Jordan Burroughs is a superhero – and not just because of his muscles and spandex singlet. Burroughs is the reigning champ in men’s freestyle 74kg wrestling, striking gold at the 2012 Olympics in London and the 2015 World Championship in Toronto.
But like every good superhero, Burroughs, 28, has another identity: a proud husband and father who enjoys watching cartoons with his son, rocking out to Michael Jackson, and curling up with a good sports biography. Before Burroughs takes the stage in Rio on Friday to reclaim gold in the men’s freestyle 74kg competition, the wrestler gave EW his Must List of pop culture faves. Find out why The Sandlot was his favorite film growing up, how Boardwalk Empire connects him to his New Jersey roots, and why he’s seen Cars over 1,000 times.
1. The Sandlot
“It reminds me of being a kid. Everything is so exaggerated – just from their mannerisms, to the way they deal with each other, the way they tell stories. It’s really funny to me because as a kid, everything is so awesome. And then as you get older, the expectations grow and you see more, you become less excited in the daily routine of life. Some of those kids really remind me of being on the playground, on the baseball field, playing football outside with friends at the park when I was a young man.”
2. Not a Game: The Incredible Rise and Unthinkable Fall of Allen Iverson by Kent Babb
“I grew up in South Jersey, so he was huge at that time period, where he really changed the game. And that era in my area – everyone wanted to be a basketball player.”
3. “Thriller” by Michael Jackson
“I remember watching that music video as a kid. I was so afraid of that song; it was like a horror film to me. But I appreciated Michael Jackson – he transcended all races and all cultures and he was beloved throughout the entire world. And his music really brought a lot of people together, so I appreciated that about him.”
4. Boardwalk Empire
“To see Atlantic City in its heyday during prohibition, kind of the way these guys maneuvered it – I think they had some underlying truth behind the story. Nucky Thompson (Steve Buscemi), who’s the main character, he was awesome. He was tough, he was rugged, but he was polished and classy. He’s well respected, he’s feared, he’s who all the ladies love and the men idolize. He was a true boss.”
5. When the Game Was Ours by Larry Bird and Magic Johnson with Jackie MacMullan
“There was a time period where I was obsessed with the rivalry between the Lakers and the Celtics in the 1980s. I like dynasties. I like to know what those guys were thinking in that period of time, how they engaged with fans, the media. That was a pretty cool period of time.”
6. Prison Break
“When I was watching, I was watching multiple episodes a day, for like a week straight. It was interesting, they always kept you on the edge of your seat. You thought you knew what was going to happen and then they threw you a curveball. It really got you hooked. After the 45 minutes were up, like, I gotta watch another episode now, I can’t even wait until the morning. I’m tired, but I gotta watch another episode to see what happens.”
7. The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen
“I like movies with superheroes – one of my favorite movies of all time was The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen. Just because it had some of those underlying connotations. It’s these fantastic people, each with their own skill, coming together from across the world.”
8. TED Talks
“I listen to a lot of TED talks and motivational speakers. There are two speakers right now that I really enjoy: Eric Thomas and Les Brown. Those are the two guys that really get me fired up. They really empower you. I think in this society, once you reach a certain age and haven’t accomplished your goals, you give up. And you allow your life to be dictated by someone else. So these guys talk about taking authority, taking control of your life. Making sure that what you’re doing at this very moment is what you really enjoy.”
9. Cars and Cars 2
“I watch cartoons every day. I’ve seen Cars and Cars 2 about 1,500 times a piece. I hate it. [Laughs] But I know every line, acting like Lightning McQueen, trying to entertain my son.”
“I’m a big Uber fan. We spend a lot of time on Uber, my wife and I, when we go to big cities. It makes you feel like a boss, pulling up in a black car, even though it’s just a glorified taxi.”
This interview has been edited and condensed.