Interviews

Pride for the Cause: Michial Foy Is (Still) Fighting to Control the Story

michial foy interview

Michial Foy is recalling his freshman year at Thornwood High School in Illinois. He hardly spoke, too unsure in his then-meager frame and emerging scholastic status to verbally express himself. Now as a grandfather, World medalist, two-time Olympian, and high school coach some 40-plus years later, he is going a mile a minute for long stretches without coming up for air.

He has a lot to say.

But Foy doesn’t talk because he likes the sound of his own voice. He’s talking right now to give a voice to those he feels have been rendered voice-less.

Foy’s current mission is to launch the National African American Wrestling Hall of Fame, an endeavor inspired decades prior by former Iowa State University head coach and living legend Bobby Douglas. The way Foy sees it, a hall of fame devoted singularly to African American wrestlers is a necessity simply because there is not enough generational material available for the youth to absorb. Tales describing a long line of US wrestlers, from every style, are obscured, much less celebrated, and the feeling is that skin tone and minute cultural differences are the reasons why. Foy is afraid if something isn’t done soon, those stories will become lost before they’ve ever had the ability to make an impact. “It’s like I’m telling them about ghosts,” he says of discussing similarly-decorated contemporaries with his young grapplers at Leo High School. “They don’t know it, they don’t believe it.”

Foy’s job is to make them believe in the achievements of the past and blazes trailed, as well as in themselves. The man himself is a textbook example of the latter.

Originally in love with basketball, Foy stumbled into wrestling and quickly found acceptance. He readily cites all of the coaches who helped foster his development, but he also acknowledges his own physical makeup’s role in eventual successes. Simply put, Foy was “The Freak”; a wrestler whose body awareness was on a different level than most, and whose explosiveness knew no bounds. What’s more, Foy didn’t let his sharp intellect interfere with what he recognized were rare gifts. He knew his body’s output potential and used it advantageously as much, or more than, any upper-weight in American Greco-Roman history.

Yet all of these years after his last recorded match, Foy is not quick to access the best of memories. On-the-mat triumphs, his storied saga with Randy Couture, locking horns with one of the best wrestlers maybe of all-time in Maik Bullman? All of these topics are touched upon, but they pale in comparison to instances Foy encountered during his international career that he interprets as stemming from racial bias.

The interesting part about Foy and the examples he cites is that no anger is detected. Whatever anger there ever was has been replaced by a desire to take control of the narrative. Foy, when speaking about racism, or any ethnic or cultural stereotypes in general, doesn’t blame individuals — or not as much as he does environmental conditioning and its associated experiences. All he really wants is to assist in the creation of a new era that unveils a truly equal playing field and proper recognition for wrestlers of color who paved the way for everyone else. It’s not asking too much.

Foy, as was the case during his career, is always willing to take the heat for what comes out of his mouth. He has not unburdened himself from perceived wrongs. The difference is that he now wishes to use them to elevate others. Whatever the price, he’ll pay it.

And in his mind, he already has.

5PM Interview with Michial Foy

5PM: I heard, I don’t remember from whom, that you once saw an episode of Oprah and she had participated in a marathon, and that motivated you to try it yourself with basically no preparation —  yet you still actually got it done. Is that true?

Michial Foy: Yes. It was just an episode of Oprah. I was training at the time. I think everyone in the back of their minds wants to run a marathon. But once I saw Oprah and she had run a marathon, I’m thinking, Wait a minute, hold on. I’m supposed to be this elite athlete and I’m procrastinating on doing something, and she just goes out and does it? So yeah. it really inspired me to do it, and I did it.

I did a half marathon in Minnesota, and then I went out to Colorado and did a full marathon in the mountains near the Olympic Training Center. It was enlightening to find out how you can find inspiration from anyone. It doesn’t have to be someone from inside the same sport, you can find inspiration from anyone.

5PM: You get that a normal person probably wouldn’t just do it that way, right? 

Foy: I don’t know. I don’t know how a normal person thinks, I only know how I think. But truth be told, I have heard that before. It took me a while, even through college, to understand that I don’t think traditionally. I think out of the box and always have. It took me a while to really figure out how to succeed in education because what I considered important, maybe the school or the professors weren’t seeing it that way.

I tell everyone, Wrestling is just an extension of who you are inside. And it’s true. I was an unorthodox wrestler because I think a little differently than most. Sometimes, it’s for the best, and sometimes not. Race relations and things of that nature, I can actually put myself in a white person’s shoes and understand how you only know what you know, how you can only feel what you feel, and you’re subject to the environment in which you grew up. When I talk to black folks about racism in America, I know that if you grew up a certain way and only heard of certain things, you can only form certain opinions until you are subjected to someone else’s environment. Like I said, you can only know what you know if you don’t go outside of your box.

As an example, I have four girls. But I don’t pick up the torch for women unless I’m asked to, and I’ve only been asked to about three or four times. I don’t identify with some of those plights, it just doesn’t come first to mind. When someone asks, Why doesn’t white America do this?, or, Why doesn’t white America do that?, I’m going to say, If you can do it for yourself, then you should probably do it. Because it’s not going to come first of mind. It’s not going to come first of mind for me to advocate for women, because I am not one.

It’s different, but it takes a lot of thought. Most people take the easy way out. They want to say, America is racist, they’re keeping a thumb on us, and such and such. The other part of me says, I think a little differently. I think more in-depth, so let me think about this. If I happened to be white or a woman, I would think differently because my world would be different.

