CHASE MILLS - The list of boxing legends to fight at Madison Square Garden is like a whos who of the sports history with Joe Louis, Rocky Marciano, Sugar Ray Leonard, Lennox Lewis, Muhammad Ali and others, now including Brian M. Clookey of Chase Mills all stepping into the squared circle at the Worlds Most Famous Arena.
The dream of becoming a professional fighter began for Mr. Clookey when he was nine or 10 and a punching bag was hung in the shed of his Chase Mills home.
I still have tapes from when USA had Tuesday Night Fights, Mr. Clookey said. Ive always liked boxing, and Ive always wanted to be a pro fighter.
While the punching bag in his shed would take a beating from the time he was a child all the way through high school, Mr. Clookey didnt officially take up the sport until after graduating from Madrid-Waddington Central School and enlisting in the U.S. Marine Corps.
I was taking some classes and had to drive by the building where the All-Marine Team trained, he said, adding one day he decided to stop and visit the facility.
After talking with the coach, Mr. Clookey said he was told to come back at the same time the next day.
I went back, and he started yelling at me like I was late, Mr. Clookey said, adding he thinks the coach was just trying to get inside his head before sending him in the ring with a fighter, who at the time, was ranked in the top 10 in the nation.
I did alright and they told me to come back, Mr. Clookey said. I trained there and when the time came for tryouts I made the All-Marine Team.
Mr. Clookey said his time boxing in the Marine Corps would ultimately lay the groundwork for what would become a professional boxing career.
I did nothing but box for nine months, he said. That gave me a pretty good foundation.
Mr. Clookey made his professional boxing debut on Oct. 23, 2009, fighting once that year and twice in 2010. Mr. Clookey fought once in 2011, earning a draw, and twice more in 2012 picking up another win and one more draw to bring his professional record to 4-0-2 with two knockouts.
And while Mr. Clookey has only fought once in 2013, that fight took place in a sporting venue on par with Augusta National, Yankee Stadium and Lambeau Field. It was also against easily the toughest opponent of his career, a fighter with a 10-0 record including seven knockouts ranked among the top 50 light heavyweights in the world.
When asked if he was nervous before fighting at a building affectionately known as The Garden, Mr. Clookey said he wasnt as nervous as one might think he would be.
I was probably less nervous, he said. I felt I had already accomplished something by just being able to fight at Madison Square Garden.
Mr. Clookey said prior to that fight he told his mother that if things didnt go his way it would mark the end of his professional boxing career.
Mr. Clookey did lose the fight, with all three judges scoring the bout 40-36, but Mr. Clookey says the fight was closer than the scorecards would indicate.
Im still going to keep fighting, he said. They (the judges) had it a shutout, but it wasnt it was closer than that.
He noted a victory in the bout would have likely earned him a spot among the top 30 light heavyweights in the world.
While Mr. Clookey had been training several months for the fight, about two weeks before it was set to take place he was told the fight was off because his opponent, Isa Akbarbayev, got hurt.
Then three or four days later they told me the fight was still there if I wanted it, he recalled, adding he would have been crazy to reject a fight at Madison Square Garden.
Mr. Clookey said he did stop training for those few days, but some time in the gym wasnt all that the initial cancellation cost him.
Mr. Clookey said he had about six or seven friends and family set to make the trip, but they cancelled their reservations after it appeared the fight was off.
A rematch with Mr. Akbarbayev has been discussed, and Mr. Clookey said hes hoping for a couple more fights before taking another crack at the Russian fighter who has the backing of world heavyweight champions Vitali and Wladimir Klitschko.
I rocked him twice during the fight, Mr. Clookey said. At one point I had him rocked really good to the point where he was holding onto me and wouldnt let go.
With the confidence that comes from going the distance with a world-class opponent, Mr. Clookey said hes now looking at his career from a different perspective.
I feel like Im just getting started, he said.
As for fighting in Madison Square Garden, Mr. Clookey said that was like a dream come true.
Its like the childhood dream and now that youre here its easier to feel satisfied with what youve done in life after youve accomplished what you dreamt of as a kid.
Mr. Clookey is a single father and lives in Chase Mills with his two boys, Brody, 6 and Xavier, 2.