LAS VEGAS — Georges St-Pierre survived, in what he said was the toughest victory of his distinguished Ultimate Fighting Championship career Saturday night.
After edging gritty challenger Johny Hendricks by judges' split decision — 29-28 (Sal D'Amato), 29-28 (Tony Weeks) and 28-29 (Glenn Trowbridge) — St-Pierre then unleashed the bombshell that he needs to "turn in my gloves for a little bit," to deal with what he called "personal things."
Asked in the MGM Grand octagon if he was retiring, St-Pierre (25-2) said after his 11th consecutive successful welterweight title defense that "I have to go away for a little bit, at least."
St-Pierre, 32, got everything he could handle against Hendricks (15-2), the former two-time NCAA wrestling champion from Oklahoma State with the hammer left hand.
Hendricks was at his best in the second round, sweeping that round and the fourth on the judges' scorecards.
In the second, Hendricks battered St-Pierre with lefts and sent him stumbling backward. Blood trickled from under St-Pierre's left eye.
In the fourth, as they stood, St-Pierre's foot tangled with Hendricks' leg and St-Pierre fell to the canvas, where he was subjected to punishing short left-handed punches and some elbows. Hendricks let St-Pierre rise, but the champion's face was bruised and bleeding under the right eye.
"Without a doubt, my toughest fight, I couldn't see with one of my eyes, he really messed me up," St-Pierre said. "I lost a little bit, I was cut a couple times. He was very good. He hits very hard."
Yet St-Pierre won the first and third rounds on D'Amato and Weeks' cards and swept the decisive fifth.
The first round was tight, a St-Pierre takedown and more thorough fighting with kicks and jabs likely deciding it in the judges' minds.
In the third, St-Pierre slowed Hendricks with a right kick to the challenger's right leg and his lefts scored, although the sight of the fit champion glancing at the clock because of fatigue was surely a rare event.
"I thought I clearly won the fight," Hendricks said. "Georges is a great competitor, but I'm pretty sure I won. I fought more, I countered him. He didn't land nothing strong.
"It just wasn't my night, people didn't want me to win."
On the UFC's 20th anniversary and seven years after he first claimed the belt, St-Pierre saved enough for a compelling fifth.
Is it his final round?
He landed kicks, took Hendricks down, dragged the challenger by his leg. He then hit Hendricks with a right-left combination of punches and a right punch and right kick set up another takedown.
The squirming challenger couldn't get free to fight how he wanted, and when they were separated, St-
Pierre kicked Hendricks with a right knee to the gut, and the seconds evaporated.
"My toughest opponent in years," St-Pierre said as Hendricks was consoled by UFC President Dana White.
"It was taken away from me," Hendricks said. "I want that belt. That's what I just earned."
Also Saturday, former light-heavyweight champion Rashad Evans beat former title contender Chael Sonnen by first-round technical knockout.