Jordan Burroughs after winning his seventh World/Olympic title (photos courtesy of Kadir Caliskan/UWW)
If you're reading this you likely just watched Jordan Burroughs etch his name into American wrestling history once again. Since the 1992 Olympics, John Smith's six world/Olympic titles have been the mark of wrestling greatness in the United States. Last year, Jordan Burroughs tied Smith's total of six, with his fifth world title, to go along with his 2012 Olympic gold medal. Also, Adeline Gray won her sixth world championship.
With Gray sidelined after recently giving birth to twins, Burroughs was left alone on the precipice of history. As we celebrate Burroughs' incredible accomplishment, let's look back at all seven titles to remember (or learn) about some of the events surrounding Burroughs' performance on the mat or off it.
2011: Number One
You've really got to go back in time to put this one into perspective. Earlier this year, Burroughs wrapped up his collegiate career at Nebraska with a second undefeated, national championship-winning season, and also claimed the Hodge Trophy. While Burroughs won the 157 lb weight class in 2009, he was injured for the second half of the 2009-10 season. That same year, Andrew Howe was unbeaten at 165. In 2010-11, some favored Howe, as Burroughs was coming off a knee injury and moving up a weight. Burroughs cleared up any of those doubts with a resounding win at the Midlands and the two never met in college again, as Howe fell in the NCAA semis to Tyler Caldwell.
All of this is to say, it was pretty unexpected that Jordan immediately jumped in and made the Senior world team. He did so after downing Nick Marable at the US Open, then Howe in the finals of the World Team Trials.
The 2011 World Championships itself are funny to rewatch, because you see such a raw version of Burroughs. He's far from polished, but still was good enough to beat the best in the world. The big match came in the round of 16 as Burroughs won his first meeting with the returning world champion Denis Tsargush of Russia. We got a glimpse of Tsargush, known as one of the dirtiest players in the game, tugging on and ripping Burroughs' singlet. The actual gold medal match came against Sadegh Goudarzi, which started a long, friendly rivalry with the Iranians.
This state of USA Wrestling is also important to note here. From 2007-10, the American men's freestyle team only won three total medals, with the only gold being Henry Cejudo's at the 2008 Olympics. The 2010 team had zero. Much of the talented 2008 Olympic team had left for the greener pastures of MMA.
Not only was 2011 huge for Jordan, but also for USA Wrestling. It was the point where results began to shift towards our American wrestlers. Not overnight, but it was the beginning of a progression.
A world title is an incredible achievement in any sport. In wrestling, a world title can be more difficult than the Olympics due to a larger field, which has more matches and more potential room for error. Even so, the Olympics are in a world of their own. The cache that Olympian, Olympic medalist, or even Olympic gold medalist makes the world championships pale in comparison to the general sporting public.
Winning the 2012 Games in London took Burroughs' star power to another level. He did the normal NBC Olympic talk show circuit and made some headlines with his tweet stating that the next tweet would be holding the gold medal. Oh, and he won $250k from the Living the Dream fund. Burroughs went from a world champion to wrestling royalty, along with a small dose of mainstream crossover appeal.
The tournament itself featured two of the key players from 2011, as Burroughs got by Tsargush in the semis, before winning the gold over Goudarzi once again.
2013: The Ankle
If the 2012 Olympic gold medal was a music album, it would be the crossover success, the one with hits that get played on repeat all summer and sells 5 million copies (at least when people bought albums/CD's). A casual fan of a band or artist may love this achievement the most. An Olympic gold medal resonates differently with your wrestling fans that don't regularly follow international wrestling.
Now for your wrestling fans that get up at three in the morning to follow international wrestling tournaments, your hard-est of the hardcores, 2013 may be your favorite. Using the music analogy, 2013 did not generate as much widespread attention, but it was heavy on substance. Burroughs was extremely dominant, even in the old-style FILA matches. He outscored the competition 27-2 in four matches, not including a disqualification win in the semifinals.
If that's not enough, Burroughs did it all on an ankle that was broken about four weeks ahead of the tournament. Up until a few days before the competition, Burroughs was off the mat. So not only did Burroughs win the world title and crush the field, but he also was wrestling in a condition that would have sidelined most other competitors. Once again, Burroughs defeated an Iranian opponent in the finals, Ezzatollah Akbari. For all of these reasons, 2013 was Burroughs' masterpiece.
