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Fan-friendly Burroughs also shows a serious side to his World goals
(Editor’s Note: As USA Wrestling uses several phases of World Team Trials over seven weeks to determine the wrestlers who will compete in the FILA Worlds in September, this is the first in a series of features that will give fans an inside look at the stories of wrestlers who earned a spot on the 2014 United States World Team.)
By Mike Finn
What many of the fans — especially the dozens of kids who lined up at the Alliant Energy Center in Madison, Wisc., June 1 to get Jordan Burroughs’ autograph — like about the two-time World champion and 2012 Olympic gold medalist is his smile.
And that grin is usually present during the men’s freestyle matches of the former two-time NCAA champion and Hodge Trophy winner from Nebraska, who won 82 of 83 Senior freestyle matches since he graduated from college in 2011 and prior to this year’s Trials.
But many of those fans saw a different look from the World’s top-ranked wrestler when he defeated fellow fan-favorite David Taylor — the two-time Hodge winner and champion from Penn State — in two consecutive matches during their 163-pound Championship Series in Phase I of the 2014 World Team Trials.
There looked to be anger in Burroughs face and there was a more physical style by the 25-year-old native of New Jersey.
“I obviously wanted to turn the match into a brawl,” said Burroughs, who won by the scores of 5-2 and 6-5 to defeat Taylor, who nearly upset Burroughs at this year’s U.S. Open before Burroughs rallied with two takedowns in the final 40 seconds to prevail 7-6 in Las Vegas.
“It was a lot more physical than at the U.S. Open. I went out there to fight and wanted to see if he wanted to fight back. Fortunately, I was able to win the first match. In the second, he got me on my heels a little bit but that’s what it is all about.”
The action became so physical that Burroughs once pushed Taylor off the mat and Taylor responded by pushing Burroughs back … so hard that Burroughs did a backwards roll, and some more shoves between the two stars happened later in the match.
Burroughs downplayed the thought that the rivalry of these star wrestlers has become personal.
“ I think it’s like (former NBA rivals-turned friends) Larry Bird and Magic Johnson back in the 1980s,” said Burroughs. “It’s going to be a long rivalry. He’s committed to 74-kilogram weight class and I know he will be back for 2015 and 2016.
“It’s all about going out there and being competitors on the mat. Off the mat, we are great friends and do photo shoots together. My wife and his girlfriend are friends. It’s always a bitter rivalry on the mat because we both want to win and for me to fulfill my dreams, I have to kill his.”
This is the second straight year Burroughs received a strong challenge from another American who appeared to be as equally popular as Burroughs. In 2013, Burroughs defeated Kyle Dake, the four-time NCAA champion from Cornell, in two straight matches of the World Team Trials Championship Series.
“I happen to be in the weight class with two of the best wrestlers in the last decade with Kyle Dake and David Taylor,” Burroughs said. “Right now I’m in charge. I need to deal with all the negativity and doubters. When the smoke clears, I’m still standing.”
Burroughs said he did not feel that those who pulled for either Dake in 2013 or Taylor this year were disrespecting him.
“David Taylor is great, a two-time Hodge winner. Kyle Dake is a four-time national champion,” Burroughs said. “They have created a legacy of their own and are already legendary in the NCAA/collegiate ranks. There is another level between collegiate wrestling and world wrestling.
“I’m looking to winning my fourth World/Olympic title and Kyle Dake won four college titles. It’s apple vs. oranges in comparing the two.
“David is obviously solid but in order for me to rank him among the world’s best, he has to make the (World) team. But it’s my job to make sure he does not make the World Team.”
Burroughs, who with his wife, Lauren, are expecting their first child in early August, said he was looking forward to the shot at winning a fourth-straight World/Olympic gold medal.
“Every year brings its own adversity,” he said. “Last year, I broke my ankle while I was preparing for the World Championships. This year I have a wife and a baby on the way. I’m going to have to spend a lot of time away from my family at training camp. But tomorrow, I’m going to go home and mow my lawn and sit on my porch and eat an ice cream cone.”
He will also be smiling … again.