5PM: You and I were talking about the genesis of the National African American Wrestling Hall of Fame. What has this process been like thus far, especially related to you personally given how busy you tend to be? How is it structured and what are the grassroots behind it?

Foy: I always think back after a lot of the episodes I had with USA Wrestling and the USOC (United States Olympic & Paralympic Committee) that gave me the feeling that African Americans were left out and sometimes discriminated against, and I look at it through the lens of being a businessman. If I’m the product and part of the reason for fundraising efforts, once I have a problem I’m on my own and the funds go to fight against me. And I think that would probably encapsulate most people, and definitely most African Americans. You’re able to generate funds for USA Wrestling and the USOC, but if you have an issue, you’re on your own. I think it probably crossed racial lines, but I can only look out of my lens.

So, Bobby Douglas. You have to remember that I wasn’t a career wrestler from the very beginning. My dad didn’t wrestle, no one in my family wrestled career-wise. I started in my freshman year of high school and I had wanted to be a basketball player, but I was too short to have a career. So I chickened out of playing basketball.

When I got to college, I met Bobby Douglas and he wanted to start a National African American — it was “Black” back then — association. We talked. I told him that I didn’t know anything about USA Wrestling, I hadn’t even wrestled internationally yet at the time.

5PM: Was USA Wrestling even formed yet?

Foy: Yeah, it was formed. I think. I know that my senior year, Wally Johnson was my coach, and in the class I had with him I had to write about the overthrow of AAU (Amateur Athletic Union) and the induction of USA Wrestling — which I didn’t know anything about, either (laughs). But I was asked to do a paper on it, so I researched and read about the people involved. Just everything. By chance, I didn’t even think I was going to wrestle internationally so I just did the paper. In 1982, I met Bobby Douglas. Remember, all of these people are new to me. I had no clue who anyone was at the Division I level, I didn’t even know too much about wrestling. It was Greg Evans and Darrell Gholar telling me who these people were. I didn’t even know who were wrestlers, who was ranked, or anything like that.

So, he (Douglas) came to me, we sat down, and he told me how he was starting this organization. I said, “Yeah, I’ll join. Let me know what you need.” This was before cell phones, voicemail. I had a phone in my dorm and he would have to call that to get a hold of me. And if I wasn’t there, guess what? It would have been very difficult because he would have had to go through snail mail.

But that stuck in my head, especially after 1988. I broke my hand and there were rumors USA Wrestling was going to replace me with Mike Houck. I don’t know if it was true or not, but I was a newcomer to Greco. I was actually on the freestyle side for so long and switched over two months before the Olympic Trials. I didn’t know anyone in the camp and that was my first impression. The beginning of it was Bobby Douglas. Once I started having issues, it reminded me of Bobby’s vision and I really felt the need for some kind of organization I could rely on for some type of support because I was all alone. Most people ostracized me due to that fact. They didn’t want to lose what they had, and they didn’t want to seem like they were on my side. I became this “lone ranger” wrestler; however, I made the Olympic Team with a broken hand. I beat out the World Champ, Mike Houck. I’m thinking, Where’s my cape? They’re thinking, We’re going to put the blinds over you.

Fortunately, I had a little business experience at the time working for the Burger King Corporation, running a multi-million dollar unit. In doing so, I started locally marketing and opening up stores. When I endeavored to try out for the Olympics, I packaged myself as a speaker. I had never done a speech before. I was a speech communication major but I had just done Speech 101 like everyone else. But I figured, Speech Communication? I’m going to be a motivational speaker. I sent 30 proposals out through snail mail to Minnesota-based companies.

I received callbacks from two out of the 30, one invited me in and it was 3M. They couldn’t find a match because (in wrestling) we don’t have any equipment that they could improve that they could use to say, Hey, we helped him get to the Olympics. Fast-forward to the Trials, I break my hand, and the trainer was given a sample from the pharmaceutical company 3M. It didn’t have a name, it was fresh on the market, and when I broke my hand I used it as a compressor to keep the swelling down. It happened to be 3M’s product, which helped me make the Olympic Team, which gave us a connection and I got sponsored by 3M. And I became a motivational speaker.

5PM: That is a crazy story. I didn’t know all that. 

Foy: Well, you wouldn’t know that because it has never really been told. CNN did a story right before the Olympics, but this is one of the reasons why there is a need for an African American Hall of Fame. We have to be in control of our own stories, our own narratives because they will get buried. I don’t know if it’s purposely, I don’t know what the deal is. But if I know better, then I have to do better. That’s my motto. I don’t expect anyone to do for me what I can do for myself. I know how to put together businesses, I know how to organize a non-profit, and I’m doing a pretty good job with the rest of the members. But that’s my philosophy. I’m not waiting for someone else to tell my story. When I write my book, it will have all of the information in there to reflect what I’ve done. Then, let the readers decide what I am, and what I’m not. The day of anyone picking my heroes, telling my story, me relying on anyone else to promote me…are over.

Michial Foy

In addition to earning a World silver medal in 1989, Foy also made two US Olympic Teams (’88 and ’92) and owns a silver from the ’95 Pan American Games. (Photo: USA Wrestling)

5PM: Did all of this with regards to making the ’88 Team, the fact that you heard they wanted to potentially bounce you off, kind of ruin the feeling most athletes get from making their first Team, especially an Olympic Team?

