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World’s Best Wrestler, Toughest Athlete 65-0
Olympic and World Champion Jordan Burroughs is a master of mental and physical toughness.
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Courtesy: NU Media Relations
02/06/2014
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Randy York’s N-Sider

In the final installment of a 3-part series on Jordan Burroughs, The N-Sider is mixing it up for the overall benefit of the reader. Instead of getting my take on what Burroughs has accomplished after wrestling at Nebraska, we go into the head and heart of the man who recruited Burroughs, coached him as a Husker and remains his mentor and key source of inspiration. We know why Nebraska Wrestling Coach Mark Manning and others view Jordan Burroughs as the world’s best wrestler. What we will learn are the deep-rooted reasons why Burroughs soars over wrestling for one fundamental reason – the world’s best wrestler is also the world’s toughest competitor who's equipped with the toughest mindset, toughest work ethic and toughest attitude.

“Jordan Burroughs may be a happy, kind, considerate gentleman off the mat, but when it’s time to be competitive, he becomes a warrior like no one I’ve ever seen," Manning said. "The things he’s done and the courage he’s shown winning an Olympic Gold Medal and two World Championships and 65 straight matches since two unbeaten NCAA seasons in his college days, are almost unbelievable. I believe them because I was there and saw them with my own eyes. This guy is a living legend because he’s put every ounce of his heart and soul into being the best in the world. He’s fantastic. He’s unbelievable. He’s unique. He’s tough. His threshold for pain defies logic. But it’s all true.” That’s why we’ve asked Manning to share some of his most incredible moments leading and watching Burroughs rise to unparalleled heights across the country and around the world. The stories you hear are true. They are Mark Manning’s words, gleaned from a 40-minute interview.

Two Fully Exposed Teeth Didn’t Stop Him

If Jordan isn’t the toughest person I’ve ever seen, he has to be right up there with the Navy Seals and guys who do incredible things. I still remember his junior year at Nebraska. He was wrestling a guy from Northern Colorado in a tournament in Las Vegas. This guy became an All-American that year and Jordan ended up having to take a medical redshirt. He was taking this guy down early. The guy rolled into and broke two of Jordan’s molars off the bone of his hip. The roots of Jordan’s teeth were exposed. You could see how much pain he was in, but he went on and wrestled and won because our trainer was able to stop the blood flow.

Two weeks later, Jordan tore his ACL in a match in Lincoln against Central Michigan. Jordan tore the ACL in the first 30 seconds. He would not let us stop the match. I knew he tore it but didn’t know how bad until the match was over. It went two overtimes. I kept telling him: 'Jordan I’m throwing in the towel.' He said: 'No, coach…no way. I’m not losing.' The only reason he ended up losing in the second overtime was because he’d already been given one timeout and when he grabbed his knee toward the end, the ref stopped the match. The score was still tied at the time, but Jordan lost. It was 2010. He had to redshirt. He couldn’t wrestle anymore. He’s never lost a match since.

I know that happened while Jordan was still in college, and we’re talking about what happened after college, but that was a classic case of a world-class wrestler showing his world-class toughness. He’s such a nice, neat, humble person you would never know he’s as tough as nails in any and every competitive situation. That’s when his toughness comes out and he takes on the personality of a gladiator. I know he doesn’t come off as a tough guy, but there was an early match in his first world championship where he should have had stitches in his lip, but he just kept going, man. That’s the way he is. He wrestled five matches with a lip that needed treatment, but it didn’t even faze him. Whenever he’s in battle, all he sees is gold. He doesn’t back off. Nothing’s going to prevent him from competing.

Yes, He Won Gold with a Broken Ankle

And that takes us to his second world championship in Budapest. He broke his ankle at the Olympic Training site in Colorado Springs on August 23rd and ended up winning the world title 26 days later on September 18th. I’ll never forget the day he was running sprints. I saw it happen. I knew he couldn’t put any pressure on his foot. I went over. He said: 'Coach, I broke my foot. It snapped. I could hear it.' We went into the training room. He could stand on his foot because he’s tough. He could endure some pressure because he's tough. The trainer said no way his foot or ankle could be broken because he could put some pressure on it.

