Jordan Burroughs: I’m on wrestling’s Mount Rushmore after third World Championship

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Jordan Burroughs won his third World Wrestling Championship in Las Vegas on Saturday, capping the most successful U.S. performance at a World Championships since 2006 (total medals) or 1995 (gold medals).

Burroughs, who in 2014 lost at an Olympics or Worlds for the first time, while grappling with an MCL sprain, mercy ruled Mongolian Pürevjavyn Önörbat 10-0 in the 74kg freestyle final to reclaim his World title at the Orleans Arena on Saturday.

Burroughs, 27 and wearing golden shoes, celebrated by slapping the mat, smiling and raising his right index finger in the air before the referee raised his arm.

“I made it back,” Burroughs repeated while wearing an American flag, adding later to reporters, “It’s been a hard year … a lot of doubt … a lot of unknowns, uncharted waters.”

Burroughs became the third U.S. men’s wrestler to win at least four combined Olympic and World Championships, joining Bruce Baumgartner and John Smith. Burroughs won the 2011 and 2013 World titles and the 2012 Olympics.

“I’m like almost to the peak of my wrestling ability,” Burroughs told media in Las Vegas before the match Saturday, “and then it’s going to be on the decline.”

Next year, Burroughs can join Baumgartner, Smith and George Mehnert as the only Americans to win multiple Olympic wrestling titles.

“When I think of the Mount Rushmore of wrestling, I definitely can say I’m on it now,” Burroughs said.

Burroughs has said — and repeated Saturday — that his eye is on Smith’s American record of six combined Olympic and World titles.

“I might not be the best wrestler technically, but I think I have the biggest heart in the entire world,” said Burroughs, adding that he needed four stitches above his left eye after his second of six matches Saturday.

Overall, the U.S. won four gold medals at the World Championships, its most in one year at a Worlds or an Olympics since 1995. It earned seven total medals this week, its highest total since 2006.

Burroughs came off what he called the hardest year of his life in 2014.

His 105-match winning streak dating to 2009 was snapped in February of last year, and though he welcomed baby boy Beacon that July, Burroughs sprained an MCL wrestling at Worlds in Uzbekistan and was later defeated by Russian rival Denis Tsargush. Burroughs settled for a bronze medal and saved a photo on his smart phone of Tsargush beating him.

“I’ve been a little bit beaten up by life,” Burroughs said. “A lot of people forgot about what I was capable of.”

Burroughs also added coaching duties to his plate, as an assistant at Nebraska last fall.

“It was really trying in terms of me staying focused to be the best wrestler in the world, me being the best husband in the world as well as the best father,” Burroughs said. “There were a lot of nights where I had absolutely no energy to be either of the three.”

Burroughs, who has a tattoo of a lighthouse beaming with a light in honor of his son’s name, slept in a different room in his Vegas hotel than his wife and Beacon on Friday night.

“These are some of the sacrifices I’ve got to make,” Burroughs said. “I’m like, babe, I love you, but I’m going downstairs to my room. I’ve got to get some sleep.”

It was a wise decision. Beacon was up at 4:30 a.m., Burroughs said.

Burroughs has compared his rivalry with Tsargush to that of Larry Bird and Magic Johnson. Tsargush, who also won the 2009 and 2010 World titles before Burroughs began wrestling internationally, was not on the Russian team at Worlds this year though.

Burroughs said it was a little bit anticlimactic to regain his World title without getting a shot at Tsargush.

“You want to beat the guy that’s beaten you,” he said before the final Saturday. “I thought about it a lot this year. It really fueled me and gave me hunger to be better and to be prepared for this event.”

Perhaps the most exciting point of the entire week in Las Vegas came during Burroughs’ semifinal against a different Russian earlier Saturday. Russian fans began chanting, and home fans silenced them with an ear-splitting U-S-A chant (at the 6:15 mark here).

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