By Michael Amakor: Washington DC — Ever since his debut acting a boxer on the popular late seventies hit sitcom series “TAXI” Tony Danza’s star has been on the ascendancy and he has become familiar to TV audiences around the globe in appearances on the triple Oscar winning movie “Crash”, and several sitcoms including the popular Tony Danza show to his record.
Right now, Tony Danza is making a come back to boxing center stage, as the host of the popular TV reality series The Contender, now in its fourth season, and previously hosted by Rocky star Sylvester Stallone and former 5 division world champion Sugar Ray Leonard.. The Contender this time features 16 highly skilled, but unknown cruiserweight (175-200 lbs) contenders in an elimination-style competition who are given the chance of a lifetime to, showcase their skills before an international audience, win the contender trophy, and earn the sizable prize at the end; season’s one champion captured the grand prize of one million dollars and rode the momentum from appearing on the Contender into securing and winning the WBC light middleweight (154lbs) title in under three years after appearing on the show.
What most fans do not know is that unlike other actors who act the tough guy, Tony Danza was the real deal tough guy from the same mean streets of Brooklyn New York that produced ring legends like Riddick Bowe, Mike Tyson. He competed in the middleweight (160lbs) division amassing a respectable record (9 wins, 3 losses, with 9ko’s, even scoring two more kayo during filming the Taxi) in the late seventies before finding his life calling as an actor. Interestingly it was his boxing skills as a crowd pleasing slugging contender, and appeal that helped in turning him into the celebrity he is today, something synonymous with the objectives of the contender series.
They weekly episodes of the Contender will be aired starting from December 3, 2008 and the live two-hour finale will air on February 25, 2009.
Here are a few extracts from my conversation with Tony;
Michael Amakor: How did you get selected to be the host of this seasons Contender?
Tony Danza: They called me, the guy that produces the show is a friend of mine,, you know I was involved earlier on with the contender before Sylvester Stallone actually, but then I went on to do another show, but they called me and asked me to do it this time, and you know since I had a lot of time , and since I hadn’t been to Singapore, I was looking to go and see a lot of boxing , and get into shape for four weeks, it not only rekindled my love for the game, but I had a good time as well, it also got me into shape as well.
Michael Amakor: Could you talk about what it takes to be a fighter?
Tony Danza: Well its one of the things we try to examine on the show, and because I had done (boxing) and because I had been at the level those guys were, they sort of opened up to me and we talked about what it takes to climb up those four steps and climb through the ropes and put yourself on the line like that. I think what it takes is somebody, (brief pause) Well. The way I see it, boxing is a way out, a way to make a better life for yourself when you do not have much else. It is something to, that once you find you are very good at it, it becomes more addictive, it has an addictive quality, and you really want to do it a lot. And you want to get as good as you can at it like any other artistry, cause boxing is really an art, it really is, if you look at it in the right sense. I mean certainly it is brutal and certainly the goal is to knock, outpoint, and knock the other guy out. But there is an artistry to it and that study of it, that working on your career after getting better at it, the physical aspect, the camaraderie of the gym, the highs and lows , it makes for a very interesting existence.
Michael Amakor: What do boxers go through after a fight, what do they have to deal with
Tony Danza: (Pause)There are only two guys in there and somebody has to lose, that’s the thing, but the guy who wins is elated and sore and the guy who loses is heartbroken and sore, they have something in common they both hurt, its really a tough way to make a living. (We both laugh)
Michael Amakor: So I guess as the host you could relate to the fighters
Tony Danza: I can, cause I really was a fighter like these contenders are, these guys are basically guys trying to get noticed, trying to get their next big break and move on to the next level and that was basically were I was before taxi, that’s what I think I bring to the show, I bring an understanding of were those guys are coming from
Michael Amakor: (the late popular musician) Tupak Shukar mentioned you in a documentary about his life, and he was very happy that you wrote to him while he was in jail. Could you talk a little bit about that?
Tony Danza: Well Tupak at the time had gotten into trouble, he was in jail, he had five bullet holes in him, he had this thing called Pac life written across his stomach in huge letters, at the same time there was a song he had just released called Dear Mama, where he talked about his mama and stuff and I tried to reconcile the two and it was difficult. So being that I was a celebrity, I could write to people and they would write back, so I sat down and wrote him a hand written letter basically saying that I understood that he had to be a tough guy in the business, but maybe considering the song Dear Mama maybe he could find another way to benefit him rather than being in jail with five bullet holes and maybe that would also inspire the kids that look up to him that there is some responsibility with the screen influence that he had,, and then we started writing back and forth and we kind of agreed with each other. I was just trying to reach out to the guy.
Michael Amakor: How do we get boxing back into the main stream?
Tony Danza: Well. It comes down to two things the first is that it has to be on free TV when I was a kid you could watch boxing on TV, but now you can only watch it on PPV, HBO or Showtime or the Versus network now for this seasons contender, Secondly, we need some personality to come along to really capture the imagination of the public like Tyson or Ali did, those are the things that could help boxing
Michael Amakor: Who was the champ in your division when you boxed?
Tony Danza: It was the great middleweight from Argentina (Carlos Monzon), and then Hagler came along
Michael Amakor: What has changed from your time to now in boxing?
Tony Danza: Like I said it’s not on free TV, we don’t know the guy… do you know who the heavy weight champion is
Michael Amakor: Yes it’s Wladimir Klitchko, but then I follow the game
Tony Danza: Yeah and there are two other guys Valuev and the other guy, We don’t have a guy that everybody goes yeah him, For instance when I was on the series TAXI, there were so many guys and then Tyson come along (and caught everybody’s imagination)
Michael Amakor: How was it like filming in Singapore?
Michael Amakor: It was great, the city is beautiful and the people are great, the foreign crews were great. It was interesting to be out of the county and watch from overseas as the financial crises unfolded in the US. It is interesting to watch the US from overseas and see how they see us. I really enjoyed being in Asia, Asia..My…what a place
Michael Amakor: Has production wrapped up for the show.
Tony Danza: We are down to the finals which will be on Feb 23, 2009 at the MGM casino in Connecticut and then we’ll be down to the final two guys. The finals will be a two hour finale on versus and a lot of the guys that fought on the tournament would fight on the under-card, it should be a really great night of boxing, but yes we’ve wrapped up production and the voice over’s.
Michael Amakor: Have you ever thought about restarting your boxing career (laughing)
Tony Danza: Mike I’m over fifty years old are you of your mind, I’m too old for that, only if you could bestow youth on me (he chuckles)
Michael Amakor: You look young enough to go all the way
Tony Danza: Listen, you know I boxed during the show, I got in the ring a little bit but those days of being able to stand in there and take punches are all over
Michael Amakor: We really appreciate a boxing celebrity like you coming into the boxing scene we hope you act a movie or two about boxing
Tony Danza: have a happy thanksgiving. Thanks Mike
Michael Amakor is the Chief Scribe at FigthKings.Com