Jordan Burroughs poses for a photo at USA Wrestling's World Championships Training Camp on Sept. 24, 2018 in Colorado Springs, Colo.
When Jordan Burroughs won his first wrestling world title in 2011, he didn’t shy away from setting lofty goals.
“I want to break John Smith’s record,” Burroughs said matter-of-factly.
Seven years later, Burroughs is on the brink of making history.
A 2012 Olympic gold medalist, Burroughs will seek his fifth world title in men’s freestyle during the UWW World Wrestling Championships this month in Budapest, Hungary. A win in Budapest would equal Smith’s seemingly unreachable American record of six world and Olympic titles, with Smith having won two Olympic gold medals and four world championships from 1987-92.
Burroughs said he evaluates his career after each season, but he also has said he is still driven to break Smith’s record.
For now, his focus is on what’s in front of him in Budapest.
“The worlds are two months later than last year, so we’ve had more training camps and more time to prepare for this tournament,” he said. “Right now, I’m just focused in on having a great performance at the world championships and helping us win another team title.
“I feel really good right now. I feel like I’m better than I’ve ever been as a wrestler. I’m ready to go.”
Now 30 years old, Burroughs is still at the top of his game at 74 kg.
He rebounded from a disappointing 2016 Olympics, where he lost twice and fell short of medaling, to capture his fourth world title last year in Paris. Burroughs also led the U.S. to its first world team title in 22 years in 2017.
He has continued to wrestle well this season, going unbeaten in leading the American team to the World Cup championship this season.
Come worlds, Burroughs’ toughest obstacle likely will be Cuban-born Frank Chamizo of Italy. The wrestlers have split a pair of matches this season, with Burroughs defeating Chamizo at the Beat the Streets event in New York City before Chamizo downed Burroughs 10-10 on criteria at July’s Yasar Dogu event in Turkey.
Just a few hours after the loss, Burroughs put a post on Twitter that read: “I’ll be back.”
Like Burroughs, Chamizo is an explosive athlete who can score in the blink of an eye. The 26-year-old Italian, a two-time world champion and Olympic bronze medalist, is a superb defensive wrestler with a unique style who is difficult to finish moves against. He is looking to win a world medal in a fourth different weight class
“No doubt about it, he’s a very good wrestler,” Burroughs said. “He wrestles a style that is different from anybody else in the world. The bottom line is you have to be prepared to beat the best guys on their best days. I may not even wrestle him at worlds. Obviously, I’m a competitor and I want to wrestle him again. I would love to face him in the finals at the world championships.”
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“I just need to stick with my aggressive mentality,” said Burroughs, who is known for being in peak condition. “I just need to wrestle my style and not worry about what my opponents are doing. I need to wrestle at a high pace. When I do that, I have a really good chance of being successful.”
Nebraska coach Mark Manning has been in Burroughs’ corner every step of the way during his international career.
“Losing in Rio, it was shocking and it was devastating for Jordan,” Manning said. “It took a long time for him to get over what happened at the Olympics. It was rough on him — really rough. It wasn’t easy, but he buried that experience and we saw him resurrect himself. And now he’s a better version of Jordan Burroughs than we’ve ever seen before.
“It’s so amazing to see how he’s evolved. It’s really impressive to see how he came back after the Olympics — he’s stronger mentally and physically because of the way he responded to that setback.”
U.S. national coach Bill Zadick praised Burroughs for staying on top of his game.
“With Jordan, everybody knows he’s got great speed, but he always brings something different,” Zadick said. “He has almost always been more prepared for the opposition than they’ve been for him. You saw that in guys like John Smith and guys that are legends in our sport.”
For a legend like Burroughs, his opponents are still developing specific game plans to slow him down. They often employ rough, aggressive and physical tactics to take him out of his game.
“You have to be ready for anything,” he said, “whenever you step out on the mat.”
Five years ago, also in Budapest, Burroughs achieved one of the biggest and most unlikely feats of his remarkable career. Just a month after breaking his ankle in training, Burroughs managed to step on the mat for the 2013 world championships. And he won his third straight world or Olympic gold medal that year.
“I don’t know how long my career is going to last,” he said. “As long as it does, I’m going to do my best to take chances, put on shows and I think a lot of people in the world will watch.
“I’m still highly motivated to show that I’m the best wrestler in the world. I’m excited to step onto the mat in Budapest.”
Craig Sesker is a sports writer based out of Waverly, Iowa. He has covered three Olympic Games. He is a freelance contributor to TeamUSA.org on behalf of Red Line Editorial, Inc.