Tri-City HeraldAugust 26, 2015
Zach Borisch figures to become a household name for Mid-Columbia sports fans in the near future.
Stepping in as the starting quarterback for the Kamiakin High School football team tends to do that, particularly under offense-minded head coach Scott Biglin. The 6-foot, 173-pound junior comes into the season with plenty of buzz: He is ranked in the top 145 Northwest players by Northwest Prep Report and has been in contact with schools such as Yale, Eastern Washington and Montana.
Perhaps more impressive — though likely a little farther out of the spotlight — is his status as one of the top judo fighters in the nation. He is ranked eighth by USA Judo at 83 kilograms (183 pounds) in the Cadet (21-and-under) division despite having just turned 16 years old. He has about three dozen state titles to go with numerous gold, silver and bronze medals from national competitions. One of those bronzes came at the U.S. Open Championships last month in Fort Lauderdale, Fla.
There are his honor-roll smarts, a through-the-roof work ethic and a sense of responsibility that has him instructing at the family-owned Tri-City Judo immediately after two-a-day football practices.
There are plenty of reasons Borisch will show up on any local sports fan’s radar. But what he is best known for — world famous, really — is his ability to impersonate Ronda Rousey, the No. 1 attraction in mixed martial arts by a mile.
No, Borisch doesn’t look much like Rousey, whose looks have paved the way for a budding Hollywood career. And he certainly doesn’t duplicate her blunt, often-bullying demeanor. But when Miesha Tate — another top MMA star — wants to train to face her No. 1 rival, she makes sure to put in some time on the mat with the Kamiakin teen.
“He’s a high-level judo player, he’s bigger than me and he’s still a male,” Tate said last week during a stop in the Tri-Cities. “He may only be in high school, but he is still an elite athlete.”
For Borisch, it is a chance to help out someone who has become a family friend. It also brought some unintended fame when Tate posted a photo of the two on Instagram following a recent workout. It blew up, getting shared on Facebook and retweeted on Twitter, and winding up on various websites, including that of the Ultimate Fighting Championship, the biggest brand in MMA. Borisch was wearing a NAGA (North American Grappling Association) T-shirt, so the photo landed on that website as well.
Almost overnight, he picked up 120 new followers on Instagram.
“I’m not starstruck, but my friends thought it was so cool,” he said. “I thought it was really cool to be part of that, to help her (try to) win.”
Tate and her longtime boyfriend, fellow MMA fighter Bryan Caraway, have a home in the Tri-Cities, near Caraway’s family. Tate, a 29-year-old Tacoma native, said she hopes to open an MMA gym in the Tri-Cities in the next year and figures she has “another year or two” left in her fighting career.
Borisch and Tate started training together when he was finishing up his eighth-grade school year and she was prepping for her second fight with Rousey in 2013. Tate wanted to get some work in to counter Rousey’s judo ability — she won bronze in the 2008 Beijing Olympics — and wanted someone close to her 135-pound frame. Chiawana wrestling coach Jack Anderson, who was one of Tate’s coaches for The Ultimate Fighter TV show, was friends with the Borisch family and suggested Zach.
“I was just helping her learn how to defend throws, know where Ronda’s hips are for (Tate) to keep it standing,” Borisch said.
Tate called it anti-judo: “He’s the aggressor; I’m the one defending.”
If Borisch can lock Tate up consistently with a particular move, they talk about it, and then Tate brings the information back to her trainers in Las Vegas for more work.
The two were working again this summer with Tate hoping to get a third crack at Rousey in December. However, the UFC bantamweight champ announced last week that she would fight Holly Holm on Jan. 2 to headline UFC 195.
Borisch has been immersed in judo since the age of 4. His dad, Robert, got his introduction to the sport in 1973 at the Richland Dojo and is a third-degree black belt. Robert and wife Maria own Tri-City Judo, and Zach and his siblings — sisters Morgan, 26, and Asia, 13, and brothers Samuel, 18, and Gabe, 7 — all grew up around the sport.
Technically, Zach is a first-degree brown belt, but he has acquired more than enough points in tournaments to achieve a black belt. Robert said black belts in judo generally are not awarded to athletes under age 17.
But it is football that has his full attention now.
“I’ll be doing (judo) till I die,” he said. “It’s a hobby I like to do. But right now I love playing football. Football is what I really want to do.”
He already has learned the first lesson of good quarterbacking — doling out the praise to the offensive line. Kamiakin has a big one.
“Every lineman we have is 250-plus,” he said. “The only hard part is seeing over them.”
He quickly dismisses talk of his ranking as a quarterback: “I focus on making the team better. It’s not about how good you are; it’s about how good the team is.
“The bond is what creates state champions.”
His coach has become a big fan and appreciates the amount of competition Borisch has faced over the years.
“He’s a unique kid,” Biglin said. “It’s not something you see in a lot of kids. His judo level — he competes at a high level, and he brings that competitive level to the football team.”
Borisch also wrestles for Kamiakin in the winter and runs hurdles on the track team in the spring. His dad was a college decathlete, and the track talent carries over.
It seems that desire to squeeze so much from so many things might be what finally limits Zach’s progression in judo. When he competes at the big national tournaments, he is going against guys who train almost every day, five or six hours a day. It’s an Olympic-sized commitment that he doesn’t seem too thrilled about.
It wouldn’t leave much room for other sports, and Borisch sounds adamant against giving up too much when he says, “I enjoy everything I do.”
“I want to do as much as I can,” he added. “Whatever pays for college.”