LONDON -- Get this. America's best wrestler has never been in a fight.
"I'm scared to get punched in the face," said Jordan Burroughs, the favorite to win a gold medal Friday at the ExCel Centre in the 163-pound freestyle division.
But he's not afraid to predict greatness. His Twitter handle is @alliseeisgold.
Burroughs, 24, might be the best thing to hit U.S. wrestling since Hulk Hogan. He's a super talent who's not afraid to say it. If it brings attention to the all-but-forgotten sport Burroughs is your man.
"I want to win," the former University of Nebraska star said. "I expect to win and wrestling needs somebody who can win."
Put simply, America wrestling needs Jordan Burroughs.
He's 34-0 in senior-level freestyle competition and the country's only current world champion after winning last year in Istanbul, Turkey.
Burroughs' last defeat of any kind came in 2009 against a wrestler from Central Michigan. He tore two knee ligaments in the first period but continued while losing 3-2.
Burroughs describes it as his darkest days. Sometimes the wrestler sounds like a character from a Bruce Springsteen song. He grew up in Winslow Township, N.J., where his father is a construction worker.
He recalled being inspired for a better life while watching Leroy Burroughs wake at 5 a.m. to get to work whether it was zero degrees or 100 degrees outside.
Wrestling demands similar dedication. It is one of the most
The father of the modern Olympics, Pierre de Coubertin, wanted to make the strong connection to the Greeks when resurrecting the Games in 1896. He introduced the upper-torso Greco-Roman style wrestling to the first modern Games in Athens. Freestyle wrestling was added at the 1904 Games in St. Louis.
But it has long lost its appeal in the United States where mixed martial arts is all the rage. A number of wrestling champions have migrated to MMA to stake their fame and fortune.
Burroughs recently chided fellow wrestlers for transferring to MMA when telling the Los Angeles Times, "If someone can be so easily pulled away by financial opportunities, then maybe they aren't as passionate about it as you'd want them to be. You want guys to basically die for a gold medal."
He softened that view the other day at the team's training facility at the University of East London. Burroughs talked about the possibility of joining the MMA circuit, saying living in California would be dreamy.
It's understandable why some wrestlers seek other opportunities. With the demise of high school and college programs, amateur wrestling was on life support outside of the Midwest. Followers established A Living the Dream Medal Fund after U.S. wrestlers won only one Olympic gold medal in 2008.
Any American who wins a title in London will earn $250,000. The U.S. Olympic Committee gives cash bonuses of $25,000 for gold medalists. (Athletes who win silver and bronze medals also receive bonuses).
Burroughs isn't competing for the money, per se, but said, "Whether I become rich or famous depends how I wrestle Friday."
He might be favored but it won't be easy. Burroughs had to defeat two-time champion Denis Tsargush of Russia to win the world title in his debut last year. The wrestler also defeated Iran's Sadegh Saeed Goudrzi and Azerbaijan's Ashraf Aliyev.
The three athletes represent the center of power for wrestling. It's a place the Americans hope to gain entrance though they failed to win any medals in London in Greco-Roman wrestling.
"Our goal is pretty simple: we want to be the best team in the world," freestyle coach Zeke Jones said. "To do that, we need Jordan to perform up to his ability."
Burroughs, who won only one high school state championship, understands the pressures placed on him. He said he arrived at it by default.
"My popularity from college rolled right over to the international scene," he said. "I have a lot of charisma, a lot of personality. I'm pretty good looking. I think I'm good for the sport."
He thinks right. Wrestlers toil in musky gyms far from public view. It takes something special to break out of the cave-like existence in a video-game world.
As much as his bold talk makes good press Burroughs clings to the monastic tendencies of a sport that demands strict dieting as much as brute strength. He said his pursuit of excellence never had anything to do with fame or money.
"There are plenty of rich people," Burroughs said. "There are very few Olympic champions."