Jordan Burroughs celebrates after win at the Freestyle World Cup (Photo/Tony Rotundo, WrestlersAreWarriors.com)
You could hear a pin drop in the United States warmup area at the 2010 World Championships in Moscow, Russia.
The U.S. had just completed one of its worst performances in its storied history. The Americans finished an unthinkable 22nd with five points. The U.S. won a total of just four matches. Shortly after the final American match, wrestling legend Dan Gable stood in the warmup area trying to make sense of it all.
"I never in my lifetime thought I would see a performance like that," a downcast Gable said. One of Gable's first questions was how does the U.S. team improve. A short time after that, U.S. assistant coach Brandon Slay posed the same question to me.
My response? Jordan Burroughs.
Slay, an Olympic gold medalist, wasn't quite as convinced that day. But he soon would be. Burroughs still had a year of college eligibility left, and he had very little freestyle experience at that point. But even in his early 20s, he already had all of the intangibles of a future superstar on the international level.
Burroughs obviously was a tremendous athlete who was explosive with a lethal double-leg takedown. But he also was a smart, driven and hungry wrestler who was mentally tough and had a strong work ethic to match. He also was in excellent shape and didn't seem to wear down physically in a match. Jordan Burroughs was the kind of guy who could put fear in the minds of foreign opponents the way guys like Gable, John Smith and Cael Sanderson did.
Burroughs has accomplished that, and then some, in a fabulous career very few people would have ever envisioned. He has already had a Hall of Fame career with an Olympic gold medal and four world titles to his credit. Burroughs has a perfect 27-0 career record in the World Cup.
Jordan Burroughs was dominant at the Freestyle World Cup in Iowa City (Photo/Tony Rotundo, WrestlersAreWarriors.com)
He led the U.S. to its first world team title in over two decades last year. And he helped the American squad win the 2018 World Cup.
Now he heads into Saturday night's Final X event on his home mat in Lincoln, Neb. as the favorite to make his eighth straight world-level team at 74 kilograms.
Burroughs will battle a tough young opponent in Isaiah Martinez, a two-time NCAA champion and 2017 U23 World Team member.
The winner will represent the U.S. at October's World Championships in Budapest, Hungary.
Even though Burroughs already is a legend in the sport, there is still plenty he wants to accomplish. Heavily favored to win his second straight Olympic gold medal, Burroughs stunningly dropped back-to-back matches and fell short of winning a medal at the 2016 Olympic Games in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil.
Burroughs broke down in tears during an emotional post-match interview on Aug. 19, 2016.
"I feel a lot of disappointment, embarrassment and disgrace," he said that day. "I let myself down most."
The disappointment of 2016 still stings. Burroughs said recently it is too painful to look back at it "so I avoid it at all costs."
The suddenly unflappable, unbeatable Burroughs had his share of doubters after the Olympics. Some wondered if he would beat up-and-coming standout Kyle Dake to make the 2017 World Team. And many wondered if he could recapture his past form at the 2017 World Championships in Paris.
He did both.
Jordan Burroughs won a world title in Paris last August (Photo/Tony Rotundo, WrestlersAreWarriors.com)
"I knew I was still the best wrestler in the world on August 19, 2016," Burroughs said last month. "I just didn't compete at my highest level. Things just didn't come together for me."
Burroughs showed his mettle by powering through a brutally tough bracket to win his fourth world title last year in France. He came from behind in all five matches to capture gold at 74 kilograms. He also led the American team to its first world team title in freestyle in more than two decades.
Burroughs' exploits on the mat are impressive when you look back at what he has accomplished:
Now Burroughs is focused on another Olympic run. With the 2020 Olympic Games in Tokyo, Japan just over two years away, Burroughs is eyeing a fifth world title this year.
"Jordan has had an incredible career and he's wrestling as well as he ever has," Nebraska coach Mark Manning said this week. "Jordan bounced back to have a great season (in 2017) and he's continued to wrestle at a very high level this year. It's pretty remarkable what he's done."
Jordan Burroughs shakes Frank Chamizo's hand before their Beat the Streets match (Photo/Juan Garicia)
Burroughs is coming off a thrilling, come-from-behind win over two-time world champion Frank Chamizo of Italy at the Beat the Streets event last month in New York City. Chamizo came out strong, scoring a pair of early takedowns on a very slick mat before Burroughs rallied after being down 4-0 early and 5-2 in the second period.
"No doubt about it, he's a good wrestler," Burroughs said of Chamizo. "It's going to be tough for me to defeat him moving forward. The bottom line is you have to be prepared to beat the best guys on their best days.
"The reason I've gotten to this point in my career is because I've always lived outside of my comfort zone and I've always lived right beyond my edge. I really have to continue to do that if I want to be the best wrestler this country has ever seen."
The Cuban-born Chamizo has bumped up a weight class after winning a world title last year at 70 kilograms.
"Jordan battled through a lot of adversity in that match with Chamizo," Manning said. "He was down, but he dug down deep and found a way to get it done. That's what Jordan Burroughs does. He's an outstanding competitor."
Jordan Burroughs has won four world titles and an Olympic gold medal (Photo/Tony Rotundo, WrestlersAreWarriors.com)
If Burroughs earns world gold this year, he would equal John Smith's American record of six combined Olympic and world titles.
Burroughs, who will celebrate his 30th birthday next month, is driven to win the Olympics again and break Smith's record.
"I think I'm in good position to do those things," he said. "But I have a lot of work to do until then, so these next three years are hopefully going to be my best three years.
"I feel really good right now. I feel like I'm better than I've ever been as a wrestler."
Manning has been in Burroughs' corner every step of the way during his international career.
"Losing in Rio, it was shocking and it was devastating for Jordan," Manning said. "It took a long time for him to get over what happened at the Olympics. It was rough on him -- really rough. It wasn't easy, but he buried that experience and we saw him resurrect himself. And now he's a better version of Jordan Burroughs than we've ever seen before.
"It's so amazing to see how he's evolved. It's really impressive to see how he came back after the Olympics. He's stronger mentally and physically because of the way he responded to that setback."
U.S. National Coach Bill Zadick credits Burroughs for staying on top of his game.
"With Jordan, everybody knows he's got great speed, but he always brings something different," Zadick said. "He has almost always been more prepared for the opposition than they've been for him. You saw that in guys like John Smith and guys that are legends in our sport."
For a legend like Burroughs, his opponents are still developing specific game plans to slow him down and take him out of his game.
"You have to be ready for anything whenever you step out on the mat," he said.
Burroughs has said he is committed to competing through this Olympic cycle.
"I don't know how long my career is going to last," he said after his win in New York. "As long as it does, I'm going to do my best to take chances, put on shows and I think a lot of people in the world will watch."
Craig Sesker has written about wrestling for more than three decades. He's covered three Olympic Games and is a two-time national wrestling writer of the year.