We may never know who the boss truly was, but we do know that without boxing, Tony Danza may have never launched his acting career.
During a session at the Broadway Teachers Workshop, Danza was asked about his origins in drama, and surprisingly they went hand-in-hands with his dreams of being a pro fighter.
"I come from East New York, Brooklyn, and when I was a kid in the '50's and 60's, fighting was like a game we played," Danza explained (which you can hear him explain in more detail in the video above). "I had a lot of street fights when I was a kid." Growing up as Antonio Salvatore Iadanza, he moved with his family when he was a teenager to Long Island, and went on to graduate from the University of Dubuque with a degree in history education.
After college, a bunch of his friends entered his name into the Golden Gloves competition as a prank, where he did well enough to make it into the semi-finals. "I just got hooked on it and I loved it. I thought, and you're young and you're searching for what might be that thing that you do for the rest of your life, and I could really punch, and I could do it. And I loved it and people were telling me I was great, so that's why. I had 15 pro fights, I won twelve. I won all my fights by knockout. Unfortunately, I lost all my fights by knockout."
Danza dreamed about being a champion while being a TV star, but as he explained, that goal came to a screeching halt in his final bout in Arizona in 1980 which was meant to put him on track for a shot at a belt. "My mind started to wander and I thought to myself, 'Geez, i hope this guy doesn't hit me' - because I was on TV, I was worried about my face. I said, 'Geez, I hope this guy doesn't hit me in the nose.' The moment my brain was saying nose, the guy hit me." Danza managed to win the fight, but the moment he realized that he had other things to worry about, he decided to hang up the gloves.
But how did Danza go from Golden Gloves to a pro fighter with possible title contention?
"I was in Gleason's gym... training, I was a middleweight, I was like a club fighter and wanted to be heavyweight champion of the world. And this guy walked in, and he was a producer trying to put together a pilot for a show called "Augie", which was a combination of "Chico and The Man" and "Rocky."
"Augie was this young fighter who trained at this gym and the old man who owned the gym had a relationship with him, and they couldn't pay the rent, so they rented out half the gym, and this will take it perfectly, an aerobics instructor. And when I heard that, all I could think about was leg warmers."
Danza had never considered acting before, but this producer convinced him to give it a try. After auditioning, Danza did not hear back from the man for months, but when he did get the call back, it was to inform him that he got the role on the pilot.
"It got the network aware of me, and, remember "The Warriors"? So, this guy got me an agent and the agent said there was an open call for 'The Warriors' - an open call for a gang picture in New York."
Danza went to the audition the day before he had a match, and brought a poster with him to the audition from that show, his first main event. "I went to the audition and I wasn't too confident in my acting but i was confident with my fighting, I knew I could fight... When I finished, they said 'thank you very much.' So I said, 'Hey guys, if you really want to see a warrior,' and I unrolled the poster, and it had a picture of me on it. It said 'Tough Tony Danza, Brooklyn's Knockout Artist.'
The casting producers were impressed and decided to check him out at the match as part of his audition, where he fought Billy Perez. If you want to see how that ended, jump to the bottom of this article, but long story short, it conflicted with another piece of kismet that happened to him and led to his role on "Taxi."
If you have not seen "Tough" Tony Danza in action, check out the fight that landed him his first major role: