By Peter Schwartz
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During its first 43 years of existence, the original Nassau Coliseum saw its share of heavyweights throwing punches.
The likes of Clark Gillies, Bobby Nystrom, Mick Vukota, Steve Webb, and Matt Martin always thrilled Islanders fans by dropping the gloves and going at it with the likes of Terry O’Reilly, Dave Schultz, Tie Domi, Tiger Williams, and Joey Kocur.
There was also that memorable boxing match between Mr. T and Rowdy Roddy Piper at the during WrestleMania 2 in 1986.
All joking aside, the coliseum did host a few boxing events over the years.
George Foreman recorded a fifth-round TKO over Joe Frazier in their second fight on June 15, 1976. Gerry Cooney knocked out Ron Lyle in the first round on Oct. 24, 1980. On March 10, 1986, an up and coming fighter named Mike Tyson ran his record to 19-0 with a third-round knockout of someone named Steve Zouski.
Boxing wasn’t a frequent event at the barn, but it will be when the new Nassau Coliseum opens next spring. Brooklyn Sports & Entertainment, the company that operates Barclays Center, will also control, operate and program the new coliseum. It expects to bring six to eight events a year to the new coliseum as part of its “Brooklyn Boxing on Long Island” promotion.
“It’s history in the making,” said Chris Algieri, one of four Long Island fighters who joined the media at the coliseum on Wednesday to take a look at how the renovations are progressing.
Algieri is 21-3-0 with eight knockouts. He is a former WBO Super Lightweight champion, a belt he won by beating Ruslan Provodnikov at Barclays Center in 2014. Algieri graduated from Stony Brook University with an undergraduate degree in health care management and also earned a master’s degree from New York Institute of Technology.
The Huntington native is excited about fighting on his home turf when the new coliseum opens up.
“I’ve been blessed to be able to be part of the resurgence that is Long Island boxing,” Algieri said. “This is just the next step. We have a Long Island venue now that we can pack out with all of the raucous Long Island fans.”
Cletus Seldin is another Long Islander who will help draw boxing fans to the coliseum. The Shirley native, known as the “Hebrew Hammer,” is 19-0 with 16 knockouts. He is ranked fifth in the world among super lightweights by the WBC and is the reigning WBC International Silver Super Lightweight champion.
Even with construction ongoing, Seldin said he is ready to fight right now at the coliseum.
“I think it’s perfect the way it is right now with that Roman Coliseum look,” joked Selden. “Put us in the ring and let us go.”
Also eager to step into the coliseum ring is “Irish” Seanie Monaghan from Long Beach. Currently 27-0 with 17 knockouts, Monaghan holds the WBO, NABO and WBC Continental Americas Light Heavyweight titles. He’s very familiar with the area around the coliseum. He runs at the track across the street at Mitchell Athletic Complex and his wife graduated from Hofstra.
When the coliseum opens, he’ll actually get to throw punches inside a ring and not outside.
“It wouldn’t be my first fight on Hempstead Turnpike,” Monaghan said. “I used to get into fun bar fights back in my college days.”
All of the fighters received a first-hand look at the work being done to transform the coliseum into a modern, first-class arena. The plan is to open the doors in March or April of 2017.
“We’re doing great and we’re on schedule,” said Rebecca D’Eloia, senior vice president for development at Forest City Ratner, the company handling the coliseum renovations.
Right now, a lot of the underground work, including plumbing, is advancing. There is tile and floor prep taking place, as well as work on the coliseum’s new exterior.
“We’re in the process of painting and what we’re also doing is installing the anchor bolts for the new facades,” D’Eloia said. “We have this decorative metal design that’s going to be attached to the outside of the building.”
People who drive by the coliseum over the next month or two will see steel going up on the side of the arena and then the panels and metal fins will be installed through the winter. Inside the coliseum, there will be prep work done before the new seats are installed starting in November.
When finished, the new Nassau Coliseum will retain its intimate feeling, but will have the look of a brand new arena. Upon entering, fans will enjoy a premium experience when it comes to food service, customer relations, and other amenities.
“I think people are going to see a major cosmetic upgrade, but the bones and hopefully the soul of the building, will feel the same,” D’Eloia said.
Speaking of construction, Laborers Local 66 is one of the unions that is working on the new coliseum. A member of Local 66 is boxer Joe “The Beast” Smith Jr. from Mastic on Long Island. He is 22-1 with 18 knockouts, ranked No. 2 by the WBC in the Light Heavyweight division, and is the WBC International Light Heavyweight champion.
Not only will he be fighting at the coliseum, but he is expected to join the construction team very shortly.
“I’m very excited that they’re building this,” Smith said. “It’s going to be great. What makes it even better is that I’m going to be part of building it. To build it and fight in it is going to be awesome.”
While boxing will certainly be part of the coliseum’s future, it remains to be seen if the Islanders will one day return to their former home.
During the tour, I couldn’t help but get nostalgic when looking around and seeing where I sat for certain games. It also wasn’t hard to remember where some memorable moments took place, like Nystrom’s Stanley Cup-winning goal in 1980, Ken Morrow’s overtime goal against the Rangers in 1984, and the first NHL goal scored by John Tavares, back in 2009.
Even one of the boxers would love to see the Islanders return to their roots.
“Absolutely,” Algieri said. “Watching games in here would be fantastic. I like watching the Islanders at Barclays Center. It’s a great place, but it would be nice to have it on Long Island.”
With or without the Islanders, the new Nassau Coliseum will host hundreds of annual events, including sports, concerts, and family events. “Brooklyn Boxing on Long Island” is expected to be one of those major attractions for years to come.
Don’t forget to follow Pete on Twitter at @pschwartzcbsfan. You can also follow @Nassau_Coliseum and @Brooklyn_Boxing