Jordan Burroughs is one of the hottest name in two sports right now, and is also the perfect example of why some at USA Wrestling remain uncomfortable with the influence of MMA.
Former Olympic Gold Medalist, Olympic team coach, and UFC veteran Kevin Jackson is quoted as saying "I do feel like MMA does hurt USA Wrestling’s chances to win at the world and Olympic level. Because it takes away from our depth when we have very good wrestlers who choose to go directly from college to MMA." That is very understandable, Johny Hendricks, Jake Rosholt, Phil Davis, Cain Velasquez, Cole Konrad, and now guys like Mark Ellis, and Bubba Jenkins are all the type of guy that Jackson is talking about. Mo Lawal, Ben Askren, and soon Shawn Bunch are all guys who competed internationally before turning to MMA. They would make an improving USA Wrestling team even better on the international scene. You might say that is a double standard for Jackson considering he has 6 MMA fights on his resume, but those came after he had already won an Olympic Gold, and 2 World Championships.
Dan Gable on the other hand feels that MMA is a good method for wrestlers to make money when they are done with college, and international competition. What he doesn’t want to see is young men showing in wrestling rooms with their sole focus being MMA. They have to learn the sport first.
I tend to agree with 2008 Olympic Gold medalist Henry Cejudo, who says that "MMA is only going to help wrestling." While it might hurt the depth, the fact is that there will probably be more depth to choose from if MMA can help wrestling expand. How many times do we hear on UFC telecast about the importance of wrestling as a base? At least a few times each broadcast, and that helps bring exposure to the sport, and bring a few more curious kids into a wrestling room. And lets look at another fact, if a kid wants to start learning MMA skills to be fighter in the future… BJJ, and most other martial arts classes aren’t cheap. Wrestling is still taught at most middle, and high schools for the cost of a pair of shoes.
Burroughs is 23 years old, and just won his first World Championship coming off a dominating college career. If he lived in an Eastern European country he would be looking at becoming a freestyle wrestling legend over the next 10-15 years. If you want to put Burroughs' World Championship in perspective to a MMA fan that doesn't follow wrestling too closely, Ben Askren, considered one of, if not the best wrestler to make the jump and compete seriously in MMA, finished 7th in the same weight class at the 2008 Olympics. Here in the US, his options include continuing to compete internationally, which USA Wrestling has taken steps to make more attractive. They now offer pretty good bonuses for medaling at the Olympics, and World games. The going rate for Olympic medals is now $250K - Gold, $50K - Silver, $25K - Bronze. For the World games the bonuses are $50K - Gold, $25K - Silver, and $15K - Bronze. Burroughs could also move into coaching, which would provide him with a comfortable living, but let's face it, coaching wrestling is not the same thing as coaching SEC football. Any MMA fan though will instantly recognize that the ceiling for pay is much higher in MMA, where top talent can clear 6 and 7 figures a fight. He could easily make the jump to MMA, and have any of the top teams lining up to train him
The Olympics are coming up next year, and Burroughs will be the favorite to win Gold in London, in what could be a very strong showing for the US Freestyle team. They finished 3rd in the team portion of the World Championships, and could have 2 former gold medalist on the team with the return of Cael Sanderson, and Henry Cejudo. Sanderson finished 5th at this year's Worlds, but that isn't too bad when you consider that before April he hadn't wrestled competitively since he won his gold medal in 2004. In addition to that Jake Varner won a bronze medal this year, and Tervel Dlagnev a past Bronze medalist at HW, finished 5th. USA Wrestling would love to make Burroughs the face of their "Beat the Streets" initiative that is helping to bring wrestling to inner city schools around the country. Burroughs is a man with many options coming up. Daniel Cormier has already said he wants him to come out to AKA if he decides to make the jump.
If Burroughs has any interest in MMA he should pursue it after the Olympics. If he commits to it for 2-3 years and decides it is not the sport for him, then he will still be young enough to get back into international competition, or coaching. If he turns into an elite Mixed Martial Artist, then he could easily have a great 10 -15 year career that leads him into the pinnical of the sport. The epicenter of MMA is America, most of the best training facilities and competition are here. In Freestyle wrestling there are lots of trips to former Soviet republics, and other communist block countries to look forward to. Also, wrestling officiating can seem very political at time, and when your big bonus paycheck depends on that, it might not be the most appealing option.