Tony Oakey has delivered an emotional tribute to Dean Francis following his death.
And the Leigh Park Warrior has told how his old foe called him from his death bed and they shared a heart-rending conversation together.
Boxing is in mourning after Francis lost his fight with terminal cancer on Friday at the age of 44.
Oakey and the former European champion went toe-to-toe in a brutal British title showdown in 2008.
Francis emerged victorious over nine ferocious rounds at the Mountbatten Centre in a clash which was named fight of the year.
Portsmouth’s most decorated professional boxer revealed how he took a call from Francis just days ago, as his cancer battle came to an end.
Oakey told how he was left in tears by the words exchanged between the two Spartans.
He said: ‘I’m truly saddened by the news of Dean’s death.
‘He rang me from his death bed to say thanks for the memories.
‘Dean said people will never understand what we went through and experienced in the ring.
‘He went on to say he hoped I have a happy life and value it.
‘Dean said he’d had his life taken from him and you should never take it for granted.
‘I won’t lie, I was left it in tears.
‘I went out, bought a few beers and sat in the garden thinking about it all.
‘When you trade punches with a person in the way we did, it’s hard to explain the respect and bond you gain.
‘What we went through will never be forgotten.’
The fight between Oakey and Francis was televised on Sky Sports and delivered a spectacular to-and-fro battle which left both the TV audience and Mountbatten Centre crowd in awe of what they were witnessing.
Oakey started the quicker of the pair and left Francis with a cut above his left eye.
The clash saw relentless exchanges with Francis coming back into the meeting and eventually catching the champion with a fearsome shot in the ninth.
The former WBU king somehow beat the count but a further flurry from Francis saw the referee step in.
Respect between the pair was evident in the aftermath of the showdown and the regard they had for each other has spanned the years.
Francis was given four months to live when he was diagnosed with cancer in January last year.
Oakey wasn’t shocked to see him confound the doctor’s prognosis.
He added: ‘Dean was a true warrior and it’s no surprise to see the way he battled to the end.
‘If any of his family or friends need to hear it they only have to speak to me and I’ll tell them what a great champion and ferocious puncher he was.
‘I just thank him for everything we shared.’