TORONTO — It seemed only fitting that the UFC chose the Hockey Hall of Fame to hype Georges St-Pierre’s comeback fight against middleweight champion Michael Bisping.
Back in 2010, UFC president Dana White stirred a Maple Leaf hornet’s nest when he declared that GSP, then welterweight title-holder and mixed martial arts’ pay-per-view king, was the "most famous athlete to ever, ever — in the history of the world — come out of Canada."
When someone brought up Wayne Gretzky’s name, White doubled down.
"Super nice guy," he said of No. 99. "Got nothing against him. Fly him over to England, fly him over to Asia, fly him to anywhere in Europe, Georges St-Pierre gets mobbed, nobody knows who the hell Wayne Gretzky is."
Seven years later, White may have seen the irony of sitting centre stage in the Hockey Hall of Fame’s Great Hall, with Gretzky and other hockey legends looking down from their induction panels.
"This is cool," said White, no doubt hoping that GSP’s appeal lives on four years after his last fight.
While White and GSP were on their best behaviour Friday, Bisping (31-7-0) embraced his role as heel ahead of the Nov. 4 showdown at UFC 217 at Madison Square Garden.
The brash Brit, who now calls sunny California home, repeated many of the slurs he had hurled at a Las Vegas news conference a week ago.
Dispensing with the sunglasses this time, Bisping made fun of St-Pierre’s French accent, accused him of taking steroids, called him a boring fighter and a "lizard," and dubbed the pro-GSP fans in the audience "douchebags."
"You’re going to jab-jab, double-leg (takedown), bore everyone to sleep," Bisping said dismissively. "I, on the other side, am going to try and knock you out."
"I am going to do whatever I want to do whenever I want to do it," replied St-Pierre, promising he won’t need five rounds to finish Bisping.
For the most part, St-Pierre opted for the high road while Bisping happily splashed in the mud.
"All this is a mind game … I do my talking in the fight," said St-Pierre.
Dispensing with his bad-boy-on-a-sugar-high persona for a moment, Bisping said he respected St-Pierre (25-2-0) as a great fighter and a great martial artist.
"I’m having a bit of fun with him," he said. "Of course I’m going to bust his balls. I’m going to bust his face in three weeks."
Bisping, who in real life is both charismatic and charming, added an F-bomb for good measure.
As in Las Vegas, Bisping was the instigator when the two fighters squared off for photographers. Bisping, lips flapping, touched St-Pierre’s chin with a finger and was quickly shoved backward by his opponent as White stepped in.
Most bookies have made the 36-year-old St-Pierre a slight favourite over the 38-year-old Bisping.
In his prime, St-Pierre had more tools than Bisping. He brought great cardio, effective punching, excellent takedowns, good submissions and a smart game plan to each fight.
The machine-like St. Pierre obsessed over opponents, then beat them.
He took everything Jon Fitch, B.J. Penn, Thiago Alves, Dan Hardy, Josh Koscheck, Jake Shields, Carlos Condit and Nick Diaz had to offer and came out on top in his first eight successful title defences.
But he looked human last time out, winning a razor-thin decision over Johny Hendricks at UFC 167 in November 2013 before stepping aside, saying his life had become "completely insane" and a "freaking zoo."
The question is has the break rejuvenated St-Pierre or left him in the wake of the competition? And he can he handle the bigger Bisping in the move up to middleweight?
Bisping has fought eight times since GSP stepped aside, winning six fights including his last five. He took the title off Luke Rockhold at UFC 199 in June 2016 and then defended it last October at UFC 204 by avenging an earlier loss to Dan Henderson.
Bisping has always talked a good fight and in recent years has delivered more than a few.
He has had fun along the way, memorably describing Brazilian Vitor Belfort as having "the body of a lion but the heart of a chicken." And he dissed Alan Belcher’s Johnny Cash tattoo as the worst ink "outside of that fat pervert on ‘The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo."’
Bisping has also taken his lumps. Henderson knocked him out in savage fashion in their first meeting at UFC 100. And a Belfort head kick in 2013 may have triggered serious eye issues that he initially chose to ignore.
He eventually saw a doctor when he could hardly see his hand in front of his face. He was diagnosed with a detached retina, which was followed by glaucoma, cataracts and another detached retina.
The UFC made him see an independent doctor before clearing him to compete again.
A fighter who has made the most of his talents, Bisping does a lot of things well without any one thing standing out. He has an effective defence and likes to press the pace and move, tiring his opponent out.
He has come a long way from 2003 when he was on an assembly line making furniture. Gambling on a career in combat sports, he quit his job.
Commuting in England to train with his coach, he sometimes slept in his battered Volvo before returning home on weekends to make some cash as a DJ.
His bank account will grow considerably Nov. 4.
St-Pierre says he will retire if he loses. If he wins, he is contractually obligated to fight Robert Whittaker, who claimed the interim middleweight title in July while Bisping was out injured.
Bisping said he will keep fighting.