If you follow college or amateur wrestling generally, the name Jordan Burroughs is not esoteric.
The New Jersey-native's list of wrestling accolades is almost peerless next to his American contemporaries. At the University of Nebraska, Burroughs was a two-time NCAA Division I national champion. In his senior year of 2011, Burroughs won the Dan Hodge Trophy, the equivalent of wrestling's Heisman Trophy. But perhaps most impressively, in his first year of wrestling at the international level Burroughs captured gold medals at both the 2011 Pan Am games and the World Championships at 74 kilograms. Incredibly, as the stakes get higher and the competition harder, the challenges only seem to fuel Burroughs' success and development.
So when Burroughs recently accepted a sponsorship from MMA apparel company Cage Fighter, many in the fight industry wondered if a lateral move to MMA was imminent. After all, the precedent of even moderately successful wrestlers making successful transitions to MMA is well documented. If former Division I All-Americans can be UFC champions, what about world champion wrestlers?
In this interview with MMA Nation on 106.7 The Fan, Burroughs discusses a potential future in mixed martial arts, being a UFC fan, who his favorite fighters are, the nature of wrestling in MMA and more.
Luke Thomas: Jordan, I have to ask you. Are you aware of what folks in MMA are saying about you?
Jordan Burroughs: Yeah, man. I know a lot of them are saying I can be one of the best and be a champion. I know it sounds good. I'm scared to get punched in the face, though.
Luke Thomas: Are you really?
Jordan Burroughs: Yeah
Luke Thomas: But everyone's scared. I mean, no one likes getting punched in the face.
Jordan Burroughs: Yeah, I mean I guess it's true. I guess it's one of those things you don't go out on the wrestling mat expecting to get pinned so once I learn the sport and actually am able to excel at it and get a little bit of confidence and stuff, I could be successful.
Luke Thomas: Have high level wrestlers who have transitioned over to MMA, have they talked to you about it?
Jordan Burroughs: Yeah, definitely. They say it's easier than wrestling. I've heard a lot of guys say that it's a lot easier than wrestling and wrestling is a sport that definitely helps you transition well. I've seen guys that haven't even been All-Americans or were one-time All-Americans in college become great UFC fighters so I don't know if it's one of those things where it's easier or people are just saying that because they're great at what they do, but I'm definitely curious to figure it out.
Luke Thomas: Tell me who's talked to you about it, who has a real high pedigree from wrestling.
Jordan Burroughs: Daniel Cormier is one of those guys that I've talked to most. He wrestled for Oklahoma State. He's a great wrestler, made the Olympic team a couple times and he's been fighting and doing well. I think he's undefeated and he's one of those guys that keeps telling me that. He loves the sport and says it's a lot easier than wrestling.
Luke Thomas: He also says you've got the best double-leg in wrestling. Is that true?
Jordan Burroughs: (laughs) I don't know. I don't want to judge myself. I'll let the fans decide.
Luke Thomas: Is the double-leg your number one weapon?
Jordan Burroughs: Definitely. It's hard to stop.
Luke Thomas: Do you watch MMA? Are you a fan?
Jordan Burroughs: Yeah, definitely. I watch it all the time.
Luke Thomas: And so, let's start, who do you like? When you look at MMA, "I like watching that guy fight!" Who do you like?
Jordan Burroughs: Jon Jones is definitely my favorite. He's explosive. Anderson Silva is great. He's very technical and I like to see guys get knockouts. When anybody goes to see a fight, they like to see knockouts happen. Any guy that's explosive and takes chances and takes risks and lays it all on the line trying to get a knockout is definitely a fan of mine.
Luke Thomas: Talk to me about wrestling in MMA. We had a guy who fought recently in Strikeforce. He was a little bit older, Yoel Romero, Cuban guy who won the [silver] medal in the Olympics. He couldn't take down a guy who had no wrestling background whatsoever. In your judgement, why does that happen?
Jordan Burroughs: I'm not sure. I mean, other people excel at different positions. Maybe that wasn't a strong point, sticking on his feet. Maybe just because he was an Olympic medalist doesn't mean he's great on his feet. He might keep good positioning and be hard to score but wasn't very offensive. It's one of those things, we've got guys that are very offensive and can take down anyone and we've got guys that don't shoot at all but are very hard to take down. It's one of those things, you've got to decide what you're good at.
Luke Thomas: I'm gonna ask you this point blank. Do you have interest in MMA? Maybe you want to win a gold medal and some Olympic world titles first. I'm not asking for a timeline. Do you have interest as a potential career move to fight in mixed martial arts?
Jordan Burroughs: Yeah, definitely, I definitely want to fight after I'm done wrestling. I want to wrestle ‘til 2017. John Smith from Oklahoma State was the greatest American wrestler of all time. He was a four time world champ and two time Olympic champ so for me, in order to catch him or surpass him, I'll have to wrestle every Olympics and every world championship from now to 2017 and that's the goal to win all of those and once I'm done with that, to try and get into MMA.
