QUEBEC -- UFC welterweight champion Georges St-Pierre said he will be taking an indefinite leave of absence from mixed martial arts and will vacate the 170-pound title he has held since April 2008.
The Montreal fighter made the announcement Friday on a media conference call. St-Pierre had cast doubt about his future after his last fight when he said he needed time away from the sport to sort out some personal issues.
"I've been fighting for a very long time at a high level," St-Pierre said. "It's a lot of pressure... I've decided I need to take time off. I know the UFC is a business and they can't wait.
"One day, when I feel like it, I might come back. But right now I need a break," he added.
St-Pierre's last fight was a controversial split decision over top contender Johny Hendricks last month at UFC 167.
UFC president Dana White, who was also on the conference call, said Hendricks will fight Robbie Lawler for the vacant title on March 15 in Dallas.
St-Pierre has survived turmoil throughout his career. He lost his championship belt in his first title defence before winning it back.
And he has endured a string of injuries, including knee reconstruction surgery in December 2011.
That prompted the UFC to pit Carlos (The Natural Born Killer) Condit against Nick Diaz for the interim title. Condit won but was beaten by St-Pierre when the champion returned to action at UFC 164 in November 2012.
St-Pierre was the first Canadian to hold a UFC title since Carlos (Ronin) Newton, who held the welterweight crown for seven months in 2001 before losing it to Matt Hughes.
St-Pierre lost to Hughes, now a member of the UFC Hall of Fame, in a title bout at UFC 50 in 2004 but won the rematch at UFC 65 in November 2006 to claim the championship belt.
His initial reign at champion was short-lived. Beset by family illness and lacking focus, GSP was upset by Matt (The Terror) Serra in his first title defence at UFC 69 in April 2007.
St-Pierre retooled, changing his management and revamping his coaching staff.
"I truly believe that this loss is probably the best thing that ever happened to me," he said at the time.
He has not lost since.
St-Pierre won his title back from Serra three fights later in commanding fashion, at UFC 83 in Montreal in April 2008.
The decision over Hendricks was a record 19th win in the UFC for St-Pierre, moving him past Hughes at 18. It also extended his string of victories to 12, the longest current run in the UFC.
The Hendricks victory also moved GSP past former middleweight champion Anderson Silva for most wins in UFC title bouts at 12.
And, at the 40-second mark of the first round, St-Pierre surpassed B.J. Penn's record of five hours three minutes and 51 seconds for career fight time in the UFC.
He also holds the UFC mark for most championship rounds fought (52). UFC 167 was St-Pierre's 14th championship fight, one behind Randy Couture.
St-Pierre also leads the UFC records in total strikes landed, significant strikes landed, takedowns landed and takedown accuracy rate, according to FightMetric.
-- The Canadian Press