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Burroughs, Taylor, Dake, Howe: Stars galore at 74 kg for U.S. World Team Trials

Jordan Burroughs battles David Taylor in April’s U.S. Open finals in Las Vegas. Tony Rotundo photo.

Jordan Burroughs has been the best wrestler on the planet over the past two years.

But the 2011 World champion and 2012 Olympic gold medalist is taking nothing for granted when he tries to become the best in his own country for the third straight year.

Burroughs knows he will have a battle on his hands during his quest to win the U.S. World Team Trials, set for June 21-22 at Oklahoma State University in Stillwater.

To say the men’s freestyle weight class of 74 kg/163 lbs. is loaded would be a massive understatement.

For starters, the last three athletes to win the Hodge Trophy as the nation’s best college wrestler are entered in this weight class. Burroughs, the 2011 Hodge winner, is joined by 2012 Hodge winner David Taylor and 2013 Hodge winner Kyle Dake.

And don’t forget about past NCAA champion Andrew Howe, who finished second to Burroughs at the 2011 World Team Trials and 2012 Olympic Team Trials.

“It’s awesome – I love it, I love it,” Burroughs said when asked about competing in the loaded 74 kg bracket. “It’s really cool that it’s the toughest weight class in the country. It will hopefully bring a lot of attention to our sport and a lot of attention to the weight class. There are a lot of tough guys, but I only have to wrestle one of them.”

Burroughs has already clinched a spot in the best-of-3 finals at the Trials by virtue of winning an Olympic medal in 2012 and placing in an international event this season.

He will battle the winner of the Challenge Tournament in the finals on June 21. Champions at the World Team Trials qualify for September’s World Championships in Budapest, Hungary.

Burroughs swept Taylor 3-1, 1-0 at April’s U.S. Open finals in Las Vegas in a match that was closer than many wrestling observers expected.

Taylor continued to wrestle well in a pair of events last month. He earned a win over Russia in the Rumble on the Rails dual in New York City before earning a spot on the U.S. University World Team.

“David has a huge plethora of skills and attacks,” Burroughs said. “He can come out and score right away on you. He’s one of the best I’ve ever wrestled in the neutral position. He’s in constant motion out there and he wrestles hard.”

Taylor will be the No. 1 seed in the Challenge Tournament, since he finished second at the U.S. Open and since Burroughs is sitting out until the finals.

“It’s going to be exciting,” Taylor said. “It’s definitely a challenge when you have a returning World and Olympic champion in your weight class. It was really important for me to have a chance to wrestle Burroughs at the U.S. Open – it’s impossible to replicate his style. I thought I made good some adjustments in that match.

“I have a tough mini-tournament to get through first. I can’t look ahead. I’m looking forward to competing at the Trials. I feel like if I’m healthy I can wrestle with anybody in the World.”

It has been a magical 2013 for Dake, who edged Taylor 5-4 in the much-anticipated 165-pound finals to win his historic fourth NCAA title in March.

“Kyle was a training partner for the U.S. at the Olympics last year, and he was very selfless with the way he helped our team prepare to compete,” Burroughs said. “We drilled together quite a bit and we wrestled a couple of matches live. He’s a very tough wrestler. He’s not a four-time national champion for nothing.”

Dake placed fourth at the 2012 Olympic Trials and earned a win over Iran in the Rumble on the Rails dual.

“I’m really excited about the Trials,” Dake said. “It’s my first tournament back and I’m looking forward to wrestling with the new rules. There is more scoring and more risk-taking, which I feel is a benefit for my style of wrestling. I just need to go out and wrestle and do what I know how to do.

“There obviously are a lot of very good guys in our weight class. You can’t overlook anybody.”

If Dake wins the Challenge Tournament, it would set up a highly anticipated finals matchup with Burroughs.

“Jordan’s the best in the World,” Dake said. “If I want to get to the top, which is where I want to be, I obviously have to go through him. I’m excited for the opportunity to face him. I feel like I’m a lot stronger than I was last year. I feel more explosive and more powerful.”

