Jordan Burroughs was in seventh grade when his mother bought him his first high-end wrestling shoes – a pair of Adidas with John Smith’s name on the sides. It was his first connection with the six-time world and Olympic champion.
A decade later, Burroughs began his climb up the American wrestling ladder, aiming for the top rung, a space occupied only by Smith. The journey has been filled with obstacles and untimely injuries, but Burroughs arrived on the top step of national wrestling last fall, alongside Smith with his sixth gold medal at the world level.
Here’s how it got there:
2011 – “I like it when people doubt me”
To fully understand the magnitude of how Burroughs took the world by storm in 2011, it’s worth looking back to his final tournament of the 2010 calendar year. He wasn’t even the prohibitive favorite to win the NCAA 165-pound title at the start of his senior season in Nebraska. In fact, Burroughs entered the Midlands as the No. 2 seed behind Andrew Howe.
But Burroughs toppled Howe 10-7 in the Midlands final and it put him on the path to the Hodge Trophy that season, which proved to be just the start of his 2011 banner.
He beat Nick Marable in three periods to win the US Open and swept Howe in the best-of-three championship series at the World Team Trials.
“A lot of people didn’t even think I would make the team,” Burroughs said. “I’m here, I did it. I like when people doubt me. I just keep proving them wrong.
It was hard to find any skeptics after Burroughs broke through the 74 kilogram bracket to win his first world title. He knocked out two-time defending world champion Denis Tsargush of Russia in the second round, rebounded after losing the first period in the semifinals, then led Iran’s Sadegh Goudarzi in the final.
“People were saying I wasn’t even going to beat Andrew Howe this time last year,” Burroughs said, “and now I’m world champion.”
2012 – Olympic “Euphoria”
Burroughs entered the London Olympics with a 34-game winning streak and a surge of confidence stemming from his rookie run to the top of the world podium. He added to his game in 2012 with improved par skills and more freestyle sense.
“I feel like I’m fighting my best, nobody can beat me in the world,” Burroughs said in the days leading up to the London tournament. “I feel like I’m the best wrestler in the world and I feel like if I perform at my highest level, I’ll show the world who I am.”
Burroughs reached the semi-finals without wasting a period in their first two games, setting up a rematch with Tsargush. Burroughs dominated in three periods, winning a 3-1, 0-2, 2-1 decision and beating Goudarzi 1-0, 1-0 in the gold medal bout.
“It’s euphoria,” Burroughs said. “It’s pure joy and happiness to be at this stage of my career. I still have a lot of gold medals to win.
2013 – “You Shouldn’t Struggle”
Practice drew to a close for the US men’s freestyle team Aug. 22 with 27 days before Burroughs took to the mat at the World Championships. In the final sprint of the day, Burroughs ran to one end of the wrestling hall at the Olympic Training Center, pushed the wall to change direction, and collapsed in pain.
“I didn’t want to lose that sprint – and it cost me a broken ankle, an operation and a lot of heartache for a while,” he said. “But it also made me a legend in the process.”
Burroughs underwent surgery that inserted five screws and a plate into his left ankle.
“My doctor in Nebraska told me, ‘You shouldn’t wrestle,'” Burroughs said. “I was like, ‘I have to do this. I made the team.
He couldn’t walk for a week and a half after the surgery, didn’t get on the mat to train for another week after that, and only wrestled live once before the championships. of the world.
And then he ripped through the 74-kilogram bracket in Budapest, outscoring his opponents by a combined count of 34-2.
“I wasn’t going to come out here unless I knew I could compete,” he said. “That was the most important thing for me – knowing that I had at least 75, 80 per cent when I got here.
“It’s definitely the biggest win of my career here. It’s so special.
2015 – “In Elite Company Now”
Burroughs arrived at the 2015 World Championships in Las Vegas trying to regain his place atop the 74-kilogram pedestal and cement himself as one of the greatest Americans of all time.
In his quest to claim his fourth title the previous year – which would have put him in a class with just Smith and Bruce Baumgartner on the US rankings – Burroughs was knocked out by Tsargush in the world semi-finals and walked away with a medal. bronze.
