Farewell, Macka Foley
There’s a lot currently going on in boxing from Floyd Mayweather Jr.’s next money grab on Sept. 12 versus Andre Berto (on pay-per-view!) becoming official to the impending announcement of the Nov. 21 clash between Saul Alvarez and Miguel Cotto. One thing about covering this sport is there is always something to talk about. But my column today is dedicated to an individual that perhaps not many of you have heard of but had dedicated his life to the sport.
Whatever he had gotten out of boxing (which, in all honesty, was memories and good times more than money), he gave back that much more. On Monday, it was discovered that Macka Foley had passed away suddenly and unexpectedly at the age of 65. A quintessential “boxing guy” has left us and the game is worse off for it.
According to trainer Justin Fortune, Foley had complained of stomach pains on Friday and warned Fortune, “Fuckin’ Sizzler, don’t ever eat there.” Just like that he was gone, too soon but beloved by those whose lives he touched throughout the years.
After leaving the LA Fitness in Montebello on Monday afternoon, I received this text message from Gabriel Montoya: “Terrible news, I’m still finding out details. Macka Foley has passed away.” While residing in Los Angeles, Gabe – during his stint writing for Maxboxing.com – was a regular at the Fortune Gym and saw him often.
My experiences with Foley are mainly from his days at the Wild Card Boxing Club, where he, for years, was a mainstay and trusty lieutenant of Freddie Roach. He was one of the first people I really got to know in 1999 when I first started going to that gym on a regular basis. Foley was a warm and welcoming individual who brought a sense of comfort and security to the gym. Macka had that ability to make everyone feel like his life-long friend and was the type of character you can only find in boxing and makes this sport so interesting to cover. It’s not just about the fights but the people – and he was certainly one of those who added to the texture and tapestry of the boxing culture.
He was part Mickey Goldmill from “Rocky” and part Coach from “Cheers.”
I probably worked hundreds of rounds with Macka in the early-2000s and let me tell you: There was no better workout than going three rounds with him in there as he not only had you throwing punches; he’d back you up and, at times, lean on you. All the time he reminded you, “Breathe, son; breathe. You gotta relax.” (Yes, we novices have this habit of holding our breaths as we throw punches.) There are probably hundreds of people – ranging from professional prizefighters to actors to housewives to accountants – he provided mitt work for throughout the years. There was nobody better at it; he could work with championship-level fighters like James Toney for 15 brisk rounds (and he probably got paid pennies on the dollar for that work) and the novice who had just wrapped his hands for the first time in his life.
One of his main clients was the co-creator of “The Simpsons,” Sam Simon. I saw them work round after round, usually at a very leisurely pace, in which they did as much talking as they did hitting. Sam didn’t seem to mind. In fact, he probably got exactly what he came for – a bit of a workout but also a chance to be around boxing and talk to Macka. There was no doubt Simon thought highly of him and I saw firsthand how generous he was when Macka’s car broke down (and I was actually there when it took its last breath and had to help push it into a parking space at the Wild Card as Macka steered put the car in neutral). The next time I saw Macka, I asked about his car. He then told me that after hearing about his plight, Simon just tossed the keys to his Mercedes-Benz to him.
Both are no longer with us, unfortunately.
Foley had a rather pedestrian career has a pro (in which he campaigned as both a cruiserweight and heavyweight) from 1969 to 1979. He amassed a record of 33-20-1 (21), fighting a good bulk of his career out of his hometown of Portland, Maine before becoming a bit of a globetrotter, then heading out west to finish out his career as a journeyman/opponent. No, he was never going to be inducted into the International Hall of Fame but he had a colorful career and, like most boxers, was a legitimate tough guy (Foley was even a Marine who served in Vietnam).
And the stories, yeah, Macka had the best stories. He’d fondly recall getting knocked out cold by Earnie Shavers in sparring or promoters in foreign countries getting him drunk and then sending up women to his room the night before his fights against local boxers (yeah, so I guess that stuff really does happen.) He’d also tell tales about having to repay debts by doing – ahem – certain things. I don’t want to get into details but they involve a burnt-down bowling alley but that’s neither here or there.
Regardless, Foley was a real boxing sage and he had some great sayings ( that I have no shame in admitting I freely use) like ”The first thing to go on a fighter is his legs; after that, everything else leaves him after.”
As for what makes a good trainer, he’d say in his distinctive New England accent, “You gotta have a hoooarse!!” He was of the full belief that, without a certain amount of natural talent to work with, it didn’t matter how good of a teacher or instructor you were. He’d say, “You can be here at the gym for years and, one day, the right kid walks through that door and, all of a sudden, a few years later, you’re a genius.”
Or when you found yourself in trouble in the ring and didn’t know what to do: “Hey, it all comes back to the jab. When in doubt, just use your jab. Don’t know what to do? Jab. Then double-jab if you can. Start from there.”
And there’s something that he told John Bray, another former fighter, years ago as Bray was wondering what to do after his career had come to an end: “Son, learn how to work mitts and you’ll never have to work a real job the rest of your life.”
See, that’s the kind of advice you got from guys like him. Guys like this will teach you the sport of boxing like no other.
As he left the Wild Card several years ago due to personality conflicts, I didn’t see Foley nearly as much or, regrettably, not at all for long spells. Yeah, life happens and you start to get complacent in your relationships. The last time I went to Fortune’s gym was in June for the Tim Bradley media day prior to his bout versus Jessie Vargas and, for one reason or the other, he wasn’t at the gym that day. I promised myself that I’d drop by soon to see him and, hey, for old time’s sake, move around the ring with him for a few rounds.
Unfortunately, I never got that chance (let that be a lesson. If there’s someone out there who has meant a lot to you and your life, don’t procrastinate in seeing them. Tomorrow truly is not promised). Justin explained that Foley hadn’t been feeling particularly well recently but also hadn’t gone to see the doctor in years. It didn’t surprise me; Macka seemed like the guy who figured he would just tough it out rather than know what was wrong with him.
Macka was a helluva guy. If you go on Fortune’s Facebook page, you can see the outpouring of emotion as a result of his passing. The type of impact he made on people’s lives is clear. Perhaps it was put best by actor James Franco (who not only trained with Foley but became friends) who put out the following statement on Facebook:
“I just heard that Macka Foley passed.
“He was a boxing trainer and a saint of the sweet science.
“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.”
And neither will we.
And the latest episode of “The 3 Knockdown Rule” with Mario Lopez and me can be heard here.
Macka’s signature look was his beanie (and I can’t ever recall seeing him without one on his head) and a cup of coffee…So the last remaining hurdle to Cotto-Canelo is the rematch clause, according to Oscar De La Hoya? So how does that affect the WBC situation regarding Gennady Golovkin?…HBO’s “Ballers” has been nothing short of superb in its first season, in my humble opinion…Fall camp for the Miami Hurricanes begins in a couple of days, huge season for Al Golden in so many ways…I can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org and I tweet (a lot) at twitter.com/steveucnlive. I also share photos of stuff at instagram.com/steveucnlive and can also be found at tsu.co/steveucnlive.
[Editor’s Note: Back in December, the Undisputed Champion Network profiled Fortune Gym and Macka in its UCN Original Series: The Gym Series which can be viewed below].