Born: July 8, 1988
Town: Camden, New Jersey
Jordan Burroughs was born July 8, 1988 in Camden to Janice and Leroy Burroughs. He grew up in Sicklervile. Jordan’s parents were not athletes and were not plugged in to the sports culture. His mom worked in a pension processing office and his dad worked construction. Jordan’s most noticeable physical attribute as a boy was his large head, which was occasionally a target of schoolmates’ teasing. Jordan began wrestling at age 5. He returned from his first meet with a “participant” trophy and was as proud of it as if he’d won. He slept with the plastic award for weeks. In the years that followed, when the Burroughses took Jordan to a tournament that offered big, glitzy trophies, they knew their son was going to mop up the competition.
Jordan got the wrestling bug from a neighbor, Vince Jones. His parents pulled all the furniture out of their living room so he could hold neighborhood wrestling meets. Besides Jordan and Vince, Jeromy Miles was a frequent participant. Miles would go on to play cornerback in the NFL. Vince would go on to win the state wrestling title at two different weights. Jordan was much younger than the other boys, who would wrestle him on their knees. It was during these matches, which sometimes lasted for hours, that Jordan developed a special distaste for losing. Indeed, over the course of his career, when a single room could no longer hold all his awards, all he could think of were the “missing” trophies and the imaginary empty spots they might have occupied.
Jordan followed Vince to Winslow Township High. Whatever Vince accomplished—both in scholastic competition and outside of school— Jordan was driven to match. Coach Rick Koss molded Jordan into a superb freestyle wrestler. He won district titles as a sophomore, junior and senior, and regional championships in his final two years for the Eagles. In 2005, Jordan reached the finals of the state championships as a junior. In a close match, he allowed his opponent to escape a ride with seconds left, and it cost him the title. The next day, Jordan pasted the words Three Seconds to Gold on his bedroom door so he would be reminded of his defeat every day. As a senior in 2006, Jordan won the state championship in the 135-pound class. In four years, he went 115–20 as a prep wrestler.
Jordan was ranked in the Top 10 nationally in his weight class. When it came time to pick a college, Jordan—who tended to get homesick—eschewed schools that were close to home in favor of the University of Nebraska. Why? Because Vince Jones had gone there.
Jordan arrived at Nebraska a little scared and very homesick. He qualified for the NCAA Championships as a freshman at 149 pounds but lost two of three matches in the tournament. Wrestling at the same weight his sophomore year, he was Big 12 champion and won 5 of 6 matches at the NCAA Championships. Jordan came into his own in 2009 as a junior. At 157 pounds, he dominated opponents all year, repeating as Big 12 champ and defeating unbeaten Mike Poeta of Illinois for the NCAA title.
The 2009–10 season turned out to be a crucial one for Jordan. He felt humiliated after finishing 10th at the Junior World Championship in Turkey. A few months later, during a collegiate meet, he tore his posterior cruciate and lateral collateral ligaments and decided to red-shirt his senior season. That gave him a lot of time to think about the road that laid ahead. He promised himself he would never lose again.
And, quite incredibly, that is what happened. Beefed up to 165 pounds, he ran the table against his collegiate opponents in 2010–11, winning a third Big 12 title and mopped up at the NCAA Championships. Jordan capped his career at Nebraska by earning the Hodge Trophy, wrestling’s version of the Heisman. He then moved into the world freestyle ring.
NCAA titles don’t always translate into success in international competition, however Jordan didn’t miss a beat. He won the US Open less than a month after his final college match and went on to win the World Championships in Istanbul and the Pan American games in Guadalajara. The win at the worlds automatically qualified him for the Olympics.
Heading into the 2012 London Olympics, the American wrestling team was not in the gold medal conversation. Jordan was rated as its only realistic shot at a win. Wrestling at 74 kilograms (approximately 163 pounds), he tore through the field, defeating XXX in a semifinal match to earn a berth in the final. It was Jordan’s 37th consecutive victory—a streak that now covered three years. Two of those wins had come against his opponent in the final Olympic match, Iran’s Sadegh Goudarzi. Prior to this match, Jordan broke the unwritten rule that all athletes follow. Not only did he predict an Olympic victory, he tweeted “My next tweet will be a picture of me holding that Gold medal!!!” He was photographed wearing a shirt that said All I See Is Gold.
Jordan defeated Goudarzi 1–0, 1–0 to make good on his promise. After winning the match, Jordan spotted his mother in the crowd and climbed over a five-foot fence to celebrate with her. Besides his medal, Jordan banked $250,000 from the Living the Dream Medal Fund, which was created to tempt more top athletes into wrestling.
In 2013, Jordan won his second world title at 74 KG in Budapest. He dominated in the final, defeating Ezzatollah Akbari of Iran 4–0. Jordan was favored to win his third world title in 2014, but a knee injury in the opening match of the World Championships prevented him from reaching the finals. He lost in the semis to Denis Tsragush—his first-ever loss to a foreign opponent—and had to settle for a bronze medal.
In the fall of 2015, Jordan won his third world championship in Las Vegas. He defeated Mongolia’s Unurbat Purevjav in the finals, and outscored his opponents 45–5 in his 6 tournament victories. His toughest match came in the semis against world #2 Aniur Geduev of Russia. Geduev actually led late in the encounter, forcing Jordan to try a risky move. He scored the winning take-down with 49 seconds to go. In his next competition, the 2016 Yasar Dogu International in Turkey, Jordan won gold again, besting Zelmkhan Khadziev of France in the finals.
In the run-up to the 2016 Olympic Trials in Iowa, the two main competitors in Jordan’s 74 KG weight class moved up to 86 KG, eliminating any chance that he would not make the Team USA wrestling squad. Kyle Dake (the winner of NCAA titles in 4 different weight classes) and David Taylor (a two-time NCAA Wrestler of the Year) were both winless against Jordan, and were in jeopardy of not making it to Rio. No one could remember a class change this late in the game.
As a result, Jordan headed toward Rio virtually unopposed.