Michial Foy: I wouldn’t say “ruin” because here’s the deal: I’d have to compare it with everyone else, and I don’t know everyone else’s story. But what I do know, it wasn’t what I envisioned or what I deserved. That’s how I feel about it. I felt that it created a wedge between USA Wrestling and myself. Like I said, I was by myself and new to Greco — because I had only started wrestling Greco about two months before the Trials. I didn’t really know anyone except for Darrell Gholar and Derrick Waldroup. I was wrestling against Derrick Waldroup, and with Darrell Gholar, but Darrell didn’t make the Team so he wasn’t there.

I was by myself with the rest of the (’88) Team, and I was okay with that. They thought I was a lot younger than I was, which was a double-edged sword because I looked younger than my age. Plus, my airy voice signified I was young, too. I was 26 at the time but probably looked 17 or 18. Given that they didn’t know much about me, they just assumed that I was a very young man who didn’t know anything. When I started speaking up for myself, I think it caught them off guard that I would speak so boldly. That kind of structured the relationship going forward, because in their minds, this young whipper-snapper kid was speaking to them as if he was their equal. What I explained them was, I AM your equal. And I think it was very disturbing for them that they couldn’t control me. They couldn’t claim me because they didn’t make me. I was trained by Dan Chandler in the room in Minnesota. I never went to any of their camps. I was truly an outsider.

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Just a side note, on top of all that, there was a time during the Olympic Trials when they were going to railroad me. I don’t know if it’s true — and I thanked him many times though I haven’t gotten a response — but I was told that Dan Gable actually spoke to the referees and let them know that they could not do this. They were going to railroad me out. I was winning by about four points with :04 to go on the clock, and they went to disqualify me for stalling. It was the second match. I had already beaten Brad Anderson, then I’m wrestling him again and beating him again, and they pretty much threw me out for stalling. Which, they had no grounds to do so. I’m winning the match and being aggressive. That’s what I heard, that Dan Gable came to my rescue. I never asked Dan. I saw him one time online 30 years after and made a comment, Thanks for speaking up for me.

So, it was not just that particular incident after the Trials, it was also during the Trials. And who is “they”? I don’t know (laughs). But I do have the video and I see it. When I watch it with my sons, who wrestle, it’s pretty obvious what they were doing.

5PM: You went on to make more Teams, including the next year when you won silver. But throughout the rest of your career into the ’90s, did you ever mend fences, did you ever strike any relationships with those in positions of influence within our program? Were any of these relationships improved?

Foy: After they got rid of the folks who were running it. At least in my opinion, it was a toxic environment, especially if you were African American. And truth be told, it wasn’t just me. This was going on for decades. I’m not bitter in the sense that it could have been very dynamic. It could have been a lot of things. If you ask any of the, I don’t want to call them “old timers”, but the people before me, this precedes me. If they’re honest, they will tell you that it has been going on for quite some time.

To be honest, what really sparked me to have so much passion about building the African American Hall of Fame… I had already planned to do it, but it was when I watched Lee Kemp’s documentary. This line stood out to me, and these were words coming directly from the individuals involved, and it said, “If I don’t come out of retirement, I don’t think anybody is going to beat him.” That stuck in my head because the first thing I thought was, Well, why would you when he is an American? Why would anybody have to beat him, especially if they’re in America? And the only thing I can say is that they didn’t want to promote Lee as the “King of Wrestling”. They had already crowned the king and didn’t want to re-crown anyone else, especially not anyone who didn’t look like them.

5PM: Ooof. 

Foy: Yeah. Toxic. But I only give what I receive. And that’s the other thing: I didn’t want or need anything from USA Wrestling. I had my own sponsors. I had 3M. I got it outside of any endorsement from USA Wrestling. As a matter of fact, I actually gave them 3M because Jim Radford, who was the Head of Olympic Concerns, wanted to do more for me, so you have to get the whole team. I actually gave that lead to US Wrestling and they did nothing with it.

The truth is that you hear these stories and it’s not just me. You hear these stories over and over and over again, and it has been decades. So if they called Dan Gable the “King of Wrestling, then who is the true king? Watch the documentary, these were words coming from their mouths today. It might have been made two or three years ago, but it was recent, and they said no one could beat him (Kemp), but why come out of retirement to do it? Why does anyone need to beat him if you are retired? The only thing I can think of is that you didn’t want him to be king, to be the top wrestler.

But then he doesn’t beat him, and what happens? You rarely hear it. You definitely don’t print it. You definitely don’t air it. It’s pushed under the covers. Why is that? Why would you want to do that? Rather, why wouldn’t you want to promote Lee as the new #1 guy? He was already #1 in the country and #1 in the world.

5PM: In other words, what you’re asking is why wouldn’t you want to position him as the new top US guy who was going to slay the world. 

Foy: Right, another “king”, if you will. But you have to look at the psychology of it, look at the history of it. And like I said, it’s the first thing that comes to my mind — and I’m always looking for an excuse for everyone, to be honest. I really don’t like jumping to conclusions.

If you come to my Thanksgiving, you would swear you’re in the United Nations because I have every ethnicity known to man. I mean, from black to white to everything in between. Native American, Hispanic. That’s just in my family. I try not to run and say it’s a racial thing but I do ask, Why would you do that? And they may have an answer for me. But it’s just, why would you need to come out of retirement to beat your fellow American when you’re no longer even competing?

That stuck in my head, and like I said, other things get stuck in your head. You see the people in the documentary I’m talking about, and hear one saying, I didn’t want him to get beat. This is a teammate of his (Kemp’s) saying he did not want Gable to get beat, a wrestler from Iowa State when you wrestled for Wisconsin. So I ask, why would you want your own teammate to get beat by a guy from Iowa State?

