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UFC 217: Pros predict Michael Bisping vs. Georges St-Pierre

Esther Lin, MMA Fighting

NEW YORK — There are so many questions heading into the UFC 217 main event Saturday night. Michael Bisping is defending his UFC middleweight title against Georges St-Pierre in a battle of two of the most successful fighters in the history of the sport.

But St-Pierre has not fought since 2013 and his big run came holding the welterweight belt. This bout will be contested at 15 pounds heavier.

Then, there’s Bisping, who has been panned for not fighting the rightful contenders in his division. After knocking out Luke Rockhold to win the belt last year, Bisping overcame a battle and took a beating against middle-aged Dan Henderson.

So, wow much does the 38-year-old Bisping have left? And how much — if anything — has the 34-year-old St-Pierre lost? Can he deal with going up to middleweight and fighting a bigger man?

These are the pertinent questions going into the bout and no one really has the answers. UFC 217 fighters were basically split on who would win Wednesday at media day. And Daniel Cormier, the UFC light heavyweight champion and now broadcaster, wouldn’t make a prediction Friday at a FOX Sports media lunch.

“If anybody can do it, it’s him, right?” Cormier said of GSP. “It seemed like when he left, he had room to spare. And then the gap had started to close. But I believe he still trains, I know he’s really committed to this sport. I bet he got better during his time off.”

That said, according to Cormier, St-Pierre might get a surprise against Bisping. “DC” believes one of the reasons GSP is coming back at middleweight is because of Bisping’s perceived vulnerability. Cormier said if Yoel Romero or Robert Whittaker was the middleweight champ, GSP might be fighting Tyron Woodley for the welterweight title in his big comeback fight.

“Michael Bisping being the champion probably helped,” Cormier said. “Everybody thinks they can beat Michael Bisping. Until you’re in there with Michael BIsping and you’re like, ‘Oh shit, he’s a lot better than I thought.’

“Bisping is tough as nails. He’s f**king good, man. People are like, shit, this guy is faster, he’s stronger and this guy is in great shape. Bisping never gets tired.”

And then there’s that four-year layoff for St-Pierre. That compounds things, certainly.

“If I had to bet my money, like straight money, I would probably go Bisping,” said James Vick, who fights Joseph Duffy on Saturday. “I mean, four years, that is a long time off. And the size difference. But I’m interested to see what happens. I’m definitely gonna be hurrying back to watch the main card as best I can.”

Randy Brown, who fights Mickey Gall at UFC 217, is with Vick. He doesn’t think GSP can overcome the layoff and the size discrepancy.

“I don’t think so,” Brown said. “I like GSP, man. But moving up in weight class after all this time. Bisping is old school, too. But he stayed in it. I’m thinking Bisping. Bisping TKO, probably.”

Never mind all that, according to Walt Harris. St-Pierre’s fight IQ and experience will win the day. That, the heavyweight said, will trump the rest.

“I feel like his mental game, it’s on another level,” said Harris, who takes on Mark Godbeer. “I think he’s been to that level and tasted it. The only thing that worries me, just like I’m sure everybody else, is that four years. And Bisping has been a little bit more active. … I think Georges will find a way to win. I think he’s just that good.”

Stephen Thompson has trained with St-Pierre at Tristar Gym in Montreal and he concurs.

“How many times has he done this?” said “Wonderboy,” who fights Jorge Masvidal on Saturday. “He’s been doing it for many years. I think he’s gonna go out there and have some fun, man. It’s a win-win for him. He’s been off for four years, he’s moving up in weight class, so win or lose, everybody is gonna have mad respect for him. I think he’s gonna go out there and put on a good show.”

GSP was never an amateur wrestler, but he somehow became one of the best MMA wrestlers of all time. Cormier, an Olympic wrestler, lauded his technical skills in wrestling. And he has one thing over so many others, Cormier added.

“Timing,” Cormier said. “He’s got great timing. He sets these traps, man. Like jab, jab, jab, jab. Just throwing something in your face and it just frustrates you. And when you go, ‘f*ck that,’ that’s when he shoots on you. He’s got great timing, man. And he’s very smart.”

As a wrestler, Corey Anderson sees those skills — and many others that St-Pierre has — as an advantage over Bisping, who is more of a stand-up fighter.

“I’m picking GSP, 100 percent,” said Anderson, who fights Ovince Saint Preux on Saturday. “It’s a whole different thing. When you’ve been a champ — and I’ve been a wrestling champ, I know — when you step on that mat, no matter how much time off, I’ve come back from injuries, no matter how much time, you know. ‘This guy doesn’t have experience like mine. This is mine, I’ve gotta get it back. Time to claim it.’ You just gotta get it back. It's like riding a bike.”

Godbeer doesn’t want to make a prediction. It’s a first-ballot UFC Hall of Famer and one of the best pound-for-pound fighters ever against one of Godbeer’s countryman.

“Ring rust does play a big factor,” Godbeer said. “It would be good to see how he deals with it. But the guy is an athlete and he’s been in these situations time and time again. Dealing with the UFC crowd and so forth. Yeah, it’s a tough one. I’ve sat on the fence. He’s one of my favorite fighters against a Brit. I’m on the fence.”

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