When his wife Carmella died five years ago, Joseph Sarracino wanted to help his 7-year-old son Joey cope with the loss. Both were devastated, but the Tampa-based father was at least distracted by a new mission: Making sure grief didn’t consume his son. That’s how Joseph Sarracino, late-fifties, slightly overweight, a maintenance man at a retirement community, found his way into the wrestling ring.
Joey had always been big wrestling fans so it wasn’t unusual that he and his father were planning to attend a local event a couple months after Carmella’s passing. What Joey didn’t know was that his father had made a few calls. During the match, the announcer called a shocked Joey to the ring and explained what he was going through. Before long, the entire crowd was chanting his name to show their support. Joey was in such a state of shock that he couldn’t lift his head. As for Joseph? He was crying.
After that moment, Joseph made matches into a ritual. Before each, he would try to contact organizers to see if there was a way for his son to see some of his favorites. Joey met several of his idols, including WWE Chairman Vince McMahon at Wrestlemania 29. And, slowly, he began to be a kid again. Over the next few years, the duo went to dozens of events together. It gave them something to talk about and kept them together. Joseph knew it would make memories.
“When I was eight, I remember visiting my grandparents in Burgettstown, Pennsylvania and they would start up their little black and white television and put on wrestling matches,” Joseph says.
That’s why he doubled down. Joseph went to his friend Mike McClaskey, a retired pro wrestler, and informed him that he was interested in wrestling. The reaction was dismissive. McClaskey, a good friend, bluntly told him he’d be better off and safer trying to become a referee or manager instead. But a chance meeting with legendary wrestling trainer Frank Reyes convinced Joseph to try out. Reyes told him that he could have a shot if he was willing to put in the work. Joseph started training.
Joseph admits that when he first told Joey he wanted to try wrestling, he worried his son “was going to be embarrassed by his old dad.” But instead, his son was excited by the thought of his old man getting to wrestle. Joey soon became his de facto trainer.
“Joey had to be part of it,” Joseph explains. “Fortunately, he was more than ready to make sure I was putting in the work.”
Joseph says there were moments when, during the exhaustive training, he felt like quitting. But Joey wouldn’t let him. “He would always be checking in and motivating me to hop on the treadmill,” Joseph says.
After a few months of practice, Joseph had a tryout at The Legendary Professional Wrestling Academy in Tampa. To the surprise of all concerned, it went well. Joseph Sarracino, 60-years-old, still slightly overweight, still a maintenance man at the retirement community, was a wrestler.
For now, Joseph remains in training. He expects to be in fight shape by early next year. “So far, so good,” he laughs, “but obviously I am a 60-year-old guy who could really get hurt. Still, he’s happy to have a fight and something to fight for.
Does Joseph think he’s going to get called up to the WWE? Of course not. He’s a reasonable man and well aware that the squared circle belongs to younger athletes. Also, it doesn’t matter. Joseph just wanted to give his son something to root for — something improbable to believe in. That turned out to be him. His career on the mat is already a success, but it isn’t over yet.