Valley grad Joe Mandak moonlights as Ring of Honor referee
More than the average supporter, Joe Mandak focuses on the referees when he is watching professional wrestling.
What the 27-year-old Valley and Penn State New Kensington graduate is trying to do is create his own identity for his weekend gig. During his free time from his job as an asset recovery specialist for ZOLL Medical Corporation, Mandak works as a referee trying to control the chaos of professional wrestling matches.
“I started taking things I saw on TV and built my own repertoire,” Mandak said. “Almost every weekend, at least twice a month, I'm doing matches.”
Mandak's most high-profile assignment is working for Ring of Honor. ROH has sent a lot of talent to the world's biggest promotion, World Wrestling Entertainment. Mandak works about a half-dozen a matches a year for the company. In the last month, he worked the Global Wars event, which featured wrestlers from ROH paired up with athletes from New Japan Pro Wrestling.
Mandak has made trips to Buffalo, Lockport, N.Y., Columbus, Ohio, Baltimore and Pittsburgh to work the events. He doesn't try to go broke in order to pick up work.
“At one time, (ROH) ran with three referees,” Mandak said. “Now they use Paul Turner and Todd St. Clair. I try to show my face as much as possible in case they decided to go with three referees. I could fill that full-time spot.”
Mandak also does local shows, working for the McKeesport-based Pro Wrestling Express and another promotion in Cleveland.
“Everyone needs referees,” Mandak said. “I do McKeesport and Cleveland on a regular basis.”
Mandak, who played basketball in college, originally wanted to be a wrestler. Suffering at least one concussion, coupled with other injuries, gave him a hint that career path wasn't likely for him.
Looking for a way to stay involved, he started working as an official at local shows. Mandak caught on with ROH after attending a seminar at the ROH “dojo” in Bristol, Bucks County, in late 2015.
Those events involve a lot of hopeful wrestlers and officials going through a tryout of sorts. At the end of the weekend, they talk to people they are interested in.
“At the end of each Sunday, they have a couple matches,” Mandak said. “The referees work them in rotation. At the end of each camp, they give wrestlers and referees a thumbs up or thumbs down. Can you carry a segment? They'll say ‘Yes, definitely,' or maybe not as a primary, but in a supporting role.”
Mandak hopes someday it may be a starring role. Until then, he'll continue to do his research.
“It is somewhat difficult,” said Mandak on trying to keep up with all the ROH storylines. “They tape so far in advance. Even at the TV tapings, it's hard to keep up. But when they show the pay-per-views on Friday nights and I get together with my buddies, it's easy to follow the matchups with the story lines they create.”
Josh Rizzo is a freelance writer.