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Carl Icahn, Bill Ackman: Bickering billionaires go public

Carl Icahn and fellow billionaire faced off on CNBC. At the core of the Carl Icahn-Bill Ackman dispute is disagreement over the prospects of nutritional supplements company Herbalife.

By Jeff CoxCNBC.com Staff Writer / January 25, 2013

A combination file photo shows investor Carl Icahn (left) speaking at a New York conference in 2007 and William Ackman, CEO of Pershing Square Management LP, in Calgary, Alberta, in May 2012. The two biggest hedge fund activist investors squared off on CNBC Friday during a lunchtime interview.

Staff/Reuters/File

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Call them the "Bickering Billionaires," two financial titans who squared off in a breathtaking, unforgettable smackdown Friday on CNBC.

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Bill Ackman, the head of Pershing Square Capital Management and its $12 billion in assets, squared off against Carl Icahn, the fellow activist investor and one of the richest men in America with an estimated fortune of nearly $15 billion.

The debate revolved around charges and countercharges, with Icahn calling Ackman dishonest and "a major loser," while Ackman countered that Icahn is a bully "not used to someone standing up to him."

Traders at the New York Stock Exchange punctuated the air with "oohs" and "aahs" during the arguing, while social networks lit up, with financial journalists and market watchers tweeting and posting as fast as their fingers could type. (Read More:Ackman: Icahn Wanted to Be My Friend, I Said No)

The setting was during the final half-hour of CNBC's "Fast Money Halftime Report" with Scott Wapner, who found himself as much of the story as the two participants.

Icahn repeatedly berated Wapner. Icahn insisted he was the one being bullied and on several occasions used the word "bullsh--" to describe his feelings about the on-air forum.

"I've really sort of had it with this Ackman guy," Icahn said early on.

"Carl, you think I want to you invest with you?" Ackman charged later.

"I wouldn't invest with you if you were the last man on Earth!" Icahn bellowed in an exchange typical of the show's tenor.

At the core of the dispute was Icahn's furor with Ackman over the latter's short position on Herbalife, the nutritional supplement and dietary product company that Ackman has called a pyramid scheme. (Read MoreSelling the American Dream, a CNBC Investigation)

In turn, Ackman released a statement Thursday that recalled a legal dispute between the two parties 10 years ago that resulted in Icahn having to pay Ackman's investors $4.5 million plus interest.

While each combatant scored style points during the battle, if the winner was to be declared from the performance of Herbalife, Icahn scored a clear victory.

The company's shares surged as much as $2.15 in the half-hour melee, though gains cooled afterwards.

Some other zingers:

From Ackman: "I was concerned about dealing with Carl Icahn, because Carl Icahn unfortunately does not have a good reputation for being a handshake guy."

Icahn: "He's the quintessential example that on Wall Street, if you want a friend, get a dog."

Ackman, again: "What I can tell you is, this is not an honest guy, and this is not a guy who keeps his word. This is a guy who takes advantage of little people."

And the Icahn counter: "I appreciate Bill that you called me a great investor. I thank you for that. Unfortunately I can't say the same for you."

Indeed, it was great theater.

Twitter lit up, with participants frantically posting updates.

"Move over Snooki and The Situation.. here comes CNBC's version of "Jerry Springer With Limos" (Hat tip Sir Arthur!!)," investor Doug Kass tweeted.

CNBC's own Jim Cramer, host of "Mad Money," wondered, "Whatever happened to the dignity of wealth!??"

And financial news site Business Insider simply labeled it "The Greatest Moment In Financial TV History."

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