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    Big fight draws all kinds to Ice Palace

    By BABITA PERSAUD

    © St. Petersburg Times, published February 25, 2001


    TAMPA -- People in suits and T-shirts, locals and out-of-towners, celebs and celebrity watchers -- all came to the Ice Palace on Saturday night to watch modern gladiators Roy Jones Jr. and Derrick Harmon lace up their gloves and fight for money.

    Shelton: In a flash, Jones shows brilliance
    There were dads with sons, couples arm-in-arm and an 18-year-old with heavy gold jewelry and a disposable camera, clicking away at former heavyweight fighter and pitchman George Foreman.

    "I just want one photo of him, that's all," he said, but tight security kept him at bay.

    Don King wasn't there, but his son Carl King was, boasting that football star Ray Lewis would be there as his guest.

    There was a caravan of people from Pensacola, Jones' hometown, among them Chris Ferrei, 22, who has every Jones fight on tape.

    There were some first-timers and lots of devotees, such as George Gonzavelez of Tampa, who said he has attended 160 fights and has seen it all: "People's teeth flying out, blood . . . it is very brutal."

    "Violence," said Anthony Brusa, a stay-at-home dad.

    "Raw power," said David Brewster, an accountant.

    But Billie Jo Williams, a Tallahassee woman in leather pants, was there for another reason. She had seen Jones on BET's Oh Drama! three weeks ago.

    "He's cute," she said.

    The Ice Palace looked nothing like a hockey rink Saturday night. The only ice around was at the bottom of glasses, and on the marquee: "Fire On Ice II, Roy Jones Jr. vs. Derrick Harmon," a fight for the "undisputed light-heavyweight championship of the world."

    A square ring sat in the center of it all, under colored lights and many HBO banners. Long, skirted tables surrounded the ring, fronting rows of folding tables cluttered with monitors and microphones for the press.

    Then came the $300 seats, which were blue folding chairs, albeit with cushioned seats.

    "We like to be close to the action," said John Cellura of Homosassa, who was with his wife, Margie. The first of nine preliminary bouts began at 7 p.m., with the match everyone was waiting for scheduled to start about 10:30 p.m. The buildup is all part of it, said Ferrei, walking around the Ice Palace with his pals.

    There were thick men with huge watches. A woman in stiletto boots. A guy with a dragon tattoo the length of his left arm.

    There was a man in a yellow pinstripe suit standing with another fellow in a blue pinstripe suit -- both wearing fedoras.

    "Anything can happen in boxing," said John Piper, 21. "Someone can get knocked out in the first round. An ear can get bitten off."

    There was one missing prop, though: cigars. The Ice Palace is a no-smoking zone.

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