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The first thing newcomers to the PBR must know is that you do not refer to this as a rodeo. No, as Jack Carnefix told me, “rodeos have a few bull rides but mostly include things like mutton busting, calf roping and pole bending.” He continued with, “this two-day event is just bull riding – no gimmicks.”
As the night began a group of men came-out to the floor and traced the letters PBR with gasoline. As the fireworks burst and flames shot from the flame guns, the traced letters came to life with fire. With music blaring and the atmosphere of a popular rock concert the riders were introduced one-by-one. Then, as if it were the Rolling Stones themselves, the top five riders from last year were introduced. You quickly realized that this was not just bull riding, this was a full-fledged show.
As a newcomer myself to the PBR I read the ‘daysheet’ which shows the riders and their associated bulls for the evening. While reading through it I could not help but laugh at some of the names the bulls sported: Straight Whiskey, Stubby, Despicable Me, Little Hummer and Tighty Whitey just to name a few. At that point I was wondering whether I should cheer for the rider or the bull.
That question was soon answered as the announcer told the audience that cheering for the bull was encouraged as this is a sport that pits the best bulls against the crazy men who ride them. It is important to note that the better the bull, the better the rider’s score will be if he makes it past eight seconds (there are not many who do). The panel of four judges grades both the bull and the rider on a 25-point scale. Once the scores are in they are tallied and divided by two – this then becomes the final score (anything over an 80 is excellent). So, if you cheer for the rider or the bull the end result is the same – a better score.
Another common misconception of PBR is that the clowns wear make-up and dance like lunatics around the arena. This again is more of a rodeo tradition and not the PBR. In today’s PBR the clown is called a bullfighter and to become one is a serious task. Each bullfighter must be voted in by the PBR riders themselves each year and have a serious workout routine. There are no wigs, no clown outfits and no silly antics – these guys are there to protect the riders and the riders alone.
The one exception to this rule is Flint Rasmussen. Flint dresses in fun, but not clown-like, clothes, wear face make-up and a silly hat. He is there for the entertainment factor and he does it well. During breaks in action, a rider down or bull problems (they don’t always cooperate) he dances to popular tunes, sings traditional era songs and runs into the stands to harass fans while making a general clown out of himself (in a fun way).
As the night progressed one rider after another mounted a mean-spirited bull and took their turn at history. Some made the cut while others left the bull prancing proud with a win for itself. With more falling-off than staying on, it was an exciting night of bull riding. At the end of the night it was Renato Nunes, the 2010 world-champion, who took the title with an exceptional last ride. What was more amazing is that he did it while nursing a broken hand.
At the end of the night there is no doubt that many of these riders, if not all, will walk away with bumps and bruises. However, as long as they all walk away then it is a good night; and tonight, they all walked away with little more than a broken ego.
Marc McLaughlin is a contributing writer and photgrapher for the Sacramento Press. All photos and video courtesy of Marc McLaughlin.