Jordan told him he did something and was pretty sure it was broken. The trainer told him again that he couldn’t walk or stand on the foot if it was broken. We went to a foot and ankle specialist the next day and sure enough, it was broken. John Shank specializes in foot and ankle reconstructive surgery. He's a consultant to the Olympic Training Center and is a foot and ankle consultant for the Denver Broncos and the Colorado Rockies. We met him on Friday and he was flying to Los Angeles on Saturday. He couldn’t do surgery for at least a couple days. Jordan told him every day was important if he was going to compete in the Olympics. It was 10 o’clock in the morning. Dr. Shank was great. He operated on Jordan that afternoon. He put the biggest screws he could find to tighten Jordan’s ankle and put a metal plate in there. The surgery took an hour-and-a-half. Dr. Shank had fixed an Olympic figure skater’s foot and she was able to compete eight weeks later. He said he couldn’t guarantee Jordan would be able to wrestle. He said he didn’t think he'd break it again, but if he did, he could go in and fix it again. Dr. Shank told us that we were really pushing envelope, but it was our only hope. Jordan’s tough, but he couldn’t get through another world championship without surgery.

Jordan had to be able to recover from anesthesia before he could be dismissed from the hospital. We were out there with a coach and three other wrestlers. Everyone needed to be back on Monday because school started. We didn’t tell any of the other wrestlers that Jordan was having surgery. We didn’t want the word out. We left the hospital about 9:30 on Saturday night and pulled into the Devaney Center at 6:45 Sunday morning. Our guys figured out what had gone on, but vowed not to tell anybody, and they didn’t. Jordan missed a big media day in Colorado Springs because of the surgery. People were asking what was going on. They thought there was an issue but they didn’t know what it was and no one was going to tell them.

The Russians,Turks: Curious Onlookers

When we arrived in Budapest, you could see people trying to check out Jordan. The Russians were looking at everything he was doing. So were the Turks. They knew something was going on with his ankle, but they didn’t know what it was. The Americans didn’t know either. They just thought he had a bad ankle. No one knew about the surgery until after he won the gold medal, and that’s the way it had to be. The surgeon did a tremendous job, and the beauty of it all was the way Jordan approached it mentally. Dr. Shank called me three times while we were still in America and several times while we were in Budapest. It took us a week to get Jordan off crutches and another week before he could bear weight on his foot. He worked out on the bike in a boot every day. He did weight climbs, pull-ups and rope climbs while his foot healed. He didn’t practice until nine days before he competed in the world championships.

He had his motion but I worried about whether he had the power to push off his ankle. His feet and legs are golden in my eyes. His drive, motion and power all come from his legs. He still had his upper body strength. The question was how would he pull it all off with his leg strength? I kept telling him every day in Lincoln that I knew he could do it because his legs were getting stronger. He took two or three days off so he could come back quicker. I kept telling him that even with a broken ankle, he was better than the rest of the world.

I kept putting positive thoughts in his head every day. I said if you move and stay on your feet, you win.  Then one day, he was on the bike and turned to me. I can still remember exactly what he said: Coach, I’m not going to be 100 percent, but you’re right. I can beat them. I knew right then and there that Jordan was going to do it. He was going to win gold. He was in there moving and simulating what he had to do. You could tell. He was ready to go. He couldn’t have been more than 80 percent physically, but there was no doubt that he was 100 percent mentally. I don’t know how you can tell, but I could tell. Whatever he believes, he achieves.

His Ultimate Trump Card: Mental Toughness

What’s so unique and so fun about Jordan is he’s the one who sets his own high standards. You would never know how high he goes by his personality. He never comes off as a tough guy, but he’s always a tough guy. His mental toughness when he competes is second to no one. People around him know that he’s one guy you want in the foxhole near you or next to you. You talk about the Navy Seal guys and the Survivor shows. This guy is as tough as they come. That’s why Bo Pelini asked him to speak to the football team before we beat Wisconsin. When I told Bo that we were heading to the World Championships after Jordan had secret surgery, he couldn’t believe it. He called him to wish him luck.

Burroughs' nature belies his toughness. He’s fun-loving, easy-going. But he switches gears the second he hits the mat. He’s electric. What he brings most to our sport is his energy and attitude. He really is fantastic. He’s the world’s best wrestler. He's definitely one of the world’s best athletes. He’s 65-and-0 competing against the best in the world. He wins one World Championship with a lip that needs to be sewn up. He wins another one with a broken ankle. He goes two overtimes in a college match against an All-American and is tied even though he’s wrestled all but 30 seconds with a torn ACL. That was the last match he lost, even though the score was tied, and that was almost four years ago. In two years, he’s favored to win another Olympic Gold in Brazil. I don’t know who’s going to stop him or what can stop him. I just know that whoever or whatever is only part of the equation. Jordan wins mentally first and physically second, and that makes him one tough cat – for anyone. He’s gone the distance with the bloody roots of two missing molars without losing the match. He’s tough, man...as tough as they come.

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