Sparring Session: Jason Morris readies athletes for world judo championships, mentors next generation
From his office at his dojo in Glenville — or wherever he might happen to be at the moment — it’s never been easier for Jason Morris to keep tabs on his athletes who are competing around the world at the top levels of judo.
“I’ve got a kid in Croatia right now, and the technology is fantastic, because you can communicate instantly,” said Morris, a 1992 Olympic silver medalist in judo who’s trained athletes at his Jason Morris Judo Center for more than two decades. “They just call on Facebook, so they can get updated game plans. It’s basically like I’m there next to them now.”
That communication is especially vital now, as time winds down before Team USA’s selections are announced for October’s world judo championships in Tashkent, Uzbekistan.
Three JMJC athletes — Ari Berliner, Nate Keeve and Hannah Martin — have already hit the qualification standards for the world championships, while Kell Berliner and Nicole Stout are both on the bubble, with tournament action this weekend determining if they’ll hit those standards before the cut-off date on Aug. 2.
The U.S. can send nine men and nine women — spread across seven weight classes for each gender — to the world championships. To qualify, an athlete must be among the top nine in the U.S. rankings and in the top 100 in the world rankings.
Martin, a Burnt Hills-Ballston Lake High School graduate, is a seven-time world championship team member and 16-time World Cup medalist. The 34-year-old is returning to competition in the 63-kilogram class this year having sat out the last two years due to pregnancy and the birth of her daughter, Zoey.
The 27-year-old Keeve is set to compete in the men’s 100-kg division. The San Francisco native is a 2021 Pan Am Championships bronze medalist.
Ari Berliner, 23, will head to Uzbekistan in the men’s 66-kg division. The Cumming, Georgia native won bronze at this year’s Pan Am Championships and will be on the world championships team for the second straight year.
His 27-year-old brother Kell Berliner, a 2019 world championships competitor and two-time national champion, needs results to fall his way this weekend in Croatia to qualify in the men’s 81-kg class, as does 25-year-old two-time national champion Nicole Stout in the women’s 70-kg class, who is ranked in the top 100 worldwide, but is outside the top nine in the U.S.
As a trainer, Morris’ goal is to keep his athletes’ mentality steady as they navigate an extremely stressful time.
“You’re going to have kids that do well and are really excited, maybe overly so, you have kids that do OK and you’re fine, and then kids who crash and burn and are ready to jump off buildings,” he said. “The challenge as a mentor-slash-coach is to keep everybody on an even keel all the time. We love it, but we also dread it.”
Morris is just two weeks away from the 30th anniversary of his Olympic silver in Barcelona, which was followed just nine days later by the death of his father, Bernie, while still at the Olympics.
Morris, however, prefers to look forward. This year’s world championships will be held Oct. 6-13, at the same time that Morris is bringing back his Morris Cup event in Glenville for the first time since 2019.
And, even as he mentors his current crop of athletes to success on the global stage, there’s also the core mission of JMJC in introducing the next generation to judo.
“We’ve been doing this for 20-some years,” Morris said. “It’s been a great right. I still have the passion for developing kids into, hopefully, what I was and even past what I did.”
MIKE TYSON’S FIGHT NIGHT
Capital Region mixed martial arts promotion Cage Wars is set for one of its biggest events ever next weekend. The company, which has held its events at Rivers Casino in Schenectady since 2018, will hold Mike Tyson’s Fight Night on July 23 at the Empire State Plaza Convention Center in Albany.
The card is one of the first in New York to feature a mix of professional and amateur MMA, and will be headlined by a bantanweight bout pitting Albany’s Chris Disonell against Canadian fighter Teshay Gouthro.
“There haven’t been many pro/am shows since [professional MMA was legalized in New York] a few years ago,” said Cage Wars co-promoter and Amsterdam native Tommy Marcellino. “It’s nice, because we really pushed for it, and that’s always been a goal.”
Boxing legend Tyson will be providing commentary for the event, which will be streamed at Stimulus.com, a platform launched by Sticker Mule CEO Anthony Constantino. The partnership with the former heavyweight champ came about through one of Marcellino’s coaches at Schott’s Boxing in Albany, who had a contact with a trainer who prepped Tyson for his 2020 exhibition bout against Roy Jones Jr.
“We got in contact with him, and he’s been helping the event out a lot,” Marcellino said.
It was originally scheduled to be a two-night event, with a boxing card on Friday before MMA took center stage on Saturday, but Marcellino said the boxing event fell through in planning stages.
Tickets for the event are available at CageWarsMMA.com.
AEW, WWE HEAD TO ALBANY
Both of America’s major pro wrestling companies will be running shows at Albany’s MVP Arena just over two months apart.
All Elite Wrestling announced on Wednesday that the company will make its Capital Region debut on Sept. 14, with a live edition of Dynamite on TBS and a taping of Rampage for TNT. AEW, headed by Tony Khan, son of Jacksonville Jaguars owner Shahid Khan, is in its third year of existence and features stars including CM Punk, Jon Moxley, Sting and Chris Jericho. Tickets go on sale this coming Friday at 10 a.m.
Meanwhile, last week it was announced that WWE Monday Night Raw will emanate from MVP Arena on Nov. 21, the first time WWE’s flagship show will broadcast from Albany since 2019. Tickets for the event went on sale Friday at Ticketmaster.com.
Both events will be homecomings for Capital Region natives. AEW’s Bobby Fish is a graduate of Colonie High School and Siena College, and WWE’s Matt Riddle was a 2004 NYSPHSAA wrestling champion at Saratoga Springs High School.
RING THE BELL
Thanks for reading this inaugural edition of Sparring Session. This column will appear every month highlighting combat sports and martial arts in the Capital Region. To submit results or upcoming events for the column, email [email protected].
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