Born in Dallas, Texas, he moved with his family to Chandler, Arizona in 1942, where he grew up playing baseball. Upon joining the U.S. Army in 1948, he entered the boxing ring, and won the 6th Army championship within a year, eventually earning the All-Army and All-Service titles. He fought in the Korean War, earning five battle stars, and was discharged in 1953.
He then signed a professional boxing contract, winning his first pro fight against Jimmy Ingram, then after a draw, won seventeen straight victories until losing to Johnny Summerlin. Despite being considered a top contender, Folley never faced Floyd Patterson, and it wasn't until March 22, 1967 that he faced the world heavyweight champion, who at this point was Muhammad Ali. Folley was knocked out in the seventh round after a fight some publications call one of the best in the history of Madison Square Garden. Folley fought for three more years afterward before being knocked out by Mac Foster in 1970.