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How Jordan Burroughs Racked Up Six World And Olympic Titles

How Jordan Burroughs Racked Up Six World And Olympic Titles

Take a look back at how Jordan Burroughs racked up six World and Olympic titles, joining John Smith atop the USA men's freestyle list.

May 28, 2022 by Andy Hamilton
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Jordan Burroughs was a seventh-grader when his mother bought him his first premium wrestling shoes — a pair of Adidas with John Smith’s name of the sides. That was his first connection to the six-time World and Olympic champion. 

A decade later, Burroughs began his ascent up the American wrestling ladder, taking aim at the top rung, a space only occupied by Smith. The journey has been filled with obstacles and ill-timed injuries, but Burroughs arrived last fall on domestic wrestling’s top step, alongside Smith with his sixth World-level gold. 

Here’s a look at how he got there: 

2011 — ‘I Love When People Doubt Me’  

To fully understand the scope of how Burroughs took the world by storm in 2011, it’s worth going back to his final tournament of the 2010 calendar year. He wasn’t even the prohibitive favorite to win the 165-pound NCAA title at the start of his senior season at Nebraska. In fact, Burroughs entered the Midlands as the #2 seed behind Andrew Howe. 

But Burroughs toppled Howe 10-7 in the Midlands finals and it set him on a path to the Hodge Trophy that season, which turned out to be just the beginning of his banner 2011 year. 

He defeated Nick Marable in three periods to win the U.S. Open and swept Howe in the best-of-three championship series at the World Team Trials. 

“A lot of people never thought I’d even make the team,” Burroughs said. “I’m here, I did it. I love when people doubt me. I just continue to prove them wrong.” 

It was hard to find any doubters after Burroughs ran through the 74-kilogram bracket to win his first World title. He took out two-time reigning World champ Denis Tsargush of Russia in the second round, rallied back after dropping the first period in the semis and then handled Iran’s Sadegh Goudarzi in the finals. 

“People were saying I wasn’t even going to beat Andrew Howe this time last year,” Burroughs said, “and now I’m a World champ.”

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2012 — Olympic ‘Euphoria’

Burroughs rolled into the London Olympics riding a 34-match winning streak and a wave of confidence stemming from his rookie run to the top of the World podium. He added to his game in 2012 with improved par terre skills and more freestyle savvy. 

“I feel as if I wrestle my best, there’s no one that can beat me in the world,” Burroughs said in the days leading up to the tournament in London. “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 that I am.” 

Burroughs cruised into the semis without dropping a period in his first two matches, setting up a rematch with Tsargush. Burroughs prevailed in three periods, winning a 3-1, 0-2, 2-1 decision and defeated Goudarzi 1-0, 1-0 in the gold medal bout. 

“It’s euphoria,” Burroughs said. “It’s pure joy and bliss to be at this point in my career. I have a lot more gold medals to go.”

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2013 — ‘You Shouldn’t Wrestle’ 

Practice was winding down for the American men’s freestyle team on Aug. 22 — 27 days before Burroughs was scheduled to take the mat at the World Championships. On the final sprint of the day, Burroughs ran to one end of the wrestling room at the Olympic Training Center, pushed off the wall, change direction and crumpled in pain. 

“I didn’t want to lose that sprint — and it cost me a broken ankle, a surgery and a lot of heartache for a period of time,” 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 back in Nebraska was like, ‘You shouldn’t wrestle,’” Burroughs said. “I was like, ‘I’ve gotta do it. I made the team.’”

He couldn’t walk for a week and a half after surgery, didn’t get on the mat to drill for another week after that and only wrestled live once before the World Championships. 

And then he ripped through the 74-kilogram bracket in Budapest, outscoring his opponents by a combined 34-2 count. 

“I wasn’t going to step out here unless I knew I could compete,” he said. “That was the most important thing for me — knowing I was at least 75, 80 percent when I came here.

“This is definitely the biggest victory of my career right here. This is so special.” 


