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Wrestling breakdown: Jordan Burroughs vs. Zahid Valencia

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The greatest active American freestyle wrestler challenged himself by bumping up in weight to take on a two-time NCAA champion and rising senior-level star Zahid Valencia.

Wrestling - Olympics: Day 14 Photo by Amin Mohammad Jamali/Getty Images

FloWrestling’s latest pro event card was headlined by a special match between five-time World and Olympic champion Jordan Burroughs and two-time NCAA champion Zahid Valencia. Burroughs has been a solid 74 kg for his entire career, while Valencia had his most recent freestyle breakout performance at 86 kg at the Matteo Pellicone ranking series tournament.

While skill-for-skill very few doubted that Burroughs could handle the 23-year-old Valencia, the size and athleticism of the challenger were massive factors. Valencia is known for his speed and ability to use his length. Considering that Burroughs is approaching his mid-30s and could be slowing down a bit, there were many who felt he could take out the all-time great.

Of course, the size differential favored Burroughs in some ways. Even if his speed advantage was only marginal, he would be able to keep a pace for much longer - his fabled “sprint” was a big talking point heading into the match. The height of Valencia also gave Burroughs a bigger window for his signature double leg.

Knowing this, Zahid Valencia approached the match with an interesting strategy.

The Level Change Dilemma

Jordan Burroughs made a career off of his double leg. Feinting level changes and showing his double, Burroughs was able to time his opponents rising back up into their stance and blast through even the smallest of windows. His ability to shoot off his knees made this strategy especially effective.

Over time, he built on this strategy. If his opponents didn’t react to his level changes, he could just shoot the double anyway. If they did level change with him, but didn’t come back up, he could short offense from front headlock and either hit go-behinds or cut angles to get to singles.

Zahid Valencia is proficient with similar tactics, but more often relies on his speed to break off the handfight and get to his trust outside singles and swing singles. Against the smaller man, his speed advantage was less pronounced, and he didn’t truly have a style prepared to make the most of his size advantage.

What resulted was a match where Zahid Valencia attempted to match Jordan Burroughs at his own game.

Perhaps Valencia knew he could get Burroughs into his usual rhythms. He seems to have zeroed in on a specific attack, the knee pick, to get to Burroughs’ legs from the outside rather than trying to shoot straight on underneath the shorter man.

Burroughs was wise to it, but it did get him in the habit of kicking back and opening up a zone underneath his hands and torso.

Valencia changed levels, prompting the level change and kick back of Burroughs. But it was an act of misdirection, Valencia dropped to his knees in place, then pivoted and turned the corner to hit a lovely duck-under on Jordan Burroughs.

Valencia again come forward, looking to snap him down and recreate that dynamic, but Burroughs stubbornly stayed in stance. Capitalizing on his height, Valencia shot off wrist control for a high head-inside single, driving Burroughs onto his knees in the seatbelt position. Valencia quickly limp-armed out of the whizzer and secured a second takedown.

To close out the first period, Burroughs began to pressure more physically and methodically. Instead of playing a speed game at the lower levels, Burroughs focused on putting weight on the head, handfighting hard and continuing to push Valencia back. Valencia continued to play off his knees, but the constant motion and struggle was a lot to handle from that position.

Burroughs momentum started to build, and Valencia felt the heat. Hoping to scare Burroughs off of his relentless stalking, he shot off of his knees, reaching for the legs. Burroughs swiftly downblocked and kicked back, then recovered his stance and and began to chase the angle to attack the near ankle of Valencia. He would only score one point on the exchange, but it set the tone for the remainder of the match.

Jordan Burroughs continued to pressure, and Valencia could not get the Olympic champion to back off, forcing him to continue to shoot against the pressure. Valencia’s attacks progressively lost steam, while Burroughs only built on his pace, firing off attack after attack.

Their Twitter spat revolved around “the sprint”, each wondering if the other would be able to stand up to a relentless barrage of attacks.

In the end, it was the period-long acceleration of Jordan Burroughs that broke Zahid Valencia and sealed the highly-anticipated matchup. Two key traits of wrestling veterans like Burroughs - conditioning and physical handfighting, made all the difference.

Freestyle wrestling returns to Flo on Friday, December 4th for the RTC Cup. A dual-meet tournament, the Cup will pit some of the top wrestling clubs in the country against one another until the two teams with the best record meet in the finals. Jordan Burroughs and the Penn RTC will not be in attendance, but two-time World champion Kyle Dake will be facing a slew of high-level contenders coming to break his winning streak.