Another Russian proved to be his biggest obstacle in Las Vegas.
After recording technical superiority wins by shutout in the second and third rounds and posting a 5-0 quarter-final win over Iran’s Alireza Ghasemi, Burroughs had to pull out a 4-3 victory in the semi-final, scoring on a doubles match with 49 seconds left. beat the Russian Aniuar Geduev.
With the heavy lifting out of the way, Burroughs dusted off Mongolia’s Purevjavyn Onorbat 10-0 in the final.
“It’s number four,” Burroughs said. “I’m in elite business now. There are Burroughs, Smith and Baumgartner. These names are established in a standard between them. When I think of wrestling’s Mount Rushmore, I can definitely say I’m on it now.
“I want to catch John Smith. That has always been the goal. I’m at four now, I’m getting closer.
2017 – “No one counts the silver medals”
The trip to the top of the podium in 2017 took on a redeeming tone for Burroughs.
He returned to competitive wrestling after taking time out from the sport following heartbreak in Rio, where he lost to Geduev in the quarterfinals and returned without a medal.
He came back to win the second and third decisive fight in an epic best-of-three series against Kyle Dake at the World Team Trials.
Then he came back to win after trailing in each of his five matches at the World Championships in Paris.
“That moment has been on my mind, visualizing it for so long,” Burroughs said. “Literally, as soon as I stepped off the mat in Rio, I remember doing an interview with USA Wrestling and saying, ‘I’ll be world champion again’.”
His crowning achievement came with a 9-6 victory over Russia’s Khetik Tsabolov in the final, which helped the United States win its first men’s freestyle team title since 1995. Before the match, Burroughs reflected on his place in American history and its ability to add to its gold account.
“Nobody counts the silver medals,” he said. “They only count gold medals. It was something I was thinking about. When you see the Colorado Springs Training Center wrestling room, as you enter to your left, there is a wall of world and Olympic champions, not a wall of world and Olympic silver medalists. As cool as that is and as big of an honor as it is for a number of people, I want to be on top of that podium.
2021 – “I’m running out of time”
Last-second losses to Russia’s Zaurbek Sidakov at the 2018 and 2019 World Championships left Burroughs with a pair of bronzes, the global pandemic snuffed out his chance for another title in 2020 and Dake halted his chance for a comeback trip at the Tokyo Olympics.
At 33, Burroughs faced a formidable opponent – Father Time.
“A lot of people think I’m an idiot right now,” Burroughs said ahead of the World Team Trials last fall. “They’re like, ‘Bro, what are you doing? Why are you still competing? You’re tarnishing the legacy you’ve worked long and hard to build and you’re just a shell of yourself.
“But I honestly think I’m still a better wrestler, and that’s the challenge I want to take on. I want to prove to myself – more than people, but also people – that I’m still an amazing wrestler and that I always like it.
Burroughs’ ability to win was tested in the three weeks leading up to the World Championships.
Leading Alex Dieringer with just under a minute left in the World Team Trials final at 79 kilograms, Burroughs went out of bounds and hit his right calf. He ran time in a 4-3 victory, but a bigger problem loomed.
Burroughs was diagnosed with a grade 2 calf tear. Doctors told him he would need eight to 10 weeks to fully recover. He had three.
“I didn’t think I was going to be able to wrestle,” he said.
He didn’t just struggle, he came through the tournament like he did in 2013, winning the gold medal outscoring his opponents 34-6. He secured his sixth Smith-tying title with a 5-1 victory in the final against Iranian Mohammad Nokhodi.
When later asked how often he thinks about winning a sixth title, Burroughs replied, “Every day.”
“That was the hardest part for me and (my wife) Lauren in that position,” he said. “I was like, ‘Love, I need to win. I want to win badly. I’ve run out of time. Every time a year goes by, I know I’m running out of time and that’s been a thing. hard for me to accept because lost time is gone forever and every opportunity is an opportunity you never get back I just wanted to seize the moment and do my best and try to do it.