The sight of Jordan Burroughs making a ragdoll of undefeated UFC fighter Ben Askren had a lot of folks wondering: What would it look like if Burroughs made the transition from wrestling to MMA himself?
A two-time Olympian, Burroughs captured a gold medal at the 2012 games in London and was also a two-time national champion and a three-time NCAA All-American during his illustrious career at the University of Nebraska. When Burroughs recently recently crossed paths with Askren—who also owns two NCAA titles—at a sold-out Beat the Streets charity event, he lived up to his reputation as being one of the greatest wrestlers ever produced by the United States.
Burroughs defeated Askren via tech fall, outscoring him 11-0, a result that teased at the potential Burroughs could have as a fighter. The 30-year-old has the kind of elite wrestling that has been the base for countless MMA fighters, but he has never made any strong overtures towards expanding into a new combat sport.
But after stepping onto the mat in a competitive setting against a current UFC fighter, he’s at least ready to have a discussion. Dana White has already mentioned being interested in Burroughs during a recent appearance on The Jim Rome Show and the feeling is apparently mutual.
“It’s exciting. I can’t deny it, I can’t deny it at all,” Burroughs said on Monday on The MMA Hour. “There was a period of time early in my career where I was like, I’m gonna definitely fight. I definitely want to be a part of this lifestyle. Then there was a period of time where I had so much success in the sport of wrestling and I was like, I don’t really need fighting. I’m good, I’m doing well financially, I’ve got a solid following. I’ve got a family, I’m healthy, I’m good.
“Now I’ve arrived at a place too where I’m seeing all of these guys that I once trained alongside become champions—and this is not a shot at any of those dudes—but if these guys can become champion, then I know I can become a champion because I possess all the same qualities that these guys possess. It’s exciting, it’s exciting. It’s something that I’d definitely consider. If I do consider fighting, it won’t be until after the Olympic games in 2020, and then from there I’ll reevaluate, see if it’s something that would be a realistic option for me.”
By the time Burroughs is done with the upcoming Tokyo games, he will be 33 years old and possibly have two Olympic gold medals in his trophy case. He’ll be an even bigger name in the world of wrestling than he already is and if continues to participate in crossover bouts with MMA fighters, the demand will only grow for him to step into the cage.
One thing Burroughs is not looking forward to should he trade single legs and ankle picks for haymakers and head kicks is the potential damage he could take as a fighter. Even given the wear-and-tear he’s experienced as a wrestler, it’s nothing compared to what he anticipates fighting could do to him.
“Because at this point, the great thing about what I do now is that when I leave the arena after a competition, I’m healthy,” Burroughs said. “I go back to my house or I go to a restaurant with my buddies, I don’t have to go to the hospital. It’s just a significantly different lifestyle than we have.
“No one steps into this Octagon expecting to get beat up and take a lot of punishment, so it’s something that I have to evaluate with my wife and my coaching staff here. But for the right price, I’d be willing to consider it for sure.”
Burroughs did enjoy trading verbal barbs with Askren over social media, an aspect of competition that he also found invaluable in selling their match. He saw it more as good-natured ribbing as opposed to the often deeply personal and inflammatory words that have been an integral part of some of MMA’s most notorious feuds.
Still, if it comes down to it, Burroughs expects to compete in a war-of-words the same way he does in a war-of-wrestling: with supreme confidence.
“I don’t think we ever will,” Burroughs said when asked if wrestlers will ever fully embrace trash talking. “It’s just not who we are, it’s not within our characters and the ideals that we created for the sport. We’ve wanted to be guys that, although we are competitors—and not that guys in the UFC are morally corrupt, but I think that they just go to a different place and when you’re fighting a guy sometimes you have to be in that place.
“As wrestlers, we’re not trying to hurt or damage physically our opponent. All we’re trying to do is score points and get our hands raised, so I think that’s where we differ from the UFC, but I think that also the way in which we could address each other could be cool from a competitive spirit. I actually enjoyed the trash talk with Ben because I felt like it was modest, but it was fun. You’re playing a game of Madden at your crib with some of your buddies, it’s the way that we would address each other. Listen, there’s no disrespect, there’s no hard feelings, I appreciate you, you’re a tremendous athlete and competitor, but also, I want you to understand that I think I can win. I think I’m capable of winning and I think I am going to win and that’s important.”
Of the wrestling vs. MMA experience at Beat the Streets, Burroughs could not speak highly enough of the event. He viewed it as an opportunity to introduce himself to “non-traditional wrestling fans” that may have tuned in because of Askren and is excited about the potential of other MMA fighters following Askren’s lead.
If Burroughs doesn’t enter the Octagon, perhaps he can convince some of the UFC’s stars to visit his world instead.
“Maybe next year we can invite more former wrestlers that have transitioned to MMA to come back and compete against current wrestlers,” Burroughs said. “I think that if we can follow this model, I think it can continue to be successful and I think every year it could get better and better with people willing to put it on the line. Who’s going to be willing to come back and compete against some guy who’s competing all the time in wrestling and their focus is solely on wrestling? I don’t know.
“But I think a guy like Henry Cejudo vs. Nick Suriano, or a guy like Daniel Cormier vs. Kyle Snyder, or me against Kamaru Usman, J’Den Cox vs. Jon Jones, all these fights, I don’t know if these guys would even be willing to do it, but it does present some pretty darn intriguing matchups.”