"I think before the (Johny) Hendricks fight, he had mixed feelings," said Zahabi. "Before the (Carlos) Condit fight, he had mixed feelings. He went back-and-forth. But the problem is, I was always cutting him off because I didn't want to talk to him about it in camp. He had three fights in 18 months (actually 12 months) so we didn't have time to have a deep discussion on it."
There were all kinds of hints and mixed messages before the Hendricks fight. Zahabi himself got talk going by hinting at a possible St-Pierre retirement. Kristof Midoux, St-Pierre's first trainer, returned to his camp for the fight and outright said he hoped St-Pierre would retire when it was over. St-Pierre denied any rumors, noting he had just personally purchased an expensive octagon for the Tristar Gym, his home camp in Montreal, asking why he'd make such a purchase if he wasn't going to fight again.
Zahabi said his own remarks were because he's got a pat answer when questions about retirement come up and he was just saying what he will always say.
"I get asked the same question often and I have a staple answer," he said. "My staple answer is if a guy isn't motivated, I don't want him to do the camp. If he tells me, `Yes, I'm hungry," then I'm more than happy to do the camp. As a trainer, you know motivation is the first step. If the guy doesn't have the motivation, going through a camp is the worst thing you can go through."
Based on that feeling, Zahabi said St-Pierre needs the time off.
"Does he have the motivation to fight? Right now he doesn't. Right now he has the motivation to take care of his personal issues. If he doesn't, he's going to end up depressed, alone. The guy has to balance his life. His life is to the extreme and you can't be a soldier forever. The guy has been fighting for too long, missing too many birthdays, too many weddings, too many life experiences. He wants to balance his life out. If you were to spend a day with Georges, you'll be exhausted. There is so much going on it's ridiculous. It's crazy."
As far as what Zahabi knew, he said he got the word at the same time as everyone else, when Joe Rogan was talking to St-Pierre inside the cage after his controversial decision win over Hendricks.
"Right after the fight when he said he thought he was probably going to be taking time off," said Zahabi when asked when he first found out St-Pierre's future plans.
In the interview, Zahabi described St-Pierre, the UFC's biggest drawing card of the past three years, as someone who needs something, whether it be a sport or something else, to be passionate about. But he felt that unless St-Pierre finds a new sport or hobby that he can be competitive in, that at some point he would return. He was very careful not to even intimate a time frame.
"He'll come back stronger, I hope. He's a trainers' dream and a promoters' dream. I'm going to let him be. If he comes back, it'll be his own decision," Zahabi said.
But while he had a different time frame from when the issues started than White did, Zahabi did agree with White that the unspecified personal life issue was still the crux of the matter.
"I don't want to get into his personal life," Zahabi said. "But that's the foundation of all this. I want to keep it superficial. He's been putting his life on hold. His social life is deteriorating. His family life is deteriorating in terms of his spending time with his loved ones. He's lived a military life, lots of preparation and the preparation is extreme. There is no time off for enjoyment or personal time. Then you look back and ask, `What's happiness in life?' Is it winning fight after fight, or is there more to it? If winning fights made you happy, Georges would be the happiest guy on Earth. Things aren't that simple."
Zahabi talked like St-Pierre would be coming back, but stressed that nothing is for sure.
"Well, maybe it's just what I'm hoping," he said. "I love Georges. I'd love for him to come back. If he finds something he's really passionate about, if he finds something else, plays another sport, or whatever, he may get addicted to whatever and I could see him jumping into something. But he's not going to be happy watching TV. He needs a lot of action. But he also needs some down time."
Zahabi said that he couldn't see the new thing being a combat sport, and dismissed the idea of St-Pierre competing in Olympic wrestling. Three years ago, St-Pierre spoke in an interview about considering the idea of attempting to make the Canadian Olympic wrestling team and competing in London in 2012. At the time he talked of it as a very serious decision he was considering, which would require him to take a leave of absence from MMA for 18 months, to do so and focus completely on wrestling.
But a few weeks later, he dismissed the idea. St-Pierre would be 35 at the time of the next Olympics, an age few can compete at a high level, and those that do are not people who came late into the sport, like St-Pierre, who has never competed in the sport at a high-level.
"This is just my personal opinion. I think if he gets really obsessed with something else, like Olympic lifting, he might forget about competing (in MMA). But I think eventually he'll get hungry again," Zahabi said.
While Zahabi admitted there were things having to do with the drug testing for the Hendricks fight that disappointed St-Pierre, that was not the catalyst for his decision to step away.
"I don't think it had anything to do with him retiring, but I do think he was hurt by the criticism," Zahabi said. "He's a natural world champion. He really is 100 percent natural. I've never given him any kind of a substance. He wanted to prove to the world that you can do it naturally. It's health first. These products can make you sick, die young, get a heart attack, get cancer. He is trying to prove to the world that he's clean and a world champion, but a lot of people jumped down his throat."
St-Pierre did extensive drug testing prior to the fight and offered to pay for Hendricks to do the same with VADA, the Voluntary Anti-Doping Association. Hendricks agreed to drug testing, but wasn't willing to do it on St-Pierre's terms, nor pay for it in another form on his own. Zahabi said he had no ill will regarding Hendricks not agreeing, saying it ended up being two different groups who were preparing to fight who had to agree on terms and it fell apart for those reasons. He said he thought if both were to sit down now when a fight wasn't approaching, things would end differently.
But in Zahabi's mind, he felt if the close decision in the Hendricks fight had gone the other way, everything would be different, albeit temporarily.
"I think he would have done another fight," he said. "But there's always another fight. After he fought Condit, he had to fight Diaz. After Diaz, he had Hendricks. That fight was close, so then you have to fight him again. You're always ducking or doing something wrong. There's always another guy."
Zahabi said, despite all the bruises, St-Pierre wasn't hurt at all in the Hendricks fight and has been back training, only this time for fun.
"Georges is right now the happiest I've ever seen him. His mood is better, he's sleeping better, he's gaining weight, muscular weight, not fat," Zahabi said. "The stress was making him weaker, miserable, he was suffering. He didn't have peace. He had too much stress in his life. Now we're doing jiu jitsu and wrestling for fun."