I really don’t understand it, you know? I wanted to watch the documentary really for just entertainment. Plus, I know Lee, he moved to Minnesota and I got to know him personally, though I still hadn’t really seen him wrestle. I didn’t even really know his story. He told me his name wasn’t even Lee, and I was getting this bit by bit over the past 25 years I’ve known him. Then I got the whole monte when I watched the documentary. A picture is worth 1,000 words, right?

It got me going. We cannot allow anyone else to tell our stories to our children. We have to tell our stories to our children so they can become inspired. I think about pieces of that story. I was inspired to do what I could, which was to become an Olympian and a World medalist. I think if you just actually made a concerted effort to inspire these kids and tell them this kind of story, then maybe when we turn on the TV we won’t find out how because they didn’t make a football or basketball team and that’s why they wound up in the streets getting slaughtered.

This has got to be done. It is going to get done. I don’t care what I have to do. I’ve spent a lot of money that I don’t really have to make it happen. And it’s going to happen because it has to happen. It’s going to help USA Wrestling, it is going to help everyone involved with wrestling. It is going to get those kids who would normally wind up in the streets to see they have another option, when right now, they don’t have a whole lot of options.

I volunteer. You know how coaching is, they give you some gas money, but I’m at Leo High School, which is in the heart of what they call the ghetto. I don’t really like calling it the ghetto. There are nice people here, and 99% of them are law-abiding citizens, but they have been stigmatized. I’m guilty of it, too, because I’m a suburban boy. I just drove past the city as fast as I could because I believed the hype, I believed the media telling everyone how they would try to stab or shoot you if you stop. No, they’re just poor.

I’ve made it my lifelong ambition to do as much as I possibly can to affect those individuals who have it bad. I didn’t grow up wanting for anything. My dad worked two jobs, General Motors, and we were upper-middle class citizens in my family. But that doesn’t give me the right to turn my back on those who are less fortunate. If I have something to give to society, it’s not my right, it’s my responsibility.

Someone taught me. Someone gave up their weekends. His name was Jarrett Hubbard. His name was Jim Maraviglia; his name was Art Kraft, Wally Johnson, Tom Press, J Robinson, Dan Chandler. All of these men gave up their time to help pretty much a stranger. I earned my degree, the first of my generation. I got my MBA. I got to see the whole world and have a whole lot of fun, and also made a substantially amount of money more than I ever thought my BA in Speech Communication could ever garner.

I was only halfway in — because I truly wanted to be a basketball player — even when I was wrestling, that was my first love. But I figured out, Hey, you chose wrestling. Use that talent until you can’t use it anymore. That’s why you saw me wrestle, and why you saw me come back. My job was to give all I could to the sport that I chose and had been falling in love with.

michial foy, 1992 olympics

Foy attempts to lift Hassan Babak during the 1992 Barcelona Olympics. (Photo: Neil Simpson)

5PM: Was the learning curve for you when you started wrestling steep? How about even after high school going into a new environment?

Michial Foy: Jarrett Hubbard was my first coach as a freshman in high school. You know how freshman year is. All I knew was a half. My brothers wrestled maybe three months in high school but they used to come back and beat me up. They didn’t really teach me anything, but they taught me how to do a half. So I was doing that half whether the guy stood up or laid down. That’s all I had.

But out of 17 matches, I pinned the guy in 16 of the them. The only guy I didn’t pin was a redhead guy from Eisenhower. He was just so tough and I couldn’t pin him. But it came pretty naturally to me. Then again, a lot of things came pretty naturally to me. I didn’t do anything to get it. It was just a gift from God. I wish I would have had more nerve, actually.

You’ve got to realize, I may be a talkative person now, but when I was in high school I was like a mute. I was 5’5 and 110 lbs high school. I just wouldn’t talk. I was like a mute. All I talked about was basketball. I had a good shot, it was fine. I was very athletic. But when I went to play (in high school), I was looking around and saw this other guy. And you know, he was maybe what, like 5’7 or 5’8? But I was standing on the sideline and he asked me, “Are you going to try out?” I just shook my head ‘No’. So he said, “Come on, let’s go up to the wrestling room.”

I went up to the wrestling room and started wrestling with an upperclassman. His name was Pepe Donelli. And I started throwing him around. We were going head-to-head like two pitbulls, and all I knew was a half. Every time I grabbed him I tried to get a half. I wouldn’t let him take me down, wouldn’t let him pin me, anything. I was just wrestling. And then everyone hovered around me, You’re going to be a state champion, you’re going to be a state champion. I was 14-years-old, I was accepted, I found a home, and so I stayed. And then of course I started growing tall (laughs).

That was my introduction to wrestling. It was by default from having the nerve to go out for the sport that I really desired. Do I regret it? Absolutely not, absolutely not. I’m a big believer in God. I believe that He was holding the door with my own hand so I could do this. I know that Art Martori wanted me to go freestyle and I guarantee that if I was #1 in the United States I probably would have had a medal. But — I didn’t wrestle for the medals. I was really just saying, Hey, I am going to do the best with what God has given me. And that was the reason I came back.

After college, I had taken off two years. I got back into it because I was asking God for a lot of things. I liken it to being a parent, even though I didn’t have any kids at the time. Or an uncle, which I was. Let’s say I give you a diamond ring, but every time I see you, you’re not wearing it. Would I give you anything else? Absolutely not, because you don’t appreciate what you already have. That’s what I decided. I chose wrestling. I had that choice. I didn’t choose basketball. Don’t keep excusing yourself away from being successful. That’s when I decided that win, lose, or draw, I was going to give it 100%. 1986.

