BUDAPEST, Hungary — Defending champion and 2012 Olympic gold-medalist Jordan Burroughs brings a 60-match winning streak to the wrestling world championships in Budapest.
The American will face Gamid Dzhalilov of Tajikistan in Wednesday’s first round in the 163-pound freestyle category and could meet former world junior champion Kakhaber Khubezhty of Russia in the second round.
Burroughs said the changes made this year to the scoring system — one of the key modifications credited with helping the sport regain its place at the Olympics until at least 2024 — favor his assertive style.
“I’m an aggressive, offensive wrestler,” Burroughs said before his weigh-in Tuesday. “It got easier for me. I’m scoring twice as many points as I was.”
Among the changes, the matches feature cumulative scoring and two, three-minute rounds. Before, there were separate scores in each of three, two-minute periods. Also, more points are awarded for attacking moves, there is no overtime period and a match can end with time still on the clock if one of the wrestlers achieves a seven-point advantage.
Wrestling was cut from the list of Olympic core sports in February. However, it was voted back into the games on Sept. 8 by the International Olympic Committee at a meeting in Buenos Aires and was guaranteed a spot in 2020 and 2024, but not beyond. A decision on its place after 2024 is expected around 2017.
Leadership changes at the international wrestling federation FILA, more wrestlers in executive positions and a guaranteed place for female officials in the sport’s governing body are also expected to improve the sport.
The loss of the Olympic hallmark, even if for just a few months, was a severe blow for the sport.
“We were a traditional Olympic sport which lost its place because it was not doing things well,” Venezuela coach Jose Diaz said. “Without the Olympics, sponsors would not invest money in wrestling.”
Jaime Espinal of Puerto Rico, a silver medalist at the 2012 London Olympics, said wrestling’s popularity in his homeland had been greatly boosted by his success.
“It was a glorious event for my country,” Espinal said. “Many children entered the sport in search of their own medal. If wrestling had been excluded from the Olympics, their dreams of a medal would have ended, too.”
Wrestlers, fans and coaches in Budapest agreed that new scoring system has made the sport easier to follow and led to more dynamic matches.
“Referees are awarding more points and scoring with more precision,” said Jose Diaz, the Venezuela coach. “This is a positive step for everyone.”
For Burroughs, the sport’s upgrades reflect the best of two worlds.
“I love the sport and I want to keep the essence of wrestling without changing too much of what it was,” said Burroughs, who won two national championships at the University of Nebraska. “I want wrestling to be modern so it can stay in the Olympics, but I also want it to stay true to its roots.”
Earlier, Burroughs had been planning to wrestle until 2017 and switch to another sport like mixed martial arts.
“I’ve kind of erased the MMA thoughts,” Burroughs said. “Reaching the 2020 Olympics in Tokyo is a realistic goal. I still have a lot of wrestling left in me.”
The New Jersey native who lives in Nebraska said the win streak was important to him only because more victories meant more championships. He said he’s looking forward to the 2015 world championships in Las Vegas.
“It will be a chance for my family to see me wrestle because of most my bouts are abroad and I only compete about two times a year in the U.S.,” Burroughs said.