Dake said there is a different pressure on him now as he transitions to the Senior level full-time in freestyle.

“That expectation is still the same as it’s always been,” he said. “I’m still expecting to be the best. If I’m not, it’s a little bit of a failure for me. You have to believe in yourself 100 percent when you step out there to compete.”

Howe won a period over Burroughs in the first match of their final-round series at the 2012 Olympic Trials before Howe was injured later in the match. Howe had to default the next match with an injury.

Howe returned to the mat last month and won a title at the University Nationals at the non-Olympic weight class of 79 kg/174 lbs.

“Howe is really strong – he’s a very physical, very hard-nosed wrestler,” Burroughs said. “He’s intense. He definitely brings a fight to every match.”

Burroughs, a perfect 54-0 on the Senior level, said there are advantages and disadvantages to having already clinched a spot in the finals of the Trials.

“The guy that wins the Challenge Tournament will have a lot of momentum,” Burroughs said. “They will be warmed up and ready to go from having already competed. I will be cold from sitting, so I need to make sure I am ready to go. The advantage I have is from not having to go through the grind of the Challenge Tournament.”

The strong 74 kg weight class also includes Nick Marable, a past National Team member who placed third in the U.S. Open. Past NCAA All-American Ryan Morningstar was fourth at the Open.

Marable will be the No. 2 seed in the Challenge Tournament since he finished third in Vegas. The remaining Challenge Tournament seeds will be determined following weigh-ins on June 20, the day before competition.

Past World Team member Trent Paulson and 2012 University World bronze medalist Colt Sponseller also have qualified for the Trials in this division. Sponseller placed fifth at the U.S. Open.

“74 kg is going to be fun to watch,” U.S. National Coach Zeke Jones said. “Of course, we have the returning champ, several returning veterans who have won on the international stage, and then you have some new young blood that is ready to make their mark.

“The depth is going to push everyone in the weight class, and the winner will be primed to win gold in Budapest.”

Paulson made a U.S. World Team in 2009 at 66 kg/145.5 lbs. and placed third at the 2012 Olympic Trials at 74 kg/163 lbs. Paulson beat Dake in the Challenge Tournament semifinals at the Olympic Trials before falling to Howe in the finals.

Paulson placed second at the Cerro Pelado International in Cuba this season.

“This is one of the most stacked weight classes I can ever remember – I couldn’t miss out on an opportunity like this,” Paulson said. “These guys are all young and hungry and talented. Obviously, Burroughs has been the best in the World, and Dake and Taylor are studs. You can’t say anything negative about them or the way they wrestle. I’m looking forward to wrestling them. I’m experienced and I’ve been wrestling full-time on the Senior level since 2007. If I’m on, I think I can wrestle with the best guys in the World. I love the new rules. I love the longer matches – my conditioning is great right now.”

So how difficult will it be for anyone to defeat Burroughs?

“On paper, there is a huge gap between Burroughs and everyone else. He’s 54-0 on the Senior level, and he’s a World and Olympic champion,” Paulson said. “But if you watch the second period of the Burroughs-Taylor match in Vegas, it was a barnburner. Taylor made some adjustments and kept coming at him. Burroughs is definitely going to be challenged at the Trials.”

Burroughs competed under the new FILA rules during the United 4 Wrestling event in Los Angeles last month. He put on a dazzling and dominant display in rolling to a 14-3 win over Russia’s Saba Khubetzhty in the dual. His takedowns are now worth two points instead of one, and he won by technical fall in the first period after building an advantage of 10 points or more.

“I love the new rules,” he said. “They’re great for the sport. The matches are more exciting, the scores are higher and guys are wrestling harder. If you wrestle aggressively, it’s tough for your opponent to withstand constant pressure and attacks for six minutes.”

The 24-year-old Burroughs continues to train in Lincoln at the University of Nebraska, where he won two NCAA titles.

“Everything’s going great,” Burroughs said. “I’m feeling sharp. I’m excited and I’m ready to go. I love big tournaments like this. I can’t wait to get out there and compete.”
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