A few weeks ago I had posted a story about the Cigar Marine, Staff Sergeant Nick Popaditch.
Britton sent me this great story about Nick Popaditch and Don King, and, since I hadn't heard about it before, I tried getting more information from the US Marine Corps. It looks like the Marines pulled this story (which appears to be legit from several sources). It isn't on their site and google referrals for the title turn up 404 error messages; however, Google has it cached exactly like the email that I received from Britton. Possibly, someone at the fight or Don King himself didn't want it known that the Marines got tickets and the royal treatment?
Anyway, here is the story (I added the photos from the Google cached page) of Marine Staff Sergeant Nick Popaditch, the Cigar Marine, meeting Don King.
Combat Center Marines, Doc, part of the 'Main Event'
Story by Sgt. Jennie E. Haskamp
MARINE CORPS AIR GROUND COMBAT CENTER Twentynine Palms, Calif.(May 15, 2004) -- I am not a boxing fan. Before May 13, I didn't even know who Roy Jones Jr. and Antonio Tarver were. The only fight I'd ever watched was Trinidad vs. De La Hoya-the first time they fought.
That all changed with a phone call from a man who introduced himself as Steve Brenner and said he worked for a boxing promoter named Don King. I said, "Who's Don King?" Seriously, I did. If I told you that I didn't immediately know who Don King was, you might not believe me-unless you know me in which case you're probably laughing.
Mr. Brenner gave me a minute to catch up, and then explained that his boss wanted to invite some Marines to the fight that weekend-the fight in question being the much-anticipated Jones Jr. vs. Tarver rematch (something about it being personal this time?)
I asked how many tickets he had in mind, and he asked how many I wanted. I immediately told him about Gunnery Sgt. Nick Popaditch from 1st Tank Battalion who recently returned from Iraq. After a brief description of Gunny Pop's story, I boldly asked Mr. Brenner if we could have a ticket for the gunny and his wife.
Somewhere in the back of my conscience, I knew that asking for two tickets was rude-but I really wanted the gunny's wife to be able to go too.
Mr. Brenner laughed and said, "Well, young lady we had in mind to give you 200 tickets, but we'd certainly like to do something for your gunny. Can my boss call him and speak to him?"
The next day, while I scrambled to distribute the tickets-which hadn't arrived from Las Vegas yet-Gunny Popaditch received a call from Mr. King, thanking him for his service and that of his fellow Marines and Sailors. (Gunny knew who Don King was.)
Late Thursday, I received a call from Coylette James who also works for Mr. King. This time, I didn't ask, "Don who?" She said there was a problem with the shipping company and would it be OK if she sent the tickets in the morning via air freight.
As promised, the tickets arrived at the Palm Springs airport, and when my two young Marines returned with the box, we were all shocked. True to their word, they'd sent us 200 free tickets. What they didn't tell us is that they were $400 and $600 seats.
It was then my Marines convinced me I should attend the fight-even though I'm not a fan. Ms. James called again, to ensure we'd received the tickets and to ask where the gunny would be sitting. It seems her boss (Don King, I reminded myself) wanted to introduce the Gunny before the fight.
After I got my emotions under control, and she assured me they didn't send the expensive tickets on accident, I gave her his seat number, and asked for the reservation number at the Mandalay Bay (Who knew on a fight weekend getting a room at the Mandalay Bay would be like pulling teeth? Apparently everyone but me.) I actually thought I could get my Marines a room to share at the hotel-and one for the gunny too. Ms James simply took down our last names and assured me two rooms would be ready.
As I left work Friday night, I headed to cash sales to buy some chevrons and coins to take to the Exchange for a plaque. My grandma always said, "If you are invited to dinner, take dessert." I figured I'd buy a plaque for Gunny to give to Mr. King, as a "thank you" from the Combat Center Marines and Sailors.
I got there two minutes before the Plaque Shoppe closed-but he was nice enough to sell me an elaborate case to put my trinkets in and even let me take home his T-square and some two-sided tape. I left him with a few lines to be engraved the next morning and went home to make a plaque. How hard can it be? I took a semester of wood shop in junior high school, afterall.
Saturday morning, I took my homemade plaque to get the engraved plate glued to it. At the Exchange, I overheard Marines talking about the fight-"We don't know where the tickets came from, but we're going to the Jones-Tarver fight tonight. Can you believe it?"
The excitement level at the Exchange was contagious, and I as I drove over to pick up Gunny and April Popaditch, I realized I was excited too.
In Vegas, there was a problem with our room reservations, but Ms. James squared it away almost immediately. I thanked her and asked how she fixed it. She said, "Prayer works, girl. Prayer works."
After we changed into Charlies and headed to the event center, our night seemed to explode.
