calculus would go to work ferreting out the borderline imperceptible micro-advantages that he preys on. The problem was that Hendricks kept on hitting him dumb hard, wild hard even. However, not hard enough to keep St-Pierre from poking and prodding him, mining the reactions to deduce weakness. This is how St-Pierre operates, but he usually doesn't get mugged while doing so.
A few minutes later, he damn near got knocked out. That was in the second round, when it became clear that St-Pierre was down to the most desperate option. There was simply no beating this version of Hendricks, fresh and ascetically devoted to pressing exchanges that his power guaranteed him the better of. All St-Pierre could do was hope that he'd offered enough to ensure Hendricks would fade. The calculus now hinged on a gamble.
But of course, Hendricks faded. He always does -- everyone does. St-Pierre wins by controlling his fade, shrewdly investing energy into the right sequences to manipulate a fight's natural ebb and flow just so. He essentially paces his entropy against your own. His third round was masterful in that regard. St-Pierre recognized that Hendricks was now struggling with punch mechanics, which in turn left him unsure of his timing. The mid-range was now viable for St-Pierre and he racked up clean, conservative strikes that Hendricks could not reliably counter. It took three rounds, but St-Pierre figured Hendricks out.
Other than the elongated timeline, there were no real surprises in play -- Hendricks was going to lose the next two rounds because St-Pierre needed those rounds and he always wins the ones he needs. There was no prognostication here, it was logic based on precedent. Beating St-Pierre in the championship rounds isn't unlikely, it's a mass-scale quantum event. Hendricks did it anyway. Everything went to hell.
Hendricks won the fourth round and St-Pierre won the fifth; the rounds were tense and competitive, but no less obvious than the ones that preceded them. Not many disagreed with this, but two of them sat at the judges' table. St-Pierre won a split decision. Again, everything went to hell.
An immediate post-fight interview turned bizarrely elegiac when St-Pierre announced that he had to "go away for a little bit." Pressed for more information, he repeated the seemingly well-rehearsed line even as he struggled to hold back the full truth. Vague allusions to personal struggles gave way to admissions of sleepless nights and blurred vision at the post-fight press conference. The full extent of these issues and those that remain undisclosed are St-Pierre's to share when he so chooses, but they're disturbing enough as is. Even more so when your job is fighting.
UFC President Dana White reacted to the news in the manner one would expect of a slavemaster. His comments below cleared up any confusion as to whether UFC fighters are entertainment chattel:
"Unless you're going to retire... there's no, 'I'm going to take a cruise, I'm going to take a hiatus and be gone for two years, I'm going to take a leave of absence, I'm gonna,' whatever the hell it was he's saying, it doesn't work that way,"
Some confluence of issues has forced St-Pierre into semi-retirement and White mostly can't believe that one of his prized punch-monkeys has the nerve to exercise free will. Meanwhile, human beings capable of sympathy will take note that St-Pierre is clearly and rightfully concerned with the possibility that head trauma and brain cells don't get along. A mid-week headline reading something like Dana White Takes GSP Out Behind The Old Shed, Says It's For The Best is something everyone should be prepared for.
So yeah, all that clean break, walk off into the sunset business for St-Pierre is off the table, which, fine. It was all make believe anyway. The organic narratives offered by sport are good fun until they eventually strangle the reality from which they are derived. The reality now, the one that matters, is that the greatest welterweight of all-time is admitting to symptoms of brain damage and every fan should dread what happens next.
I hope Georges St-Pierre never fights again, but I'm almost certain he will.