David Haye's defence of his World Boxing Association heavyweight title against Audley Harrison at the MEN Arena in Manchester on 13 November was confirmed today, setting up a fight that could generate more money than any other in British history.
The pair were good friends in their amateur days, but a variety of perceived slights means they are now the best of enemies – and yesterday's official announcement was a foul-mouthed face-off that came close to turning nasty.
"I don't like him and he doesn't like me," said Haye. "He's bitter and twisted and delusional, and I feel sorry for him. This is the end of his road. His stupid journey will soon be over."
Harrison, who is 38 and often shared rooms with Haye at international tournaments 10 or more years ago, looked hurt at times but insisted that Haye caused the rift.
"We stopped being close because David turned his back on me," insisted Harrison, whose career has come close to oblivion on several occasions. "This is about the ultimate redemption for me – I've had to struggle back from the deepest holes and I've done that on my own."
Haye admitted that Harrison was not his first-choice opponent but conceded that the domestic showdown, the biggest since Lennox Lewis v Frank Bruno in 1993, would be a massive attraction. "The public wanted it," said Haye. "What could I do? He's the best available fighter out there."
In 2000 Harrison won a gold medal at the Sydney Olympics, for which Haye failed to qualify, and agreed a high-profile and profitable deal with the BBC before his popularity dipped. He became something of pantomine figure and relocated to America from London, but his image has softened recently since joining Eddie Hearn, who negotiated his return from the margins to a fight that is set to break records.