2015 — ‘In Elite Company Now’

Burroughs arrived at the 2015 World Championships in Las Vegas trying to regain his spot atop the 74-kilogram pedestal and cement himself as one of the all-time American greats. 

In his quest to win his fourth title the previous year — which would’ve put him in a class with just Smith and Bruce Baumgartner on the USA chart — Burroughs got knocked off by Tsargush in the World semifinals and left with a bronze medal. 

Another Russian proved to be his biggest obstacle in Las Vegas. 

After registering shutout technical superiority wins in the second and third rounds and posting a 5-0 win in the quarterfinals against Iran’s Alireza Ghasemi, Burroughs had to grind out a 4-3 semifinal win, scoring on a double-leg with 49 seconds remaining to beat Russia’s Aniuar Geduev.  

With the heavy lifting out of the way, Burroughs dusted Mongolia’s Purevjavyn Onorbat 10-0 in the finals. 

“That’s number four,” Burroughs said. “I’m in elite company now. There’s Burroughs, Smith and Baumgartner. Those names are set in a standard amongst themselves. When I think of the Mount Rushmore of wrestling, I definitely can say I’m on it now.

“I want to catch John Smith. That’s always been the goal. I’m at four now, I’m getting close.”


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2017 — ‘No One Counts The Silvers’

The journey to the top of the podium in 2017 took on a redemptive tone for Burroughs. 

He came back to competitive wrestling after taking time away from the sport following the heartache of Rio, where he lost to Geduev in the quarterfinals and came home without a medal. 

He came back to win the second and decisive third bouts of 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. 

“This moment has been in my mind, visualizing it for such a long period of time,” Burroughs said. “Literally, as soon as I stepped off the mat in Rio I remember doing an interview with USA Wrestling and saying, ‘I will be a World champion again.’” 

His crowning moment came with a 9-6 victory against Russia’s Khetik Tsabolov in the finals, which helped the United States capture its first men’s freestyle team title since 1995. Leading up to the match, Burroughs pondered his place in American history and his opportunity to add to his gold count. 

“No one counts the silvers,” he said. “They only count the golds. That was something I was thinking about. When you see the wrestling room in the training center in Colorado Springs, as you walk in on your left there’s a wall of World and Olympic champions, not a wall of World and Olympic silvers. As cool as that may be and as big of an honor as that is for a number of people, I want to be on top of that podium.” 


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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 wiped out his opportunity for another title in 2020 and Dake stopped his opportunity for a return trip to the Olympics in Tokyo. 

At 33, Burroughs was facing a daunting opponent — Father Time. 

“A lot of people think I’m an idiot right now,” Burroughs said leading up to 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 worked long and hard to build and you’re a shell of your former self.’ 

“But I honestly think I’m a better wrestler still, and that’s the challenge I desire to overcome. I want to prove to myself — more than the people, but also the people — that I am still an incredible wrestler and I still love it.”

Burroughs’ ability to overcome was put to the test in the three weeks leading up to the World Championships. 

Leading Alex Dieringer with a little less than a minute left in the World Team Trials finals at 79 kilograms, Burroughs went out of bounds and reached for his right calf. He ran the clock out on a 4-3 win, but a larger problem loomed. 

Burroughs was diagnosed with a Grade 2 calf tear. Doctors told him he’d 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 not only wrestled, he ran through the tournament much like he did in 2013, winning the gold by outscoring his opponents 34-6. He secured his Smith-tying sixth title with a 5-1 win in the finals against Iranian Mohammad Nokhodi. 

Asked afterward how often he thought about winning a sixth title, Burroughs said: “Every day.” 

“That was the toughest part for me and (wife) Lauren in this position,” he said. “I was like, ‘Love, I need to win. I want to win bad. I’m running out of time. Every time a year passes I know I’m running out of time and that’s been a hard thing for me to reconcile with because lost time is gone forever and each opportunity is one you never get back. I just wanted to seize the moment and give my best effort and try to get it done.” 


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