It is also when I decided that it was time to find me a coach and I chose J Robinson for two reasons. One, he had just got the job at the University of Minnesota; and two, he took a guy, Duane Goldman, who when I first wrestled him at the Midlands, I picked him up going for third. I lost to Fitzgerald, which I didn’t know who he was but I had him on his back like, three times, and they wouldn’t call it. I was so, so mad that when I wrestled Goldman I ended up pinning him within a minute. I shot in on him, picked him up, and slammed him on his back before Dan Gable had got to his seat. According to J Robinson, he made it his business that I would never beat him again. We wrestled again, we tied, he won on criteria, and we probably wrestled another 16 or 17 times — and I could never beat him. I said, That’s the coach I want. That’s when I came up to Minnesota and you know the history from there. 18 months later I was on the Olympic Team.

That was really the reason for me even coming back, to use what I had. It wasn’t necessarily something like, I’ve got to be a World Champion, I’ve got to be a World Champion. It was just so I was able to do the best that I could and give back what God gave to me.

5PM: I think of you as Greco guy, right?

Foy: Yeah, sure.

5PM: In this generation we have opportunities for kids out of high school to start training Greco instead of going to a normal college wrestling situation. If you could rewind, and knowing what you know now, if those opportunities existed for you coming out of high school would you have considered them?

Foy: Well, you know, probably. But not really and here’s the reason why: I had a basketball body. Back in the day it was, Why don’t you come to camp? Well, it was because I can’t wrestle that way. As a matter of fact, I don’t consider myself Greco because at one point I had logged more time in freestyle. If I had a better record in freestyle, I would have chose freestyle. But I kind of had a basketball body and what a lot of those coaches didn’t understand was that I couldn’t grind because my ribs were right there.

I had less than three percent body fat. I couldn’t just allow people to throw my limbs over and over and over again, you know? My body wasn’t built like that. I thought I was smart enough to where I didn’t need to do all of the grinding. I flourished with Dan Chandler and J Robinson because they understood that it didn’t take much for me to get stuff. You know, I do it a few times, practice it, visualize it, and the next day, I got it. I didn’t need to do all of that grinding.

So, the answer is no, I probably wouldn’t have because I don’t think like that because I’m not like that. I’m not a traditional wrestler. I probably would have just called it quits because it would have worn me down.

With Dan Chandler, we did more training off the mat than we did on it. A lot of the things I was doing, I didn’t even know what they were until I saw them on video. I remember someone coming up to me as I’m walking off the mat going, Hey Foy, what was that move you were doing? I didn’t know, it was just a reaction. Even when they brought in the Olympic Training Center with the residency program, it was an option for me to go there. But, I refused. I refused to think I was going to wrestle like the Russians because I don’t think like the Russians. I didn’t start when the Russians started. When I won my silver at the Worlds, the head of FILA at the time said it was “Greco-Roman, American style”. That’s what he called it because it was free-flowing. It was basically freestyle without going after the legs. I was moving and then I would catch guys because they couldn’t stay with me. Except for one guy, that’s why it was a silver (laughs). But you get what I’m saying.

But I knew that I wasn’t going to try to emulate the Russians or emulate the way they trained. There was going to be a mix of the two for me, because I knew what I was good at and could incorporate Greco into it. Look at my matches. I’m doing a double-leg takedown. I probably had one of the best double-legs in the nation when I was in college. Look at my high-dive. It’s just a double-leg, I just don’t grab the legs. If you notice, I’m the only one out there with two knee pads. My sons brought that up to me. Dad, why do you have two knee pads on? Because I was on my knees more than anything else. When you watch me and Randy Couture and I got him for five, that was a double-leg takedown. He just turned around and I threw him to his back.

mike foy vs randy couture

Michial Foy clashed with Randy Couture on several significant occasions, including here in the 1990 World Team Trials (Image: YouTube)

5PM: How did you prepare for the 1989 World Championships, your run to the final against a wrestler many, including (Dennis) Hall, have on their Mount Rushmore in Maik Bullman?

Foy: Okay, well, that whole tournament was kind of on a whim. I was working for General Electric doing 14-hour shifts because we had a new process of selling. But, I did have Fridays off, and since the ’88 Olympics I hadn’t worked out because Darrell Gholar went to law school. So, he was busy and I had no one to train with. Then I got a call from Dan — I don’t know how he got the number but he called General Electric — and he asked me, “Hey Foy, Are you still wrestling?

No, I haven’t been training.

“There’s a new club, California Jets.”

Okay…

“Do you want to wrestle for them?”

I guess, I don’t know. I asked who was running and he told me Bob Anderson.

“Are you going to train for the Nationals?”

Yeah, I guess…

I talked to my supervisor and told her I had an opportunity to try out for the World Team and how it was this Friday, Saturday, and Sunday. She said, “We can sponsor you!” I said, “Really?” (laughs)

5PM: Wow. 

Foy: I know (laughs). Her name was Sue England. So I called Dan back and said, “They want to sponsor me!” He told me to tell them about O-Job. I asked what that was, he told me, and then they called each other and I was on O-Job so that every time I left I still got paid, and I started training. I still didn’t have anyone to train with so I would simulate wrestling by running around the track. I would try to do two miles and just jog and pummel, jog and pummel.

I jumped into the tournament and that was the year Randy beat me, but I was just coming back, and then I beat him at Trials. I think that was the case. That was when he beat me out of all the times I had beaten him. He had just moved up. I hadn’t wrestled since the Olympics when I came back to make the Team.

