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Local tells body guard experiences

NATCHEZ — From Mike Tyson to Michael Jordan to O.J. Simpson, Iroc Avelli has seemingly unlimited stories about some of the biggest names in sports.

Avelli, who graduated from South Natchez in 1987 as Ron Williams before moving to Los Angeles and converting to Islam, has spent the last 25-plus years as a certified bodyguard, rubbing elbows with sports celebrities like Randy Moss, Gary Payton and Floyd Mayweather. But if you ask Avelli, the most popular celebrity he ever ran with has to be a tie.

“It’s neck and neck with Mike Tyson and Michael Jordan,” Avelli said. “Trust me, when people meet Michael Jordan and Mike Tyson, and I’m talking actors and actresses too, you ought to see how they light up. I’ve seen that personally.”

Body guard Iroc Avelli poses with Mike Tyson. Avelli served as Tyson’s body guard for 20 years. (Submitted Photo)

Body guard Iroc Avelli poses with Mike Tyson. Avelli served as Tyson’s body guard for 20 years. (Submitted Photo)

Before Avelli made his rounds in Los Angeles, Avelli was playing fullback for South Natchez, going by the nickname, “Purple Rain.” After he graduated from South Natchez, he walked on to play football for the LSU Tigers, but a severe head injury that required surgery took his football career away from him when he was a freshman.

“I felt a knot developing in my head,” Avelli said. “They had to cut my whole head open. My headaches were so bad that I couldn’t move. They finally sent me to Rochester, Minnesota. They discovered it, and if they hadn’t, the next lick I would have took, the best I would have been is paralyzed from the neck down.”

Avelli dropped out of LSU and moved to Los Angeles, where he would meet the likes of former CEO of Death Records Suge Knight before taking a six-week course and earning his bodyguard certification.

The first celebrity Avelli ever guarded was Natchez’s own Alexander O’Neal. Tyson and Payton, two athletes he would later bodyguard, became two of his closest friends, but bodyguard duties for certain celebrities didn’t always produce the happiest of moments. For instance, when Avelli agreed to work for one of his favorite players in former Heisman winner Simpson, he grew to resent a player he once admired.

“O.J. always had an ego problem,” Avelli said. “I used to like to watch him play, and enjoyed watching him play because he had swagger, but I did not enjoy working with him.”

The moments spent with Simpson may payoff for Avelli in the future, though, as Avelli is currently talking about working on a documentary about the former NFL great.

Simpson wasn’t the only bad run-in Avelli had with popular sports figures either. In the mid 1990s, Avelli was a bodyguard for the VIP for a club in Minnesota after the Chicago Bulls played the Minnesota Timberwolves. Avelli said the Bulls were there, and because a girl Avelli used to date had words with Scottie Pippen, Avelli and Pippen exchanged a heated confrontation before another bodyguard split them up. Bouncers in the club came and grabbed Avelli, he recalled, and they told him to go upstairs with them.

“I thought the managers at the club got mad and wanted to turn me in, but they said, ‘Somebody wants to meet you,’” Avelli said. “Up walks Michael Jordan, and I’ve never met him officially up until then.”

Avelli graciously greeted Jordan, and Avelli said Jordan put his arm around Avelli and told him to sit back and talk for a minute after Jordan heard about the exchange between Avelli and Pippen.

“(Pippen and Jordan) had an ego problem with each other,” Avelli said. “We got to talking, and the basketball players told Mike about it. He said, ‘What were you going to do with him?’ While I’m sitting next to Michael Jordan, guess who walked up? Scottie Pippen. Michael was laughing, putting a Cuban cigar in his mouth to try to cover it up.”

With plenty of stories to tell from his body-guarding career, Avelli, who currently resides in Las Vegas and Los Angeles, is on vacation, back in town visiting his mother Helen Williams and his seven siblings. Though Avelli has grown accustomed to the big city life, he said maybe one day if the timing is right, he may settle down at Beau Pre’, but don’t hold him to it.