Ten-Count for Macka Foley

By Robert Mladinich on July 13, 2016
Ten-Count for Macka Foley
Franco described him on Facebook as “a boxing trainer and a saint of the sweet science.”

“I should have died in Vietnam, I should have been killed by the mob, I should have been killed by Shavers. Something always pulled me out of danger…”

I did not realize how much out of the boxing loop I have been until I learned just a few days ago that Macka Foley, the colorful former journeyman light heavyweight and heavyweight who became an esteemed trainer in Los Angeles, passed away at the age of 64 in August 2015.

Foley, an Irishman who hailed from Portland, Maine, was best known for his mitt work, first at Freddie Roach’s Wild Card Gym and later at Fortune’s Gym, which is run by former heavyweight Justin Fortune.

Foley’s roster of clients ranged from world-ranked James Toney to actors James Franco, Cuba Gooding Jr. and Frank Stallone, attorney Robert Shapiro, producer Sam Simon, and Greg Williams of television’s “The Brady Bunch,” who he trained for a televised celebrity boxing match with Danny Bonaduce.

Foley also trained Bill Clinton accuser Paula Jones for her foray into the squared circle against ice-skating bad girl Tonya Harding.

“Everyone wants to be a fighter at one time or another,” Foley explained about a decade ago. “If they’re up to the challenge, I’m happy to train them. Just being willing to get into the ring says something about their character.”

From 1969 to 1979, Foley traveled the world fighting such championship caliber and top-rated opponents as Marvin Camel, Mate Parlov in Italy, Irish Bobby Cassidy on Long Island, Len Hutchins in Michigan, Kosie Smith in South Africa, and a Mexican doctor named Ismael Ruiz in Tijuana.

The 1978 bout with Dr. Ruiz was memorable for more than the obvious reasons.

“The guy couldn’t fight much, but I was out of shape and he cut me up pretty good,” recalled Foley, a world-ranked raconteur. “Afterwards he takes me to his office and sews me up. He was friendly as can be, and he didn’t even charge me for the work.”

Foley turned pro while still in high school, but saw his fledgling career interrupted when he was drafted into the armed forces and sent off to Vietnam as a machine gunner.  Within months of his arrival, he was wounded by shrapnel and also afflicted with malaria.

Upon his return to the United States, he departed Portland and headed for the greener boxing pastures of South Boston, where he fought for the legendary Sam Silverman, collected money for local bookmakers, and delivered hot cars all over New England.

“I’d get $100 to take a car to Maine,” he explained. “The car would be either chopped up for parts or driven off the pier.”

Foley then moved to Las Vegas where he fought more regularly and maintained his associations with the local underworld.

“Every morning I would take $10,000 in twenties and convert it to hundreds at a casino,” he said. “The trouble was I couldn’t walk past the blackjack table on my way out without spending ten grand of someone else’s money.”

Before long, Foley’s proclivities got him mired in debt with a target placed squarely on his back. He was told that the only way to save his life was to deliver a package from Florida to Los Angeles.

“You got to realize, I had a baby at home,” he recalled. “I don’t know what was in it, but when I saw the police dogs at Fort Lauderdale Airport I didn’t want to find out. I high-tailed it out of there and caught a flight from Miami. I still don’t know what was in the package, but I can only imagine.”

Foley realized the criminal life was not for him when he tried to collect a debt from the owner of a Sin City pizzeria.

“He was a fat little guy who owed $1200,” said Foley. “I put on my game face, told him I would bust his car up, burn his joint down and [beat] him up if he didn’t pay. Most debtors knew I was a fighter so they agreed to everything I said. I wasn’t dealing with the John Gottis of the world here.

“This guy pulls out a .45, points it at me, and says you can kill me, but I can kill you too. I was insulted the guy wasn’t scared, but realized then that this life was not for me.”

Foley was a better fighter than he was an enforcer. His 33-20-1 (21 KOS) does not begin to tell the whole story of his whirlwind career.

He was rugged enough to earn $200 a day as a sparring partner for the hard-punching Earnie Shavers, and also spent time in the camps of Larry Holmes, Ron Lyle, Joe Bugner and light heavyweight champion Victor Galindez.

“They all loved me because I was such a nut back then,” said Foley. “All except Galindez, who hated me. I never knew why, but I used to run like a dog to frustrate him. It would make him crazy. And Shavers, he used to knock me down once a day and out once a week. It’s amazing I still have my marbles.”

Foley also had no shortage of good memories, all of which he was happy to share while holding court, which besides being a mitt man extraordinaire, was what he did best.

“One time I’m fighting in Vegas and I owe the bookmakers five grand,” he said. “I’m getting a thousand, but it’s ten to one the fight doesn’t go more than two rounds. I tell my friend to bet the house, that I’m going out early.”

The granite-jawed Foley was knocked down in the first round, but struggled to his feet and lasted well into the later round before being stopped. The relief he felt in the dressing room was immeasurable, but short-lived.