I went in knowing I had to get in shape really quick, so I started moving water. I didn’t know anything about Maik Bullman because he was a 180 pounder (82 kg) in the Olympics and that was only five or six months before.

I was moving water and really concentrating on getting in good shape. Just constantly moving water for like an hour, hour-and-a-half everyday in the pool. My mindset for wrestling was to move them (foreign opponents at the Worlds) around. Yeah, they’re good in position but they are not very athletic. All I had to do was keep them out of their positions, which they are good at, and make them wrestle how I wanted to wrestle. And that’s what I did.

I’d move them and move them. I was constantly moving. It was just freestyle. I was shooting, but above the waist and doing what came naturally with the throws. I still didn’t know how to pummel. I didn’t know. I didn’t know how to pummel in ’88. If you watch me coach, I don’t teach a lot of throws. I teach pummeling, now that I know how. But I did not know how to pummel. If you watch the videos, I’m not pummeling. I didn’t know how. I’m trying to get to the waist so I could throw. That would have been less than a year of wrestling Greco-Roman when I took the silver medal.

5PM: What were your emotions like going into the gold medal match? Were you nervous?

Foy: I went into that whole tournament thinking I was going to win it. Ask John Morgan. He came up to me and said, “Mike, did you think you were going to place when you came here?” Yeah, I thought I was going to win it, John. Why wouldn’t I think that?

What I did was mostly mental. I told myself that I had been there before. That was it. Jarrett Hubbard was really good at mental strength. Intensity and mental strength. He should have been a college coach. He taught me how to be intense, and also how to have a strong mind. So when I went in there with Dr. Honiotes, it was, You already did this. You’ve already done this. That’s what I was taught — if you see everything as perfect, then your mind is going to respond to each situation perfectly. That’s why if someone asks me, How’s it going today?, I am going to say, Great, it’s the best day of my life. I’m ready. I’m always ready. 

What he also talked about was how wild animals behave. The thing about wild animals is that they are always in the present. They are never thinking about yesterday’s meal that they missed, or tomorrow’s meal, they are only thinking about what they’re going to eat now. They are ready to pounce.  That is how they stay focused and sharp, and it’s also why they are successful.

When I wrestled, I wasn’t out there wrestling, or thinking about wrestling. I was thinking about what I was going to eat. This is going to sound crazy, like, really crazy, but when I ate my meals I would use my fingers. I wouldn’t use a knife and fork, I’d use my hands. I would take the meat with my hands and pull it with my teeth. Because, I was in the mold of a wild animal.

Now, someone like Kenny Monday? He didn’t have to do that. Or Nate Carr. They wouldn’t have to do that. They were so good at what they did, so technical and comfortable, that it wasn’t as emotional for them. I had to be vicious, they didn’t. I was wrestling Greco for a year and had to go back to what I was really good at. I had to get back to that raw, unhuman, animalistic person who I was training to be. That was my advantage.

My advantages were also my fighting and my athletic ability. I remember telling Chandler how I named a move after him. He had shown me this move where I’m blocking, moving the head, and then the guy would wear down. So, I told him, Hey, I named a move after you. And he said, “I named a move after you, too. You know how when it looks like someone has you, but you have the ability to move your body and turn it against them?” And I kind of didn’t, but I knew what he meant. I could anticipate, and that’s what I teach. You can anticipate the fall, because they are going to fall the same way almost all of the time, and you have to be there to seal the deal.

That is one of the things people realize, and they probably think I was this seasoned wrestler at the time, but I wasn’t. Ironically, my sons started in high school, too. You’d think I would have learned, right? (Laughs)

5PM; How do you reach kids who may not be naturally inclined towards wrestling, or are struggling in other areas of their lives? What is your method of communication?

Michial Foy: I had a unique experience in wrestling. What I mean by that is I was a struggling guy. I would listen to the coaches, but I didn’t necessarily believe in them.

I told a story one time to J’s wrestlers. Basically, I was two wrestlers. I was the one with all of the athletic ability, not putting into anything into it, not doing all of the hard work. Everything you’re supposed to be able to do came so easy for me. I was a lazy wrestler. I was also an “almost” wrestler; I almost did this, I had the potential to do that. I can speak to those. I can speak to those who just started wrestling because I wasn’t someone who was wrestling before they were even alive, if you will. It was a conscious decision for me to start wrestling. I can speak to the fact how I wasn’t that dedicated of a wrestler.

But then I can tell them another story. And it’s the same guy, but it is a different story and a different attitude. I started to respect the coach and listen to what he said. If he said to do something, I was going to do what he said — and I was going to do more, not less. I told them about being committed, I told them about who I used to hate wrestling, and how you can actually develop your mind to be strong enough to overcome that and flip the script on it.

I didn’t like running, let alone wrestling. I didn’t like running. So while I was running, I would map out a two-mile course, and it was a struggle for me. But I kept doing it. And while I was doing it, out loud I kept telling myself that I loved it. This was during the 18 months before trying out for the Olympic Team. I started in ’86 and the Games were in ’88. October 16th of ’86. I ran, hated running, but ran anyway, and told myself I loved it.

I told J’s team the transition that occurred. First few days, I ran, said I loved it, but actually hated it. And then the weekend, I got a little rest, and the next week I am running again. I started running faster, running better, wasn’t hating it as much, and kept telling myself I loved it. By the end of that week going into the next, I actually started loving it. Why did I start to love it? Because the brain doesn’t care what you tell it, you just have to tell it. It will function the way you instruct it to. I told it to “like” running; the brain is not going to try to define “like”, it just goes, He said “like”, so what do we do when he likes something? We tap into the endorphins. It’s the same thing a drug does when someone gets high. It happens. It floods the body, it makes you feel euphoric.

