In 2013 Jordan Burroughs was the guy for USA wrestling.
It wasn’t until April of 2021 at the Olympic Trials that his reign was disrupted. Longtime rival and fellow American Kyle Drake defeated Burroughs, denying him a spot on Team USA at the Tokyo Summer Olympics.
Burroughs may be a non-competing spectator, logging some experience as an in-studio analyst for these Summer Games, but a crestfallen athlete?
That’s not his story. That’s not his legacy.
In fact, had it not been for Burroughs exerting himself and wielded his influence eight years prior, there’s a strong chance we may not be watching wrestling at Tokyo 2020.
The broad strokes version of the story went like this:
The International Olympic Committee (IOC) initially passed a vote in February of 2013 to remove wrestling from Tokyo 2020. By September of 2013, it was reinstated.
The frantic six months in between saw wrestling’s governing body, FILA, campaign for readmittance. Yet, no case was made better than when wrestling superpowers USA, Iran and Russia converged inside New York’s Grand Central Station on May 15, 2013 for an exhibition.
I was there that night, and it was a sporting spectacle masquerading like a protest.
“It’s hard to have fun with the circumstances,” Burroughs told those of us that night that made up the small media cohort.
He talked about the grooming period he underwent, but that he understood the pressure of being “the best wrestler the world has seen in a long time.”
Showing no disillusions about his status or draw in the sport, Burroughs gave off a disarming assurance that the turmoil at the time would work out. It was a kind of confidence that lingered behind his words that he spoke that night.
Then 24 years old, Burroughs had just wowed the people inside the cathedral ceilings of Vanderbilt Hall. Most of which were witnessing freestyle wrestling for the first time. Some were avid supporters. Others missed their train home to get a glimpse.
At this time, I had only been a published writer for about a year. I had never followed wrestling before, nor had I ever heard of Burroughs. However, my own sporting interests, personally and professionally, were beginning to shift; distancing myself from game recaps and gravitating more towards stories.
Perhaps his toughness typified wrestlers, but I won’t soon forget how Burroughs sat on a stool beside the mat where he had just dominated his match, and in his hand was a small plastic bag holding a tooth. It was his molar. His opponent had knocked it out moments earlier. Burroughs just sat there calmly, ricocheting off questions about the future of the sport of which he sat atop.
Already a 2012 gold medalist and a world champion at that point, Burroughs’ magnetism was clear.
As is the irony that he doesn’t get to wrestle in the very same Summer Olympics that he fought to keep alive.