Ms. James and Mr. Brenner met us at the security gate, and ushered us into the King Productions pressroom. A steady stream of people came in and out as we sat there. Gunny couldn't see them well enough to recognize them-and April and I were equally oblivious to their fame and status.
As Mr. Brenner took me to get my press credentials-they'd assured me I'd be able to take photos of Gunny Pop and Mr. King-Gunny and April were taken to their seats.
When I finally made it to the floor, Gunny and April were engaged in conversation with Carl King. (Don King's son, someone explained when I asked.) Rather than go to our ticketed seats, Carl invited us to sit with him, on the floor, until the people who held tickets for those seats arrived.
As the evening progressed, boxing champions, movie stars, NFL quarterbacks, rap stars and average citizens made their way over to say hello to Gunny and to thank him for his service.
Michael Buffer came over to meet gunny and write down some information about his Marine Corps service and how he was injured. Gunny explained that the 'guy in the white coat' was Michael Buffer, a famous sports announcer.
Finally, someone I recognized-Mr. T-arrived. I asked if they would bring him over to greet my Gunny.
He started barking, "We've got Marines here? Ooh rah, Ooh rah," as he made his way over to where we were standing. He grabbed Gunny's hand and posed for photos, and when I pointed out there were more Marines in the stand, he headed right to where they were.
The Marines went nuts as Mr. T ignored his security detail and climbed up into the stands where they were, signing autographs and posing for pictures, saying, "I pity the fool mess with these Marines."
Prior to the title bout, Mr. Brenner invited Gunny to the ring. We had expected Gunny to be invited, but at the last minute they included several more Marines. With "Doc" and the Marines standing nearby Gunny entered the ring.
Once Gunny was in the ring I went up to hand him the plaque. "Come on in, young lady," said a very large man wearing a black suit, holding the ropes open, just like they do on T.V.-one up with his massive hand, one pressed beneath his foot.
"Me, uh, no, sir, I'm not coming in-I uh, I'm just going to give Gunny the plaque. The Marines and that Doc down there are coming in," I stammered.
I'm sure I sounded like a twit, and I was actually stammering, and he coerced me into the ring, assuring me that all of them were coming in as well.
So now there I was, standing in the ring, next to Gunny and the rest of our Marines and the Doc-looking at Don King and Michael Buffer.
Michael Buffer made some announcements I didn't hear, and then said he wanted to introduce "a hero... a true heavyweight... a champion."
"He served in Desert Storm, Operation Iraqi Freedom and volunteered to return for Operation Iraqi Freedom 2," he sang into the microphone. He said a lot more, but I was in a daze. I know he mentioned 1st Tank Battalion and MCAGCC, but what stands out is the way he roared, "Gunnery Sgt. Niiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiik Popaditch!"
All of a sudden I knew who this man was. He is the "Let's get ready to ruuuuuuuuuuuuumble" guy.
Gunny gave the plaque to Mr. King, and thanked him for all of the Marines and Sailors, there, home and forward deployed. Don King had tears in his eyes when he took the plaque and thanked Gunny Pop, and all of us in uniform. He said us doing what we do as Marines allows people like him to do what they do.
Patty LaBelle sang the national anthem as we stood there at attention, and I prayed that the tears in my eyes would go unnoticed by the camera.
My thoughts drifted to my husband Adrian, in Iraq with 3/7, and I wondered if he would ever get to see this footage. He, more than anyone else, would appreciate the irony of me being in the ring.
After photos in the ring, Doc and the Marines made their way back to their seats and I asked Joe Brown, a former Marine Corps corporal, and currently a boxing commissioner, if Gunny could watch the main event from somewhere closer than we were sitting.
After Mr. 'Cpl.' Brown found Gunny a seat between himself and the vice-president of boxing, April and I headed to our seats. We took a detour to get a Pepsi, and while I was signing the receipt for our drinks, people started screaming and running out of the stadium shouting, 'Knockout!'
As luck would have it, I missed the entire fight-all two rounds of it.
I didn't care though. What would follow was better than any fight. Antonio Tarver, the new light heavyweight champion of the world, invited Gunnery Sgt Nick Popaditch up into the ring to take pictures. For the rest of the evening, everywhere we went, people stopped Gunny and asked him for his autograph-asked to have their picture taken with him-thanked him for his service.
People bought our drinks, waited in line to meet Gunny, even shook my hand and thanked me as well.
They treated all of like heroes that night. Marines called and e-mailed me to tell me that people bought them drinks, paid their cover charges, and thanked them everywhere they went-all over Las Vegas that night.
It was refreshing, to go from seeing the media portray the military in such a bad light to being in Las Vegas that night. I hope all of the Marines and Sailors in Iraq get a chance to experience that when they come home.
I may not be a boxing aficionado, and I may not recognize all of the people I have photos of from that night, but I can tell you this. I have never been more proud to be a United States Marine, and I will always know who Don King is--the first time someone asks!