The wrestling superman exists, and he's American. Jordan Burroughs is the reigning world champion at seventy-four kilograms and the only thing he wants, the only thing he sees, is gold in London.
While other weights may entice audiences with multiple story lines, this weight does it with just one. Seventy-four kilograms could tell the tale of the young man who raised American wrestling to a new level of prominence and increased national attention, or it could simply recount the story of an extremely talented athlete who was unable to maintain his place at the top of this very fickle sport, a story wrestling fans have seen many times before. At no other weight does American wrestling have more on the line.
Olympic Wrestling Previews
After the jump, we examine the seventy-four kilogram weight class in freestyle wrestling at the Olympic games.
As always, I begin with a list of competitors and results from world-level championships from the past Olympic cycle:
Field of Competitors at Seventy-Four Kilos
Jordan Ernest Burroughs, USA
Sadegh Goudarzi, Iran
Davit Khutsishvili, Georgia
Ashraf Aliev, Azerbaijan
Ricardo Roberty, Venezuela
Abdulhakim Shapiyev, Kazakhstan
Denis Tsargush, Russia
Kiril Terziev, Bulgaria
Rashid Kurbanov, Uzbekistan
Sohsuke Takatani, Japan
Matt Gentry, Canada
Francisco Soler, Puerto Rico
Augusto Midana, Guinea Bissau
Bilal Ouechtati, Tunisia
Ununrbat Purevjay, Mongolia
Gabor Hatos, Hungary
Chongyao Zhang, China
Narsingh Yadav, India
Olegk Motsalin, Greece
2011 World Championships
1. Jordan Burroughs, USA
2. Sadegh Goudarzi, Iran
3. Ashraf Aliev, Azerbaijan; David Khutsishvili, Georgia
2010 World Championships
1. Denis Tsargush, Russia
2. Sadegh Goudarzi, Iran
3. Gabor Hatos, Hungary; Abdulhakim Sahpiev, Kazakhstan
2009 World Championships
1. Denis Tsargush, Russia
2. Chamsulvara Chamsulvaraev, Azerbaijan
3. Ramesh Kumar, India; Sadegh Goudarzi, Iran
1. Bouvaisa Saitiev, Russia
2. Soslan Tigiev, Uzbekistan
3. Murad Gaidarov, Belarus; Kiril Terziev, Bulgaria
My Thoughts on this Weight:
This weight is very top heavy. Sadegh Goudarzi, the third best wrestler at this weight, is more accomplished than any in the field behind him by a decent margin. Along with Fedorishin at sixty kilos, he must be considered the best wrestler in the world without a world or Olympic gold medal. I don't see him finding that elusive gold medal this time around either; the weight features two past world champions who are simply too good.
I am embarrassed to say that before this write up, I had completely forgotten that Ramesh Kumar was a world bronze medalist for India. I am curious as to what has become of him since then as he has no international results after 2009. His listed profession on the FILA database is "railway servant"; were he to medal at this Olympic I would bet it would have been a pretty darn interesting story. Whether Ramesh reemerges or not, the fact that India has had two world level medalists in one Olympic cycle says great things about the progress that their wrestling program has made. In the past they have excelled at the junior level (ages twenty and under) but have failed to obtain high placements on the senior level. It will be interesting to see whether this success will increase in the coming years or whether this was an anomaly, a sort of miniature "golden generation" for Indian wrestling.
Who Should Win This Weight / How the American Will Do:
Jordan Burroughs is USA Wrestling's chosen one. If this were a JRPG he would be the party member appearing on the "map" screens and would probably be the only character equippable with swords. His quest, in this case, is to become the cross-over celebrity athlete that wrestling so desperately needs. Wrestlers have had fleeting moments in the spotlight: Cael Sanderson had a Wheaties box, Rulon Gardner was on The Biggest Loser, and Dan Gable once appeared on the Dick Cavett show, but none were able to achieve any kind of enduring mainstream celebrity presence. Jordan Burroughs has the potential to at least be wrestling's Apollo Anton Ono, maybe its Michael Phelps, or something much more. His task is a simple one, all he has to do is not lose a match that matters for another four or five years. After that, all that is necessary is to sit back and wait for Subway to call.
