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LAS VEGAS – There were injuries, delays, ships leaving and returning to port – the fight between UFC middleweight champion Michael Bisping and ex-welterweight kingpin Georges St-Pierre at UFC 217 was not a lock until August.

But through its ups and downs, Bisping (30-7 MMA, 20-7 UFC) always thought his date with St-Pierre (25-2 MMA, 19-2 UFC) would come, even if the reason wasn’t the most flattering to him.

“I knew this fight would come off, because he hasn’t got the balls to fight anyone that he doesn’t think he can beat, like Anderson Silva, like many other people,” Bisping said today at a news conference in Las Vegas for the Nov. 4 pay-per-view event at Madison Square Garden in New York City.

Such a point of view fits in perfectly with the brash Brit’s style, of course. But you could also forgive him if he didn’t genuinely believe it’s true.

During his reign as welterweight champ, interest in a superfight between St-Pierre and Silva went on for so long it took on a life of its own. St-Pierre kept pumping the brakes, maintaining he needed time to properly bulk up before facing Silva. Eventually, the fire underneath the fantasy bout died down. And then, St-Pierre stepped away from the sport after a highly controversial win over Johny Hendricks in 2013.

Since word of the potential Bisping fight surfaced, St-Pierre’s motives for returning to a UFC division in which he never fought, long after the opportunity appeared ripe for the taking, have been amply questioned.

Today, the ex-champ seemed intent to address the doubts. Bisping’s hazing certainly provided an easy opening.

“So, one time I’ve been offered the fight (with Silva) is when I stopped fighting after my fight with Hendricks,” St-Pierre said. “After my fight with Hendricks, (UFC President) Dana (White) called me and said, ‘Do you want to fight Anderson Silva?’ But I didn’t want to fight anybody. Not Silva. You would have put a three-foot midget, and (I wouldn’t want to fight him). I just wanted to take a break. That’s the only time.

“There’s been a lot of talk about fighting, but never has anything significant been proposed. It’s all rumor and talks. If I go up in weight class, I need time to gain weight and adjust myself for that challenge. At that time, I was very busy. I had challenge after challenge. I was fighting all these guys at 170 that were challenging me one after the other. So if I do something, I want to focus on it and do it well. That’s why I’ve been preparing myself for more than six months to fight Bisping. And I put on some weight, and I feel good now, it feels natural, and I’m ready to go.”

Naturally, Bisping was unconvinced.

“He didn’t want to fight because Johny Hendricks hit him in the head so many times, he thought he’d been abducted by aliens,” he shot back. “I’m surprised you’re not wearing a tinfoil hat today to stop the messages coming. Dude, I’m going to hit you so many times, you’re going to think you’re going to disappear on the mothership.”

The middleweight champ is happy to pick at St-Pierre, as he is with any foe who agrees to a fight. But he knows a lot about facing doubters. He’s been written off after multiple high-profile losses. When he finally managed to win the title, critics and potential opponents had a field day when he fought Dan Henderson. Getting credit has never been easy.

“I’ve never avoided a fight in my life,” Bisping said. “And Dana is standing right here. In fact, I accepted the winner of Yoel (Romero) vs. (Robert) Whittaker (at UFC 213). We figured it all out. Prior to them fighting, in the backroom, I accepted the fight with Whittaker or Romero.

“Whittaker won the right, so that means Romero is at the back of the line, and then Whittaker didn’t want to do ‘The Ultimate Fighter’ and injured his knee. So that leaves me without a fight again, and in the meantime, ‘GSP’ grew a pair.”

Whatever ultimately brought them together, Bisping and St-Pierre have something else in common – a big question mark hanging over their next move.

Both stars have talked about retirement as an imminent possibility after UFC 217. Bisping could sail into the horizon with a win over St-Pierre, which would give him wins over two of the sport’s most celebrated and dominant champions. St-Pierre has said he could walk away for good if he loses in New York. Even if he wins, he has only one contractual obligation at middleweight before he’s afforded the opportunity to return to his native division.

One thing is for sure: The sight of the UFC’s former face alongside the once-dogged middleweight hopeful is something fans probably won’t see again.

For more on UFC 217, check out the UFC Rumors section of the site.

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