Almost a thousand 16-year-old girls with pocket Instamatics and Polaroid One-Steps are scattered about Madison Square Garden's Felt Forum, quietly seated next to older men in black shirts and white ties and thick gold necklaces and blue tweed double knit suits who are screaming: "Wadaya savin' the bum for? Waste him."
Not exactly your typical Friday night boxing crowd.
And as Victor Manqual and Jose Chico Rosa are slugging it out in an eight-round welterweight bout, the girls go bonkers. They're rushing the ring, and are pinned back by cops as they fire their cameras off at the cast of ABC's "Taxi" making their way to ringside seats.
The cause of all this commotion is 27-year-old Tony Danza, a nice Italian kid from Brooklyn who was discovered in the Gramercy Gym on Manhattan's East 14th Street by the show's producers. Danza had been to college, worked as a furniture mover, bartender and part-owner of a car wash and then got into professional boxing. He had a six and three wonlost record before being flown off to Hollywood, where he became taxi driver Tony Banta on the TV series.
"I started boxing in '76," Danza is explaining Friday night. "Then I got this job in Hollywood just as my career was taking off."
It sounds a little like Hollywood hype. Even in his white boxing sneakers and red trunks, Danza looks somehow out of place in the ring, a little too perfect for the scene. He's streetkid cute, has a moppy head of brown hair that's four times longer than anyone else fighting, and he struts around with an air of confidence even Sylvester Stallone didn't display in the ring. In short, Danza looks like a movie image boxer, a nice guy who's gonna get clobbered in the first round.
At 10 o'clock, Danza prances into the ring in his red silk robe. The girls storm the guards, flashbulbs blitz and screams make the feature fight seem more like a mini Beatles concert.
A bank of micropones descends from the rafters and the announcer goes through his usual in-this-corner routine. In the other corner is Max "Sonny" Hord, a Florida school teacher with an 11-7 records, seven knockouts.
The girls are screaming and the real fans are now making believe that Tony Danza never left New York, never got involved with that sissy Hollywood stuff.
"Waste him, Tony! Waste him!" they're screaming.
"Show him you're a tough kid from Brooklyn."
Danza moves out fast. He's peppering Hord with rapid punches and Hord seems to be falling behind quickly. Twice Hord slips and almost falls out of the ring, but he gets up and continues.
Danza's boxing promoter, John "Cha Cha" Ciarcia, of Mulberry Street, is watching quietly from the first row, gritting his teeth. He has no idea how Hollywood has affected Danza's hunger in the ring. Ciarcia's girlfriend sitting next to him, in a black T-shirt, is screaming like mad.
Danza clips Hord in the head with a hard punch and Hord is down.
. . . Eight, nine, 10.
And the winner.
Two minutes into the first round.
There's pandemonium in the hall.
This is no Hollywood knockout.
Meanwhile, Danza is already in the boxer's interview area, hugging his mother and father and talking with sportwriters.
"How far you think you'll go in boxing, Tony? Hollywood must be pretty seductive."
"I don't know, when that crowd yelled for me, I felt great. There's not many TV shows can do that for you."
"How did you get him so fast, Tony?"
"I just happened to get the guy with a good uppercut."
"No, really. I had my mother out there, and she can't stand seeing me in there for long." CAPTION: Picture, Tony Danza, center, of television's 'Taxi' with father, Matty, and mother, Ann; photo by UPI