PHILADELPHIA -- In the hyperbole of professional sports, many an event is advertised as a grudge match.
But there are the exceptions when the description fits, and possibly none qualifies more than the junior middleweight unification title bout between Terry Norris and Paul Vaden that serves as an appetizer to the Mike Tyson-Buster Mathis Jr. heavyweight fight at the Spectrum on Saturday night.
Norris and Vaden not only share the San Diego area as their home, but, according to boxing sources, also had romantic interests in the same woman, who eventually became Norris' wife.
It is a subject both fighters refuse to address, but it obviously has led to deep-seated animosity.
"It's a personal thing; that's all I'm going to say," said Norris (40-6), who regained his World Boxing Council crown last August by demolishing Luis Santana in two rounds. "I have no respect for Paul. He's one of the lowest people on Earth. When I get him in the ring, I'll try to kill him."
"Terry is just an ignorant person," said Vaden (24-0), who captured the International Boxing Federation title last summer by stopping Baltimore's Vincent Pettway in the 12th and final round.
"I don't like what Terry represents. A champion should have class, be articulate and approachable. Let's just say I have a lot of motivation for wanting to whip him."
Norris and Vaden have been tracking each other's ring careers, anticipating they would meet one day. They staged a preview three years ago in a brief sparring session at a San Diego gym. What happened that afternoon is in dispute.
"I broke his nose, and he started bawling like a baby," Norris recalled.
Countered Vaden: "I'd already been sparring that day against two other guys. I only worked a round with Norris. I had a slight cut, that's all. He's blown it all out of proportion."
Norris, 28, a year older than Vaden, turned pro in 1986, when he was 19. He first fought for the title three years later, but was stopped in two rounds by then-World Boxing Association champion Julian Jackson.
A year later, Norris won the WBC title by knocking out John Mugabi in one round. He gained world recognition with a lopsided, 12-round decision over Sugar Ray Leonard at Madison Square Garden in 1991, prompting Leonard's retirement.
Norris' career since has been a roller-coaster ride. He lost and regained his 154-pound crown in fights with Simon Brown. In his first two fights with Santana, he was disqualified for scoring illegal knockouts, but finally defeated Santana with a clean, second-round KO.
Vaden, an outstanding amateur boxer, waited until he was almost 24 before fighting professionally and remained relatively obscure until his upset of Pettway.
"Norris was telling everyone that Pettway would knock me out," said Vaden. "I just think he was hoping somebody would beat me so that he wouldn't have to fight me."
Said Norris: "He's just jealous of me and what I've accomplished in the ring. I've got two houses and 13 cars. And he's still trying to be Michael Jackson," referring to Vaden's penchant for writing songs and romantic poems.
"All he can do is box. I'm too strong for him. I'll wear him down, knock him out and shut him up."
Vaden acknowledged that Norris is the heavier hitter, but said he would neutralize him with his quick hands and elusive style, just as he did to frustrate Pettway.
"Terry tries to steamroll his opponents," Vaden said. "When he finds I'm not easy to hit, he'll get flustered, lose control and leave his weak chin wide open," Vaden said. "Jackson and Brown knocked him out. Even Santana rocked him.
"Look, I could have fought someone easy after winning the title. But I chose to fight Norris. Yes, it's a grudge match. But I love living dangerously."