M: Mario Magisti

Mario Magisti

In the mythical world of professional wrestling Mario Magisti was, according to the publicity, "A real full bloodied Italian."  The reality was, unexpectedly,  quite different. He was  born in Alexandria, Egypt, not as Mario, but as Edward Patrick Foley. Born on 19th March, 1903, the son of  William, who worked in Alexandria as a storekeeper, and Giusappina.

Father William Foley had been born in Leeds, having lived in Egypt for many years and  marrying Giusappina in 1902 in Alexandria. So at least that added a touch of authenticity to the ring persona. Apart from the English and Italian blood Mario also had an Irish grandfather from Listowel in County Kerry. Clearly the sort of colourful background that was just made for the world of professional wrestling.

We first came across Mario in 1932, and in the years that followed  found him wrestling big names that included Billy Riley, Jack Atherton, Cab Cashford and Val Cerino,  gloriously billed as middleweight champion, sometimes light heavyweight champion, of Italy. The provenance of such championship claims remain a mystery, and we are no less sceptical of the alleged  unbeaten tour of the USA. But this is professional wrestling, where championship claims and earlier exploits count for little. What mattered then, as now, was the impact a wrestler had on the paying punters. And Mario had impact.

Reports  do little to suggest that Mario was a  skilled technician, though we have found occasional references to him being a "clean wrestler." Such reports are rare. 

His reputation  was as a rough, tough wrestler who  could arouse the wrath of spectators more than most even in the chaotic realm of all-in wrestling. Mario had learned his wrestling trade in Professor Boscoe's boxing and wrestling booths, accepting challenges from members of the public. The experience of wrestling numerous opponents in the course of a day not only developed stamina it also taught Mario how to generate emotive responses from ringsiders. It was a lesson he learned well.

Proclaimed as "Mussolini's Right Hand Man" the rugged looking Mario, with a finger missing from his left hand, certainly looked the part. It was claimed the finger had been bitten off by an opponent at the Madison Square Garden in New York. More likely it was the result of an industrial accident when his hand was caught in a machine at the Forgrove  Engineering factory in Leeds.

On 20th August, 1935, The Daily Herald reported "2000 attempt to storm All In Ring." The cause of the disturbance was the fouling by Magisti in his match with Ginger Rawlings. When Mario failed to break an illegal hold fans rushed the ring, with the wrestler protected by the seconds.

Such incidents are not rare. 

Describing Mario as "A fierce little Italian"  the Advertiser and Echo of 21st March, 1939, reported that a contest in Ramsgate ended sensationally with the referee, George Callaghan, knocking out Mario with a straight left. The newspaper commented, "Even in all-in wrestling there are certain rules but the Italian ignored them." Mario was disqualified in the fifth round of his match with Babe Quesick.

Wrestling around the country Mario lived much of his adult life in London,  and in March, 1935, married  in Kensington. We have been told he met his wife to be one night at a dance after wrestling at the Beaufort Hall, in Leeds. We also know that Mario and his wife lived in Leeds for a time. This may well have been during the war years. Whatever Mario's commitments during the Second World War we do know that he continued to wrestle on a more limited basis both around the halls and on the fairground booths. Wrestling at this time continued in the north of England far more than in the south.

Whilst never one to attain regular top of the bill status Mario was not in the same class as the likes of Bert Assirati, George Gregory or Douglas Clark, and in terms of drawing power could not match Jack Pye or Norman The Butcher. Nevertheless, he  was certainly one of those colourful characters who wove the rich tapestry or 1930s professional wrestling, and played an essential role in professional wrestling for twenty years and more. He was one of the pioneers of modern British wrestling.

Mario continued his wrestling commitments following the Second World War, a stalwart for promoter Atholl Oakeley as the promoter attempted to revive his business following the war. Mario appeared on Oakeley's high profile tournaments at Harringay Stadium. He seems to have finally retired in the mid 1950s, the last appearance we could find was against Francis St Clair Gregory, working for Wryton Promotions at Hanley in October, 1954. His involvement in wrestling continued as a wrestling promoter.

Mario Magisti died in 1980, aged 77, whilst living in Brent.

Reviewed 28/02/2022