“I was so happy, I thought I was finally out of debt and could live without being forced to have eyes in the back of my head,” he said. “Then I learned what really happened. I got up in the first round and fought well after that. I was told it was one of my better performances. Thing is, I don’t remember a thing. Everything I did was on instinct alone. Afterwards, the wise guys were after me, and I had to move five times in three days.”

Foley wound up in Los Angeles, where he became a full-time trainer and a part-time actor. He appeared in such films as “Ghost” and “Annapolis,” as well as several television shows and commercials, usually playing tough guys.

In a 1996 interview he spoke about the process of auditioning to his hometown newspaper, the Portland Press Herald.

“It’s like the lottery,” he said. “Sometimes you hit it, a lot of times you don’t. I show up at an audition for tough guys, thinking I’ve got a good chance, and there are 25 guys there and they all look like me.”

Foley trained actor James Franco, who did not see anything run of the mill about him. After Foley’s death, Franco described him on Facebook as “a boxing trainer and a saint of the sweet science.”

Franco added that “I spent years with him. He showed me that anything in life: boxing, acting or just living, is all about breathing and being relaxed in yourself. I’ll never forget him.”

Foley’s greatest joy came from talking about his daughter Caroline, who was attending Princeton University when I first met him in the 1990s.

“She’s everything to me,” said the proud Irishman.

“You have to realize, my life has been one man’s struggle to take it easy. I’ve been broke all my life, but I always had a good time. I’m the least ambitious man you’ll ever meet. I’m not proud of everything I did, but I should have died in Vietnam, I should have been killed by the mob, I should have been killed by Shavers. Something always pulled me out of danger. It’s a miracle I can still find my mouth with my fork.”

Foley never got wealthy in the traditional sense, but he was rich in experiences and with the blessings that come from having such a good attitude and leaving such positive indelible impressions on everyone he came in contact with. 

When queried to what his biggest payday was, Foley said it was “only $13,000.”

Against whom, he was asked. Mate Parlov in Italy? Marvin Camel? Bobby Cassidy? Kosie Smith in South Africa?

“None of them,” he responded. “That was for torching a bowling alley.”

Follow us on Twitter@boxing_com to continue the discussion

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  1. Bill Angresano 05:19am, 07/18/2016

    I KNEW Peter Wood would comment favorably ! Agreed Peter and others here, “colorful” is putting it mildly ! AHHH Boxing , the Saint of the Sweet Science. Blessings!

  2. Ron Levao 07:24am, 07/15/2016

    Great, touching article—frank, funny, a little bs thrown in but no nonsense with absorbing videos—not at all the puff pieces one finds on too many sites.  Just started reading the columns on boxing.com and they are very impressive, including this one

  3. Pete 10:10am, 07/14/2016

    Stellar, Bob.

  4. Eric 07:21am, 07/14/2016

    A 200 dollar a day salary wasn’t bad money in the 70’s. Granted he didn’t spar with Shavers year round, but I’m sure Mr. Foley had to earn at least a decent sum of money while sparring with Galindez, Lyle, Holmes, and Bugner. Guys like Mr. Foley are always far more interesting than the legends like Ali or Louis. Most of the great fighters lives centered around boxing, they lived, ate, and slept boxing, that is how they became great. Like Marvin Hagler said, if you opened up his head, you find a boxing glove inside. You can learn a lot from the Macka Foleys of this world. Face it, the vast majority of us mortals can’t relate to the Alis, Haglers, or Dempseys, but we can relate to someone like Foley.

  5. peter 06:24pm, 07/13/2016

    I always heard and known about Macka Foley, but he was always just a name. I never realized what a colorful life the man led outside the ring—and how many people he impacted in a positive way. Thank you for another excellent Bob Mladinich human-interest story. Keep ‘em coming.

  6. Irish Frankie Crawford Beat Saijo aka Gimpel 06:19pm, 07/13/2016

    He talked about those that are born fighters and the possibility of one walking into the gym one day…..too bad that “born fighter” didn’t walk up to him. Hell, the way he praised Franco, client or no client, maybe he was that guy, it’s just that he already had a pretty sweet gig. This is a simply great article

  7. Irish Frankie Crawford Beat Saijo aka Gimpel 06:06pm, 07/13/2016

    At least Toney got him the intro to Franco….it appears that he became Franco’s personal trainer, which probably really helped in his later years because he probably was without any real pension aside from Social Security… if he had started receiving his benefits at age 62. God Rest his Soul

  8. The Thresher 05:52pm, 07/13/2016

    My VERY best buddy, Bob Benoit (37-8) beat Foley in Bob’s last fight in 1974 in Worcester, MA.

  9. Gordon Analla 12:22pm, 07/13/2016

    What a great story and adventurous life.  I was familiar with his career as a fighter, but not thing other things.  RIP, big guy!  We’ve lost a real character!

  10. Eric 11:50am, 07/13/2016

    Haven’t heard the names Marvin Camel or Franco Thomas since waaaay back when. IF they ever decide to make a movie based on convicted killer, Troy Kell, they need to cast James Franco for the lead role. Franco looks a great deal like Kell.

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