Top Five Wrestling Moments of 2011: A Fan's Recap

In 2011, wrestling fans saw several wrestling greats return to the mat. We saw a college wrestler burst onto the international scene with authority, and we saw a single-legged athlete win an NCAA title.

Yes, 2011 has been an entertaining year in the sport of wrestling.

Here's a look at five of the best wrestling moments of 2011:

1. Jordan Burroughs Earns Gold -- Jordan Burroughs took the wrestling world by storm when he earned a gold medal at the 74-kilogram weight class of the freestyle competition at the 2011 Wrestling World Championships. Burroughs was the only member of Team USA to earn gold at the event.

It wasn't the first time during 2011 that Burroughs had gained recognition in the wrestling world. Earlier in the year, Burroughs won an NCAA title at the 165-pound weight class. It was the second time that Burroughs won a title at the NCAA tournament, and 2011 marked the first year that he won The Dan Hodge Trophy. The Hodge Trophy is awarded each year to the best wrestler in college.

After returning from the world championship tournament in September, Burroughs traveled to Guadalajara, Mexico, to participate in the 2011 Pan American Games. He earned gold in that tournament, as well.

2. Anthony Robles Wins at the NCAA Tournament -- Anthony Robles impressed wrestling fans across America with his title win at the 2011 NCAA tournament. Wrestling for Arizona State, Robles compiled a 36-0 record for the season. He had been dominant all season long, and that certainly didn't change when it came time to win on the big stage.

In the finals of the 125-pound weight class, Robles faced off against defending national champion Matt McDonough of Iowa. In the end, Robles won the match 7-1.

The most impressive part: Robles was born without a leg. With his win, he became the first wrestler to win the NCAA tournament with just one leg.

3. Year of Wrestling Comebacks -- During 2011, several wrestler greats announced their attempts to return to competition. Cael Sanderson and Rulon Gardner were among the most notable.

Sanderson, who won an Olympic gold medal in 2004, is currently the head coach at Penn State University. Sanderson also is a four-time NCAA champion and went undefeated during his entire college-wrestling career at Iowa State University. Sanderson returned to competition in March of 2011 at a regional tournament, and soon after earned a spot on the 2011 World Championship team. Sanderson represented the U.S. at the 84-kilogram weight class of the freestyle competition and finished fifth.

Gardner also announced he would return to wrestling in 2011, but his route back to the sport was a bit different. Gardner was an Olympic champion in 2000 and a bronze medalist in 2004 at the heavyweight division of the Greco-Roman competition. By 2011, he had gained enough weight to find himself on NBCs The Biggest Loser in 2011. After losing 188 pounds, Gardner decided he wanted to try to return to the mat, according to TheMat.com.

4. NCAA Team Race Headlined by Non-Traditional Powers -- The NCAA tournament is frequently dominated by schools such as Iowa, Oklahoma State and Minnesota. In 2011, though, two different teams landed at the top of the rankings. Penn State won the NCAA tournament, marking the first NCAA title for the school since 1953. Cornell finished in second place for the second straight year.

5. Beat the Streets Gala Held in Times Square -- Each year, the Beat the Streets foundation holds a fundraiser and wrestling exhibition in a unique place. In 2010, the gala was held aboard an aircraft carrier. In 2012, the Beat the Streets Gala was held in the middle of Times Square. The exhibition marked the first time that Olympic champion Henry Cejudo publicly returned to the mat, and the American team defeated the Russian team 5-2 in the event.

In addition, the event raised more than $900,000 for the Beat the Streets foundation and other charities. The foundation provides opportunities for New York City middle and high school students who wish to wrestle.

Sandra Johnson is a long-time wrestling fan. While working for the United States Olympic Committee, Johnson had the opportunity to live alongside the freestyle and Greco-Roman wrestlers at the Olympic Training Center in Colorado Springs, Colo.