- Associated Press - Friday, March 3, 2017

LAS VEGAS (AP) - Georges St. Pierre has officially returned to the UFC, and the longtime mixed martial arts hero already has a villainous new foil.

St. Pierre and middleweight champion Michael Bisping traded insults Friday in a lively news conference announcing their matchup for St. Pierre’s return to mixed martial arts after a 3 1/2-year absence.

The rambunctious Bisping showed up 30 minutes late and immediately began launching profane trash talk at the punctilious St. Pierre, who responded with his own jabs. Bisping impugned St. Pierre’s height, toughness, reach and mental fortitude - and that was before anyone even asked a question.

“Hey Georges, where’s your belt?” Bisping asked, looking down at his own glittery strap. “You don’t have one. The sport moved on, buddy.”

St. Pierre was one of the UFC’s biggest stars and pay-per-view draws during his long reign atop the 170-pound division, but the Canadian star walked away in November 2013. After a lengthy sabbatical, he is returning for a 185-pound bout with Bisping, the gritty English veteran who won his title in a shocking upset of Luke Rockhold last year.

“I’m not going to be the old GSP,” St. Pierre said. “If I come back as just the same guy I used to be, I’m going to have a very bad night. If I come back, it’s because I and my training partners are all convinced I’m a better version than I was. I feel I’ve reached a better version as a fighter, and I’m going to prove it to everyone.”

The UFC hasn’t set a date for the fight, and St. Pierre must clear hurdles in medical examination and drug testing first. But UFC President Dana White acknowledges he would like the bout to headline UFC 213 at T-Mobile Arena in Las Vegas on July 8 as the culmination of International Fight Week.

If not, UFC 214 in Anaheim, California, could be another candidate on July 29.

Bisping lives in Orange County, and he is eager to add another big name to his improbable late-career surge of victories. Bisping defended his belt against Dan Henderson last year, and St. Pierre is a second straight opponent who isn’t among the top middleweight contenders for his title.

Bisping boasted that he will agree to fight No. 1 contender Yoel Romero six weeks after he beats St. Pierre, since the ex-champion simply can’t hurt him.

“I know why you picked me” for an opponent, Bisping said to St. Pierre. “You think I’m an easy fight. Just like Anderson (Silva) did. Just like Luke Rockhold did when I knocked him out. This is the greatest of all time, (and he) didn’t want to fight Anderson, but he wants to come out of retirement to fight me.”

St. Pierre mostly laughed at Bisping’s personal attacks, repeatedly wondering whether Bisping had been late because of a long night out in Vegas.

“I’ll go out on an all-night bender and still beat you, pal,” Bisping replied. “Georges, listen, while you were away because you were so scared of everybody taking steroids, I was man enough to still be fighting those guys. … Coming back, the sport is a different place. Game over.”

St. Pierre wouldn’t reveal his career goals beyond claiming Bisping’s middleweight title, prompting Bisping to suggest he doesn’t have any.

“I have a general long-term goal and a general direction where I want to go,” St. Pierre said. “I’m 36 years old. I don’t have a lot of fight left, but I want to make it as big as possible.”


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