Also, 2013 was the year wrestling was voted to be dropped from the Olympic Games and then reinstated. It's hard to quantify exactly how much Burroughs' wrestling abilities helped draw awareness to the sport, but it was a factor.
2015: Home Field Dominance
For the first time, since Burroughs hit the international scene full-time, he didn't capture a world/Olympic gold medal in 2014. 2015 was the chance to show that 2014 was a fluke and he was a little more banged up than he'd like you to believe. Burroughs did come away with a bronze in 2014.
Now, 2015. The World Championships on American soil. Thousands of his supporters were in Las Vegas to watch him and the rest of the US team pursue medals.
Burroughs' run to the finals in Vegas was actually more difficult than his gold medal match. In the quarters, Burroughs downed Alireza Ghasemi (Iran), 5-0 and in the semis, he survived Aniuar Geduev (Russia), 4-3.
This year was important for USA Wrestling as well because of the arrival of phenom Kyle Snyder, who set a then-record by winning a world title at 19 years old. With the young Snyder in the fold, he and Burroughs could share the duties of "face of American wrestling."
2017: The Comeback
The 2016 Olympic Games were a huge disappointment as Burroughs fell in a rematch to Geduev and failed to medal. Typically wrestling careers aren't very long and revolve around the Olympics, so it seemed natural to wonder whether this was the last we'd see of Jordan. That proved to be a premature assumption as Burroughs defeated Dake at the 2017 US Open and in an incredible three-match series at the World Team Trials to regain control of the 74 kg weight class.
The 2017 World Championships gave Burroughs an opportunity to exercise some demons and return to the top of the mountain. Just to make the finals, Burroughs had to get by Bekzod Abdurakhmanov, the former Clarion All-American that eliminated him from the 2016 Olympics. Burroughs got by Abdurakhmanov by a point and was tasked with facing Russian Khetig Tsabolov, a 2014 world champion at 70 kg. By this time, Burroughs' late-match heroics were a regular occurrence, so no one was too surprised when he did it versus Tsabolov. The match was symbolic of Burroughs' year. He capped off his comeback season with an excellent one against a top-notch opponent with gold on the line.
Looking at the big picture, the American team captured its first men's freestyle team title for the first time in 22 years. The team portion of this rebuild, that Burroughs was front and center for, had come full circle.
2021: 79 kg
After the 2020 Olympic Trials, Burroughs was left to contemplate his future, once again. Kyle Dake dropped from the non-Olympic weight, 79 kg, to take Burroughs' customary 74 spot. With a long and accomplished career at this point (April 2021), it wouldn't have been surprising to see Burroughs walk away. That wasn't the case though, Burroughs just moved up at 79 kg for a shot at the World Team in Oslo.
Burroughs notched a pair of wins over Alex Dieringer in the World Team Trials to make his 10th world/Olympic team.
At the World Championships, Burroughs faced yet another Iranian opponent in the finals Mohammad Nokhodi and put together a workman-like 5-1 victory. Draws always have tends to pit Burroughs against the toughest possible path and this year was no different with wins over opponents from Russia, Japan, and Kazakhstan before getting to the Iranian.
This ended up being his first title at a weight class that wasn't 74 kg and probably proved to be more satisfying, by not having to cut an extra 5 kg. It was also the first time where Burroughs trained away from his alma mater, Nebraska. In the early fall, Burroughs relocated back to the east coast and started training out of Philadelphia at the Pennsylvania RTC.
2022: The Record Breaker
All things considered, this year had less drama surrounding it compared to past wins. No crazy injuries or overwhelming disappointment to overcome. It was just wrestling.
And the matter of surpassing a hallowed record in American wrestling circles.
For the second straight year, Burroughs needed to get by Nokhodi to claim his record-breaking gold medal. As is typically the case, the Iranian was able to play defense for the early portion of the bout. In the second period, Burroughs' movement, head fakes, level changes, and heavy hands all began to wear down his opponent. That allowed Burroughs a chance to score in the second period and he did so with a pair of takedowns, the last coming via his trademark double leg.
One of the most impressive marks in a career filled with them is that Burroughs' seventh title came 11 years after his first, which is a lifetime (or two) in international wrestling.