Georges St-Pierre announced Monday that his contract with the UFC has been terminated and he is now a free agent.
“Right now I’m a free agent,” the mixed martial arts superstar told Ariel Helwani on The MMA Hour. “You heard it right. I’m a free agent. My lawyers terminated the contract with the UFC.”
The 35-year-old vacated his welterweight title and took an indefinite leave of absence in December 2013 following a split decision win over Johny Hendricks at UFC 167, but confirmed earlier this year he was ready to make a comeback.
“To make a long story short, last February I told [former UFC chairman Lorenzo Fertitta] that I wanted to fight again,” he said to Helwani. “We had a meeting in Las Vegas and I came with my agent.”
UFC released a statement late Monday disputing St-Pierre’s comments, saying he is still under contract with the fight promotion.
“Georges St-Pierre remains under an existing agreement with Zuffa, LLC as his MMA promoter,” reads the statement.”Zuffa intends to honour its agreement with St-Pierre and reserves its rights under the law to have St-Pierre do the same.”
St-Pierre (25-2) explained that his team had been in negotiations with Fertitta and he was offered many opponents and offered fights at several events including July’s UFC 200 and next month’s UFC 205 at Madison Square Garden but St-Pierre thought the best date for a return would be on Dec. 10 at UFC 206 in Toronto.
He described the negotiation process as “up and down” but thought they were on the verge of getting a deal done. However, Fertitta and his company Zuffa LLC sold the UFC to WME-IMG in July and it put negotiations on hold.
“The UFC told us they would take a huge financial risk to have me back and they would need to spend a lot of money to reintroduce me to the new audience,” said St-Pierre, who indicated money was the ultimate factor as to why a deal wasn’t reached. “What we asked for was really – trust me – really reasonable.”
When negotiations resumed after the sale was finalized, new ownership told St-Pierre and his team the deal they had been discussing with Fertitta was off the table.
“It was like a shock to us because we felt like we were making progress,” St-Pierre said. “We were almost there. When [new ownership] told us I got angry and I talked to my advisor and I decided to hire the best lawyer in the business. His name is James Quinn.”
St-Pierre, who debuted in the UFC in January 2004, went on to explain that Quinn gave the UFC a deadline to give him a fight. When that deadline was not met, Quinn informed his client he was a free agent.
If you followed rumours and reports about St-Pierre’s return you would have heard UFC president Dana White say repeatedly he didn’t think the Canadian had the desire to compete again.
White told reporters in Las Vegas at UFC 200: “Georges St-Pierre will not fight again. I’ve said that before and I’ll say it again. Georges St-Pierre is done. He is retired. He will not fight again… I’ve been in [the fight game] since I was 19 years old. I know the mentality of a fighter that wants to fight and I know the mentality of a fighter that does not want to fight.”
St-Pierre figured this type of talk was a negotiation tactic on White’s part but was still disappointed at how things unfolded.
“When he’s saying that I’m not ready to fight there’s only one person who knows if I’m ready to fight and it’s myself,” St-Pierre said. “Dana White doesn’t know what it is to be a fighter. I know what it is to be a fighter.”
Always the gentleman, St-Pierre made sure to say he holds no ill will towards White or the people at the UFC. At the end of the day it was just business, although he found the new ownership’s explanation for not offering him the same deal he and Fertitta were working on puzzling. St-Pierre, despite his inactivity, remains one of the most popular and recognizable faces in the sport so the argument that UFC brass would have to spend money to reintroduce him to a new audience doesn’t fly.
“I don’t take it personal,” St-Pierre said. “I found it a little bit funny to tell you the truth. I know it’s a lie. Sometimes I start to ask myself if they started to believe what they’re saying.”
UFC 206 will be the promotion’s first event in Toronto in more than three years and having St-Pierre headline the card would have been the perfect way to return to a market White once referred to as the Mecca of MMA.
“It would have been a win-win situation,” St-Pierre said. “I think now what happened with this situation, the biggest loser is the fans. I’m a loser. The UFC is a loser. Even the UFC is a loser. They would have made good money.”
The MMA landscape is always shifting and star fighters leaving the UFC is becoming increasingly more common. Earlier this year St-Pierre’s friend and Tristar Gym teammate Rory MacDonald signed with Bellator MMA after his UFC contract expired. Chael Sonnen, Wanderlei Silva, Phil Davis plus former UFC champions Benson Henderson and Quinton “Rampage” Jackson have all joined Bellator’s roster in 2016.
St-Pierre, who has not yet been in contact with any other promotions, mentioned he has no idea whether or not the UFC would try to prevent him from signing with another organization. It also remains entirely possible St-Pierre eventually comes to terms on a new deal with the UFC.
“The reason I wanted to go back and fight is because I feel right now that I’m at my best. I’m truly confident I can beat the guys that are champions right now. I’m that confident,” St-Pierre said. “At least I’m a free man. Now, I know I’m free. I have other options. I’m not caught up legally with a contract. I’m a free man.”