Much has been made about Jordan Burroughs's signature double-leg take downs and how he uses them to dominate his international competition. The strong association between Jordan and his favored take down runs the risk of oversimplifying Jordan's multidimensional skill set; Burroughs's wrestling is far more sophisticated than that of a muscle bound brute repeatedly blasting in on power doubles. His lightning fast poke low singles proved to be just as effective as his doubles during his world championship run, his hand fighting and set ups are quite methodical , and he shows great knack for countering and escaping from opponents when they are in on his legs. More than anything, Jordan's body always stays in perfect position, his head shoulders and hips aligned, and his legs always moving; his success is built on a rock solid foundation of fundamentals. It doesn't hurt that he is faster and stronger than everyone he wrestles (for some perspective on his incredible physical abilities watch this video).
I see the rest of Jordan's wrestling career heading one of two directions. It is possible that Jordan, still a relative neophyte in freestyle wrestling, has barely scratched the surface of his potential and will grow into a dominant wrestling force rarely ever seen on the world. This weight class could simply belong to him until he becomes bored with it and moves on to other endeavors.
The second, less desirable, and maybe more likely path, is that the gap between him and the world's best will grow increasingly narrow. Jordan's opponents and their coaches have undoubtedly been hard at work devising tactics to neutalize Jordan's offense and defeat him; recent matches may just show those tactics in action. At the world cup, Jordan wrestled an unsettlingly close match against Japan's Takatani, and he was unable to generate much offense in his win against Goudarzi of Iran, whose game plan appeared specifically tailored to steal the match from Burroughs. In the Olympic trials finals, Andrew Howe looked very threatening against Jordan and was able to penetrate to Jordan's legs on a number of occasions and he seemed to have improved at resisting the takedown when Jordan got in on his double. Burrough's toughest opponent, Denis Tsargush of Russia, awaits and he has had nearly a year to form a game plan; fans of Jordan would be justified in being worried about Tsargush.
Who Will Win if Burroughs Does Not:
Two time world champion Denis Tsargush, stylistically, is wrestling's Bernard Hopkins. He is precise but not flashy with his offense, rock solid in defense, and while he is one of his sport's very best pound for pound, he is generally aesthetically displeasing. Also he is dirty. He has a history of cheating in big matches, namely by setting up shots by grabbing singlet straps. Observe his left hand while he is wrestling Goudarzi in the world finals of 2010, as well as in his match against Burroughs in last year's world championships (better angle here, he actually rips a hole in the singlet).
Burroughs has won his only meeting against Tsargush, but since then Denis had been on a tear. Most notably, in the first half of 2012, he has beaten unretired legend Adam Saitiev twice, once in the finals of Yarygin, and once in the finals of Russian Nationals. I would guess that Denis has spent the past year preparing how to defuse the explosive young American; he has certainly taken time talk a little bit of smack. I expect Tsargush to arrive at this tournament well prepared and craftier than ever. At this point I see the match between him and Burroughs as a coin flip; both wrestlers have an equal chance of winning.
Dark Horse From a Strange Land:
Until recently, any Latin American wrestler of consequence originated from Cuba. Cuba first stormed onto the international scene in the 1970s and by the mid 1980s had established itself as one of the world's premier wrestling nations. The secret to their success: a Soviet-style athletic program, and, more importantly, Soviet coaches. To this day, Cuban wrestlers venture all the way to the Russian federal republic of Dagestan to receive the benefits of the world's best wrestling training.
Apparently the Cubans are now sharing their wrestling expertise with their South American allies, Venezuela being a primary beneficiary. Venezuela's wrestling quality has improved immensely in recent years and at last year's world championship a Venezuelan caught the wrestling world's attention. After a number of shocking upsets, Ricardo Roberty of Venezuela took third in the 2011 world championships, losing in the bronze medal match. This year, the twenty-nine year old Roberty will look to improve on last year's finish, however, he may find the road more difficult to navigate as he has now alerted the rest of the world to his presence; no opponent will be looking past him at this Olympics.
Prediction for the finals:
Back in keeping with my view that the world has a predilection for depriving audiences of the most compelling outcomes, I predict the random generation of tournament brackets to deprive audiences of the ideal and just finals match; I am calling the draw to slate Burroughs and Tsargush to wrestle in the first of second round. What is worse, Tsargush will freeze all the action during the match and win two periods off of sudden death leg clinches after he improbably wins two straight ball grabs (wrestling's version of penalty kicks, the heinous article 49). I will then break my computer screen and pull clumps of hair from my scalp.
Jordan will then win bronze, but that won't be enough to justify continuing his wrestling career; USA Wrestling will be denied its brightest young star and Jordan Burroughs will have Bjorn Rebney on line one. I wonder, will he go lightweight or welter?
Mike Riordan contributes to Bloody Elbow on matters of college and Olympic wrestling. His extreme levels of negativity and pessimism arise from being a die-hard fan of Washington D.C. professional sports. He is very sorry.