UFC 217: Michael Bisping's legacy hinges on beating Georges St-Pierre

Kevin Iole
Combat columnist

Georges St-Pierre is, in a way, everything that Michael Bisping has wanted to be.

When St-Pierre made his debut in the UFC on Jan. 31, 2004, he entered with a trail of hype behind him. He was a hotly regarded prospect and was fighting for the world title less than 10 months later.

His stunning sabbatical in 2013 – he hates referring to his four years off as a retirement – was the biggest sports news of the day.

He’s regarded, along with Demetrious Johnson, Anderson Silva, Jon Jones and Fedor Emelianenko, as one of the greatest pound-for-pound fighters in the sport’s history.

He’s an idol of millions and was almost single-handedly responsible for making Canada such an MMA hotbed. His combination of looks, humility and world-class athleticism helped him become one of the biggest draws in the history of the sport.

And that is what Bisping has been fighting for since the day he showed up on the set of “The Ultimate Fighter” in 2006.

Among a large portion of the UFC’s fan base, St-Pierre was Secretariat and Bisping was little more than Mister Ed.

St-Pierre did things by the martial arts book: He was humble and respectful, rare to boast and always deferential to his teachers. Bisping was a guy of the streets, willing to say or do just about anything to sell a ticket or to win a fight.

But all will change on Saturday if the 38-year-old Bisping defeats St-Pierre at UFC 217.

He’s taunted St-Pierre mercilessly, as he’s wont to do, and repeatedly accused him of using performance-enhancing drugs. St-Pierre left the UFC in 2013 in large part because he believed so many of his peers were cheating and nothing was being done to stop it.

That didn’t stop Bisping from poking and prodding and lobbing accusations he’d later laugh away. On his podcast this week, he changed tactics and, after heaping praise upon St-Pierre, noted that he looked fat.

That’s just Bisping, who loves to fight and still has that sense of awe that he gets paid big money to do it. You get the impression that if the sport went away, he’d go out with the boys in the alleyway and see who was the toughest, and then head inside to grab a beer or six and laugh about it all.

He’s a fighter and he lives to fight. While he agrees that St-Pierre, now 36, is marvelously talented, St-Pierre is not exactly Bisping’s style of fighter. He’s not the in-your-face, kill-or-be-killed type of fighter that Bisping so admires.

Michael Bisping, left, and Georges St-Pierre face off during a news conference to promote their upcoming UFC 217 fight. (AP)

Asked if he thought St-Pierre would fight him aggressively, Bisping could barely contain himself.

“I’ll guarantee you, I see more aggression out of my wife when it’s Christmas shopping than what we’ll see out of Georges at Madison Square Garden,” Bisping said.

The knock against Bisping for much of his career has been that he is one-dimensional and can’t survive against an elite wrestler. It’s ironic in a way given that he knocked out Luke Rockhold, a wrestler, to win the belt and stuffs on average around seven of every 10 takedown attempts.

St-Pierre’s MMA wrestling might be the best in the sport’s history, and he was quoted as saying that Bisping is terrified about his wrestling abilities.

If you know Bisping, you know not much terrifies him and certainly not the prospect of a smaller man trying to put him on his back.

“For Georges to use the word terrifying about himself is the most laughable thing I’ve ever heard,” Bisping said. “Georges is a very technical guy but there’s nothing terrifying about him in the slightest. There’s nothing remotely scary about him whatsoever. Now, do I respect his wrestling credentials? Of course, I do. That’s why I’ve brought in way better wrestling coaches. These guys were throwing me around like a bloody … they were tossing me on my head left, right, and center. But guess what? They’re not tossing me on my head anymore.

“So, if Georges can get it done, God bless him. If Georges can beat me, raise his hand and say well done. I’ve got no injuries. I’ve had the best camp of my life. I’m in the best shape of my life. I’m knocking out sparring partners every single sparring session. Now, of course, that sounds like tough talk but it really is true. I’m knocking people out. I’m becoming a knockout artist now with punches, kicks, you name it. People are dropping like flies, and Georges St-Pierre will be the next one to get dropped.”

St-Pierre has frequently said he believes he has obsessive-compulsive disorder, though he has no official medical diagnosis. But he’s so focused on what he’s doing that he said it helps him become a better fighter.

It might hinder him in other areas of his life, but that singular focus has helped him to maximize his God-given talents.

“It’s no doubt made me better as a mixed martial artist,” he said. “It was, ‘Work, work, work. Improve, improve, improve.’ It took over my life, because I was so obsessed with doing one thing.”

In that regard, Bisping is similarly obsessed. He’s laughed and joked and even attended one news conference where he admitted he’d been drinking before he arrived.

This, though, is his moment to capture the respect and to make his point that throughout the years and the taunts and the insults, that he, too, is one of the greatest.

He hasn’t gotten the respect for his achievements that St-Pierre has, and this is his opportunity to get it.

“My main job is to win this fight,” Bisping said. “That’s what matters. When it’s all said and done, winning the fight, going down in the history books as the winner is all I care about.

“I say a lot of things. I goof around. I talk a lot of [expletive]. I’ll be a bit silly here and there but one thing I’m very, very deadly serious about is my fighting. I am serious about this. I’m not [expletive] around there. I don’t [expletive] around in the gym. When I’m in the gym, I’m all business. So yeah, hopefully it does well. Hopefully, we set records. As long as I win, though, nothing else matters.”

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