This is called a “runner’s high”. You told yourself you feel good (running), and now you actually feel good because you’re able to tap that source of chemicals. Now, you run more. You run faster, because the adrenaline is starting to flow. Now you are a good runner and you get in better shape, and you go into your wrestling matches and you do better.

Now, you really like running because you see the equation, If I run faster I get better, I do better, and I like myself because of it. And that’s what I did. That got me to the Olympic Games.

5PM: When you look at the current state of the USA Greco-Roman program, which is under constant scrutiny, what is the first thing you see? What in your mind needs to happen for the US to regain a foothold as a top-level program worldwide?

Foy: It’s like anything else, the way I see it. How did J Robinson build Minnesota, which had never won a National Championship in all of its years in existence? How did he build it? Well, he built it by bringing in coaches who were all top-notch athletes to wrestle with those kids. He’s not the only one, this is just the way it’s done. You have got to have good relationships with past performers to get them involved. He engaged them in the process. He has that vision and asked those past wrestlers to come help build the program. The room makes the athlete. It defines the success of the team. You can’t be tough without a tough room. You can’t be tough just because you want to be tough.

I went down there (to Colorado Springs) two years ago, out of shape on top of the mountain. I’m not going to name the person I wrestled. I asked Shon Lewis, Can I go out there? He said, “Oh yeah, yeah, yeah.” You know Shon. So I go, No, Shon, is it safe to go out there? (Laughs) He goes, “Yeah, yeah, yeah.” So I say Okay and start pummeling with the guys.

Now think about it. I hadn’t wrestled in a long time, a half-decade maybe. I started wrestling with this guy and they tell me he’s the #1 guy. And I’m wrestling with him, I got a little more comfortable, and quickly found out he couldn’t even pummel. I told him, Come at me with all you got. He starts coming at me with high-dive after high-dive, and I’m just blocking, blocking, and pummeling. Then I start becoming a little more physical with him and he looks at me, and you know, he’s young. I whisper in his ear, You know, if I get in shape I’m going to kick your ass. And he just looked at me. You could just tell. What I’m basically trying to tell him there is that, You’ve got to get tough. I mean, you’re letting a grandfather, an old man… I went back to Shon like, What’s going on here? Are you saying that’s the #1 Junior? He tells me no, the guy’s a Senior. He’s a Senior? Wow. 

The bottom line is, in my opinion, is instead of inclusion, they have exclusion. They don’t reach out to the alumni. They don’t engage them. There are just a few people who they want. It’s usually a good ol’ boy system they have there. They never called me. They never called me to even apply as a coach. This is synonymous. Throughout the African American community, we are pushed out, forgotten about, left alone. Thank God for February or they wouldn’t know about us. They don’t know about us.

You go to USA Wrestling and you see none of us. You go to any of the paying jobs and you see none of us. That is one of the concerns we’ve had, and like I said, it precedes me. That’s what they do. To be honest, it’s exclusionary. I have a lot to give on both levels, freestyle and Greco. You do understand I was second in freestyle and first in Greco for many years. If I was two people, I would have made both Teams. But they had them together. One time I wrestled them together. I’m actually a better freestyle wrestler than I am Greco. But there isn’t a place for me because they already had what they considered their champion, and it didn’t look like me.

If you interview others who have been in my position, they’ll tell you a story. They will tell you a story that is similar to mine, and I have to stop people now from telling me their story because it is, Okay, I got you, I got you, it’s the same story. Everyone I talk to, it’s the same story. They left wrestling because they got pushed out of wrestling.

The short answer to your question is to be more inclusive, more inviting, and get those guys who have medaled involved in the process of coaching and connecting.

I’m just going to throw this out there, but they put Randy Couture in the Hall of Fame over Derrick Waldroup and myself. And truth be told — and you can write this if you want — as many times as I came back, including in 1996, it wasn’t that I wanted to make the Olympic Team. I had made a promise that Randy Couture would never make the Olympic Team. I feel bad about it, I feel really bad about it because Randy is a nice guy. Know who I was really getting at? USA Wrestling. They were not going to have that hero because in 1990, they threw me off the Team and replaced me with him. I had to get a lawyer and fight for three days straight while they were in Sweden. They finally put me back on because they had done it in error. Well, I shouldn’t say “error” because they purposely threw me off. That was Mike Houck who did it.

They wanted him (Couture) as a hero for a long time. I was even told by one of the referees as I’m crossing the street in 1996 — and I’m going to use these words even though I don’t like cussing — “Why don’t you let this shit go?” I kid you not. He then says, “Why don’t you concentrate on freestyle?” And the reason why he said that is so I couldn’t keep Randy off the Olympic Team. Luckily, Derrick beat him and I lost to Derrick, which was fine, and it was the only reason I came back. I didn’t want Randy to make the Olympic Team. He could have went up, he could have went down. But it wasn’t going to happen at my weight.

They wanted him so badly. They cheated for him, they replaced me with him, and it was a lot of nonsense going on. That’s the honest to God truth. I feel really bad, in a sense, that I had to prove a point because they just wanted him. I had no problems when Derrick was behind me in the rankings. No problems. Anytime Randy was #2, they were always trying to get him to replace me. They would fine me, do all kinds of things during training camps. The last one was when Mike Houck threw me off the Team after he gave me permission to leave a day early so I could do a speaking engagement. Then he comes back after he throws me off the Team and says that he gave me permission. And that was it.