Luke Thomas: When you look at wrestling in MMA, what do you see? Do you see how good it is? Do you see how bad it is, how different it is? What do you see?
Jordan Burroughs: I mean, I like it. It gives wrestlers an outlet. Those who want to wrestle and continue to wrestle and excel and become Olympic champs, they stay in wrestling. Those who want to fight and make money, it's a pretty lucrative sport and I'm happy for the wrestlers that are able to transition to fighting are able to make a living because wrestling is one of those sports where you need to be probably at the top to make a decent living so MMA definitely does give them an outlet and helps them with their careers.
Luke Thomas: So there's a lot of like weird tension between MMA and wrestling. On the one hand, MMA promotes wrestling because you can see guys do so well with it because say a 15 year old says, "Hey, I want to learn how to wrestle because I want to fight." On the other hand, the elite wrestling community gets kind of bitter about it because you see a guy like Ben Askren, Dan Hodge trophy winner/ NCAA division I winner, went to the Olympics and came up short but I think they feel like that guy is being sucked away. What is your attitude? Are you mad at MMA for taking some guys away?
Jordan Burroughs: No, not at all. I mean, people are gonna make their decisions. If a guy wasn't that passionate about wrestling where he could that easily transition to a different sport then, maybe we didn't need him as a wrestler. We want those guys who are gonna be committed for a long period of time and want to bring gold medals home for the USA. To me, it's not about the money. It's about the glory and honor of being an Olympic champ and representing my country. I mean, MMA is a cool sport but right now, my main focus as it has been since I was a little kid is being an Olympic champ.
Luke Thomas: What is the attitude on Team USA? Maybe you guys haven't had open conversations on it, maybe you have. What would you say is the general attitude among your teammates on the national wrestling team about mixed martial arts?
Jordan Burroughs: A lot of people get excited about it. Everybody loves fighting. It's a combat sport and it's great to watch but some guys want to transition afterwards and some guys don't. Some guys think it's too brutal of a sport and they don't want to fight. For me, it's one of those things that I would like to try just to try it. I'm an athlete. I'm a competitor and I would like to see if I could be successful and win at. Others do it for the money so you have take what you're passionate about and why you're doing it and decide.
Luke Thomas: Who on Team USA, aside from yourself, do you say, "You know what? This guy might have what it takes." Who would have what it takes to transition to MMA?
Jordan Burroughs: I would say Nick Simmons probably. He's a long guy and he's awesome at chokes and all types of tapout maneuvers. He's long and he would wrestle or fight at a lighter weight. He would probably be a tough match-up for those guys. He knows a lot of the moves and he's done jiu-jitsu and he's done all that stuff. He wrestles on the mat well so he'd probably be a tough match-up for a lot of MMA guys.
Luke Thomas: Have you ever trained jiu-jitsu?
Jordan Burroughs: No, not at all. I've never done anything but wrestling in terms of combat sports.
Luke Thomas: When you look at it, does it interest you? Does it intrigue you?
Jordan Burroughs: Yeah, it's pretty cool. I think the boxing part is most intriguing for me. I love to wrestle and jiu-jitsu and wrestling are similar. I have good mat awareness. I don't know all the holds and how to defend from my back and stuff like that but I think I'm a pretty good wrestler and that would be pretty easy for me to learn. I think the boxing would be the hardest part.
Luke Thomas: Before I let you go, Jordan Burroughs here, one of wrestling's stars. Amateur wrestling, not professional, how did you get hooked up with Cagefighter? How did all that happen?
Jordan Burroughs: Actually, Mike [DiSabato], he was at the NCAA championships in Philadelphia in March and he basically got in contact me. He watched all the potential I had as an athlete and he was one of the first people to actually recognize the potential I had in athleticism and he was right there right away before I won a world championship or anything. He's a good guy.
Luke Thomas: Have any other MMA organizations, who from the MMA world has reached out to you and said, "We want to be in the Jordan Burroughs business?"
Jordan Burroughs: Clinch Gear, I've talked to Clinch Gear. Besides that, no one really. A lot of guys have asked me through my interviews and through other outlets, they see that wrestling is my interest right now so they're like hands off with me until I decide to get out of wrestling and into the sport.
Luke Thomas: Alright, Jordan Burroughs. You can follow him on twitter @alliseeisgold, he's had an unbelievable 2011 and here's to an incredible 2012 for you and for the national team. Jordan, thank you so much for your time. I appreciate it. It's a true honor to get the chance to speak to you and I hope you have a great next year and I can't wait to see you make the transition to mixed martial arts. Thank you so much.
Jordan Burroughs: Thank you, I appreciate it.
* To hear our discussion centered more on amateur wrestling, Jordan's competitive schedule and more, listen to the interview on the YouTube video posted above.