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UFC legend Georges St-Pierre laughs off rival’s barbs ahead of comeback fight

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WATCH: 'Go back to f***ing Canada': GSP opponent lashes out in pre-fight tirade – Mar 4, 2017

LAS VEGAS – 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.

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“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.”

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St-Pierre, from Montreal, 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.”

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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.

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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.

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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.”

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

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“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.”