Burroughs keys U.S. wrestling hopes in London

At 163 pounds, Jordan Burroughs (blue) defeated Kamal

At 163 pounds, Jordan Burroughs (blue) defeated Kamal Malikov during the USA Olympic freestyle wrestling match against the Russian team in Times Square. (June 7, 2012) (Credit: Patrick E. McCarthy)

For a guy who competes in a niche sport, Team USA freestyle wrestler Jordan Burroughs sure is getting a lot of attention lately.

He dominated in an exhibition match in the middle of Times Square June 7 and the following day made appearances on "The Today Show" and CNN's "Early Start," and rang the closing bell at the New York Stock Exchange with his teammates.

The United States has had at least one gold medalist in freestyle wrestling in every Olympic Games it has competed since 1972, and Burroughs is the best bet to continue that streak in London. A Camden, N.J., native, Burroughs won the World Championship at 74 kg (163 pounds) last year in Istanbul, Turkey, and is undefeated since 2009 -- when he was a redshirt junior at the University of Nebraska.

Few can duplicate Burroughs' double-leg takedowns on the mat, and even less can match his bravado off it.

"Every time I step out on the mat, I expect to win," the 23-year-old said June 6 in Times Square at a press conference for Team USA's dual meet against Russia to benefit the Beat the Streets wrestling program. "I'm explosive, pretty quick and very powerful. And I'm just super confident."

Burroughs' combination of flair, fire and first-place finishes has made him a fan favorite, as he has more than 14,500 followers of his Twitter account, @alliseeisgold.

So many Americans will be watching when the 74 kg Olympic competition is held Aug. 10.

Wrestling under the bright lights of Times Square, Burroughs shone. He dismantled Kamal Malikov, who placed third in the Russian National Championships at 74 kg, earning a first-period technical fall in 28 seconds and a 5-0 second-period advantage.

"Jordan is game day," said Team USA freestyle coach Zeke Jones, a 1992 Olympic silver medalist in Barcelona. "The bigger the stage, the more he gets after it."

Arguably Burroughs' biggest fan among the estimated crowd of more than 20,000 was also the most accomplished. Dan Gable, who went 181-1 in his career at Iowa State and didn't surrender a point en route to the 1972 gold medal in Munich, was very impressed.

"It was ideal," Gable said of Burroughs' performance. "The other guy was getting ready to wrestle at a pace that Jordan doesn't wrestle at. So unless you come out ready to wrestle at a high pace, you're going to be one step behind. I think this Russian happened to be two or three steps behind. That's the kind of wrestling I get excited about."

Cornhusker fans were excited about the prospect of Burroughs being the first Nebraska wrestler to win back-to-back national championships, but had to temper those hopes when he tore the posterior cruciate ligament (PCL) and lateral collateral ligament (LCL) in his left leg in Dec. 2009. But he won all 36 of his matches his senior year en route to his second national championship and the Hodge Trophy, college wrestling's equivalent of the Heisman.

NCAA wrestling places a greater emphasis on holding an opponent down on the mat, whereas in freestyle, the bulk of wrestling is done on your feet. Yet only three weeks after winning the NCAA title, Burroughs was dominating on the international freestyle scene, winning the U.S. Open. He then became only the fourth wrestler to win an NCAA championship and World Championship in the same year.

Said Burroughs: "No matter if a guy is just a regular college All-American or a World Champion, I want to beat everyone the same."

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