Georges St-Pierre returned to a conquering hero's welcome until Michael Bisping entered the room.
"I know why you picked me," the charismatic Brit told the mixed martial arts great from Canada at a news conference. "You think I'm an easy fight, just like [former champion] Luke Rockhold did … time and again, I proved them wrong. This is a guy – the greatest of all time – he thinks I'm an easier fight, that I'm easy pickings. He wants it to look like he's stepping up in weight because he's a legend. No, he's [not]."
The two UFC veterans will meet, likely July 8 at T-Mobile Arena in Las Vegas, in Bisping's second defense of his middleweight belt.
Former long-reigning welterweight champion St-Pierre (25-2) returns to the octagon for the first time in more than three years, when he walked away following a brutal victory over Johny Hendricks and aired some criticism at the UFC's then-lax anti-doping enforcement.
"It's been a long process," St-Pierre said. "I'm very happy to be here. I'm so excited. The company has changed. I feel rejuvenated.
"I'm not going to be the old GSP. If I come back as the same person I used to be when I was successful, I'm going to have a very bad night. When I come back, my trainer, my partners and I are all convinced I'll be a better version of the fighter I was. I've reached a perfect peak with more wisdom, knowledge and power than I've ever had."
He said the UFC's alliance with the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency a few years ago and the strides in rooting out cheaters helped pave his return.
"Nothing is ever perfect, but it's much better – and much better than many sports," St-Pierre said. "The reason I was so insistent on that is that we don't play games. We fight. A win or a loss has an aspect on people's lives. Sometimes they don't come back the same. This was an important time for UFC to give USADA [the authority] to take care of the job."
Of course, Bisping, who arrived late to the Friday session at T-Mobile Arena, used his opponent's stance as an opportunity to get under his skin.
"While you were away, because you were so scared of everybody taking steroids, I was man enough to still fight those guys," Bisping said. "You went away to chase aliens – I don't know what you did – and now you're coming back with the sport at a different place. Game over."
St-Pierre suggested to Bisping that "Vegas got the best of you," chiding that Bisping was late because he was drinking, and telling him at a face-off for photographers, "You smell like alcohol."
To which Bisping responded, "I'm English. I'm in Las Vegas. … I'll go out on an all-night bender, and still beat you, pal."
He said St-Pierre's size difference could hurt him, although the former welterweight says he walks around at nearly 190 pounds and vows to add more muscle mass while also continuing to train in boxing under Freddie Roach at Wild Card Boxing Club in Hollywood.
"I wanted to make a big move when I came back. Right now, the guy who has the highest stock is Michael Bisping," St-Pierrre said. "I'm 36 years old. I don't have a lot of time, but I'm going to do as big of a fight as I can. I'm here to do a job and it's going to be to beat that drunk man over there. You don't scare me one bit. I'll beat this guy and see what the next challenge is."
St-Pierre then gave Bisping some praise.
"He's a fighter, he's a grinder and, outside of his attitude, I admire that," he said.