Gerry Cooney turned 60 in August, but as he looked out at the construction site that is Nassau Coliseum on Wednesday, it suddenly was Oct. 24, 1980, again and he was knocking out Ron Lyle in the first round on that very floor.
“That was a great fight for me and for Long Island,” he said. “It spring-boarded me into being a fighter . . . To come out here, I get little goose pimples to see this again.”
Soon a new generation of boxers will be fighting in the new-look facility that continues to take shape in advance of its scheduled April 5 opening with a Billy Joel concert.
“It’s going to be a busy next five or six months getting ready for this, but everyone is on track and all geared up to make it happen,” said Alexis Lenza, senior vice president of construction for Forest City Ratner Companies.
In the run-up to the opening, athletes associated with the past and future of the building have made promotional appearances. It was Cooney’s turn Wednesday.
He lives in New Jersey now, but he is from Huntington and has memories of the Coliseum far beyond boxing in it.
“C’mon, I was here when the Islanders won four Stanley Cups,” he said. “I saw Julius Erving leaping from the foul line, bro, or further than the foul line. I got to see concerts here. I got to fight here.”
Once he even was invited to try to shoot a puck through a small hole in a board covering most of the goal during an Islanders’ game. Fans were unimpressed with his attempt.
“Man, that crowd was tough; it was tough,” he said. “I thought I was going to fight. I think I hit the board, but it wasn’t close to the hole so I wasn’t getting no car or no $10,000 check, let me put it that way.”
The new Coliseum will fit into the same footprint as the old one, but with more amenities and better pedestrian flow via a reopened circulation ring inside the bowl, one reason for a lower seating capacity.
Oh, and also this: “We have essentially doubled the number of bathroom fixtures,” Lenza said.
The exterior is painted black, awaiting installation of a façade with a brushed aluminum finish that will be illuminated at night. The interior seating areas are painted; seats will be installed in December.
One thing for which the old Coliseum was widely praised was its sightlines, which led to a decision not to make major changes in the foundation of the seating structure itself.
“The bones of the Coliseum were really great bones,” Lenza said. “It’s been really important to maintain those.”
Said Cooney: “They’re going to make it better than it was. Obviously, that was in 1980; that was a few years ago, a long time. I think it’s great what they’re doing.”
The Islanders have moved on to Brooklyn, but the arena will host minor-league sports, including the D-League Long Island Nets, as well as mixed martial arts, college basketball and boxing, under the Brooklyn Boxing on Long Island brand.
That part is of particular interest to Cooney. He said providing a forum for local fighters such as Chris Algieri and Joe Smith might inspire future fighters. Then Cooney jokingly promoted a bout of his own.
“I want a rematch with [Larry] Holmes,” he said, referring to his 13th-round TKO loss in 1982. “My son Jackson is going to Lehigh. It’s 70,000, or 60,000 [dollars] a year. I figure to defer the cost, maybe Holmes and I will be back in there, make a nice little ring there in the center, and we’ll get it on.”
Cooney described Holmes, 66, as a “great friend.” But could he take him in the ring today? “Yes.”