The Olympic Trials for the United States wrestling team took place over the weekend in Iowa City, Iowa. Within Carver-Hawkeye Arena, the mixed martial arts world probably gained and lost a few potential stars with little fanfare to announce their metaphorical blips dropping on and off the radar screens of the MMA world.
Thirteen thousand, two hundred and fifty was the reported attendance in the stadium - which is likely the largest crowd ever gathered to watch freestyle and greco-roman wrestling in the Eastern Hemisphere. In attendance were MMA stars like Ben Askren and Chael Sonnen and very likely some future MMA stars in the years to come. Not everybody can be an Olympian and in wrestling, not everyone can continually turn down the bigger paydays of MMA.
Most eyes were firmly affixed to the 74 kg division, where golden boy Jordan Burroughs resides. As Bloody Elbow has noted before, Burroughs is reigning world champion at 74 kilograms (163 pounds) and has been vocal about his future plans to do MMA after winning a string of world and Olympic titles.
On some levels, it may be a tough choice to decide whether to root for Burroughs the possibly transcendent talent in his wrestling career, or to root against him temporarily so he turns to MMA as Muhammad Lawal and Dan Cormier did. Those of you who follow football may recall Stephen Neal, the New England Patriots offensive lineman, who shifted to football after losing an Olympic Trials match-up he was heavily favored to win. Burroughs is the same type of rare talent who may have taken a loss in the finals as an opportunity to change careers and rule sets.
The man that the freestyle and folkstyle wrestling-inclined of us looked to as the Burroughs-beater was Andrew Howe, the New York Athletic Club and University of Michigan wrestler. Howe was the reigning 74 kg representative on the world scale for the Americans prior to Burroughs' arrival and is a phenomenal wrestler in his own right. Howe and Burroughs were favored to meet, but David Taylor, Kyle Dake, Trent Paulson, Tyler Caldwell and Moza Fay all looked to be tough outs for the two stars to work through.
Related Links: Bloody Elbow US Olympic Trials Preview by Mike Riordan | Jordan Burroughs: I Want to Fight After I'm Done Wrestling | Jordan Burroughs Wins 2011 World Championships in Istanbul | Bloody Elbow NCAA Division I Wrestling Championships Results
After a first round bye, Howe had to battle his way through three matches in the brackets to reach the finals and gain the shot at Burroughs. In his first match, Howe blanked David Taylor, the current NCAA Division I champion at 165 lbs, in their match 1-0, 5-0 (each match was decided by best two of three periods). Howe was never threatened at all by Taylor, who'd spent most of the year making other folkstyle collegiate wrestlers look like they did not belong on the mats with him at all. Taylor would go on to win a match in the wrestleback/consolation bracket, but was pinned in dominant fashion by Kyle Dake, the reigning NCAA Division I 157 lbs champion, who would win the wrestleback. Howe controlled Taylor easily and moved on to his next match.
After Taylor, Howe grappled with Tyler Caldwell, a redshirting college junior who'd been the 2011 NCAA runner-up to Burroughs and is now a regular training partner of Burroughs. Howe beat him 1-0, 1-0 and again looked very hard to score on and firmly in control of the match. Kyle Dake lost the third period disastrously to Trent Paulson in the other half of the brackets and moved on to the wrestleback bracket.
The Paulson/Dake match set up a Howe/Paulson semi-final. Trent Paulson is a regular in the U.S. freestyle scene at 74 kgs and his brother Travis is also a regular in the scene at 84 kg. The Paulson brothers also have a famously cheesy website complete with fiery Olympic rings and a mishmash of career accomplishments. Howe beat Trent 1-0, 1-0. Nobody scored a point on Howe - until the finals.
When the long awaited showdown occurred, quite a bit was at stake here. Howe was looking to regain his spot as the preeminent 74 kg wrestler in the U.S. and Burroughs was attempting to keep his top dog status and gold medal hopes alive. Burroughs had a bye to the finals due to his stellar achievements at the world championships, but was perhaps wishing he had more time on the big stage to hone his skills and show the world what he could do - as Andrew Howe did. The two would wrestle for best two out of three matches, with three periods within each match.
In the end, Jordan Burroughs took the first period 4-2 and the third period 1-0. Howe managed to win the second 2-1, but suffered a knee injury that caused him to default the two matches. Burroughs would remain the 74 kg U.S. freestyle representatives and his Olympic dreams are still intact. That is terrific news for Burroughs and for the U.S. wrestling team and the patriots/medal groupies among us.
However, we MMA fans may have lost a world-class athlete - for now. Burroughs has said time and again that he will come over (perhaps in 2017). In the mean time, perhaps we can convince Andrew Howe, Ed Ruth or some of the other wrestling phenoms like Henry Cejudo (now retired from wrestling at the ripe old age of 25) to come over. If we can get Rulon Gardner for a match, we can get some of the others to dip their toes in and perhaps more. Let us Twitter Bomb these underappreciated wrestlers to try out MMA instead of working for Mark Hunt to gain an undeserved title shot. It is effort and time better spent and would yield more results.