I get out to the World Cup and then they say they are going to split the weight group. I’m already jet-lagged, I didn’t win all of the tough matches. I lost to the Cuban who eventually became Olympic Champion. I lost to him but I beat the returning World Champion from Russia, and everyone else, to score enough points to get third place. But they want to give the Cup to Randy? Randy lost all of his matches. He said, “No, Foy won all the matches.” They were going to give him the Cup. He wasn’t going to keep it anyways because I would have sued for it. But that’s the way the treated us.

So when you ask how to fix the Greco Team? You get some alums who have done the deed and get them out there, engage them, and make them feel part of it. You’ll have the best Greco Team in the World. But they are never going to have the best Greco Team in the world when the rules change, there is no forced par terre, unless it’s back.

5PM: Yes, forced par terre is back. 

Foy: Okay, well, they have a guy in there, the head guy, even though he took a silver medal was terrible on his feet. He was a good lifter. But prior to that, guess what? It was all on the feet and he can’t teach what he doesn’t know. If the person is doing the takedown and exposing the opponent’s back, that’s my expertise.

5PM: Have you ever made any overtures or attempts to show up at a camp or volunteer, or just get involved with the (Greco-Roman) Sport Committee?

Foy: No, no. I went out there a couple of times. Generally what happens is that you get run away from the sport. If I had a dollar for each person I talked to this week or last week… They say the same thing, how they turn their backs on us. Mike Van Arsdale, everyone I talk to says the same thing. And the thing that we all share is that we’re all African Americans, and they turn their backs on us for the same reason that I turn my back on them. I fought it and tried to change it. I talked to Jim Scherr, I talked to (Steve) Fraser and spoke very candidly about what I felt. But, I’m just an outsider. They have their clicks, they have their chosen people, and they’re not going to listen to me.

You get frustrated, upset, get over it, and leave because anything else will give you too much of a headache because you’re knocking your head against a brick wall. I called them out. I have literally told them that their process is racist. I’ve told them that. Obviously, that wasn’t something they wanted to hear. But it’s the truth. If you just look, if you go to USA Wrestling. I could put you on the phone with Bobby Douglas and he’ll tell you the same thing. He has factual stuff to back him up.

We’re no longer trying to change them. We are just trying to reach these kids with the heroes we have to hopefully inspire them. And hopefully, it will inspire more diversity in the officiating, as well. That is what is needed, too, so people say, I’m not going to do that, because if I do that, they’ll do it to my kid. So let me be fair and go by the rules. Because if everyone looked like me, we could just do what we want to do because everyone is going to support me. Most times, that’s what you have.

I’m not just talking about USA Wrestling, I am talking about the IHSA (Illinois High School Association). I’m sitting up there with Ed Giese, and Ed Giese is hanging out with all the brothers, and he bursts out, “Look, look! I’m watching this for a whole hour and it’s always the same thing!” We all looked at Ed like, Calm down. We know, we know. And what he was going to say is if it’s two white guys on the mat, they get a fair shake; if it is two black guys on there, they get a fair shake; but if it’s a white guy and a black guy, the black guy is getting screwed. Ed noticed that and we had already moved past it.

I got to a point where I’m not bitter. I mean, I’m really not, because I’ve come to the conclusion that you either do something about it, or you leave it alone. This is me doing something about it, and it’s really not necessary at this point to to try to force an issue that they’re not ready to address themselves.

But we do need to recruit more diversity because we’re down in numbers. Here in Illinois, the numbers for participation in wrestling are down, the only thing saving us is the surge of women’s wrestling.

5PM: That is pretty much across the board practically. 

Foy: Yeah, that’s what I’m saying, so this particular endeavor (NAAWHOF) is for USA Wrestling in general and it will help recruiting. These kids — I’m in the city, remember — I talk to them and it’s like I’m telling them about ghosts. They don’t know it, they don’t believe it. And it’s true, but to them I might as well be talking out the side of my neck.

That’s why I am doing this, and why we decided we need to get this thing going. These kids should know about our athletes. They don’t have to emulate them, but they should have a knowledge of these folks who as individuals have done a lot. I am not going to shake and rattle cages at USA Wrestling just so they can say, Okay, I’ll check it out. It’s bigger than that.

5PM: You’re known for a lot of things aside from just having been a successful athlete. You’re a father, a coach, an entrepreneur, an advocate, a mentor. All of these things could be used to describe you. But if I were to ask how you prefer being thought of, what would it be?

Michial Foy: I would say a Christian. Someone who looks out for the downtrodden. Someone who transcends race, gender. I am for fair play. I thrive off of it. I just don’t see how people can thrive off of undermining what you achieve.

The only thing I can say is that I am a humanist. If I can help someone, I do it. I have friends and I mentor their children, or help their children wrestle. It’s not just African Americans, it is anyone. My motivation is that I’ve had a storied life, much more than anyone could say they probably expected (laughs). I’ve been having fun. It has been like an amusement park. Different rides. I didn’t think wrestling would provide me with the opportunity get my education and travel the world, which would lead to me becoming a speaker. Which then led me to become a coach, a mentor, someone who is respected. And if I could have a hand in helping someone else, I’m honored. I am truly honored. I would do it for free, and usually do, because I’m so passionate about helping others reach their goals. There is nothing in the world like it.

Listen to “5PM33: The Marine Corps’ Jamel Johnson” on Spreaker.

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