One hand on the rope, the other in the air. The chutes rip open and the plan is to gracefully stick to that rampaging beast for just eight seconds without dying in the process.
Reese Cates, one of the riders appearing at the Professional Bull Riders Built Ford Tough Sacramento Invitational on Friday and Saturday, knows better than to overthink the extreme danger.
“What’s going through your mind in eight seconds?” he said in recent interview. “It should be nothing.”
Cates is but one of 35 top-ranked professional bull riders coming through town as part of the quickly growing extreme sport, where bucking bulls and neo-cowboys clash for cash prizes and the claim to the world championship belt buckle.
As Cates well knows, there’s more to it than climbing on the back of a 2,000-pound angry beast. A rider has eight seconds to earn as many as 100 points, the catch being that the rider can only earn up to 50 on his own; the other points are awarded based on the bull’s performance.
Riders earn points for their composure and “their ability to counter the moves of the bull,” according to a brief on scoring from PBR. The rider can only hold on with one hand, and if he touches the ground at any point before the eight-second buzzer, the ride is incomplete and he earns no points.
The bull always gets points whether the rider is bucked or not, and is scored based on how it bucks, spins, shifts and kicks. Should the judges find that the bull didn’t perform viciously enough for a decent score, they’ll offer the cowboy another ride to see if it will score higher.
That’s why quality bulls are as necessary as quality riders. Julio Moreno, an Oakdale-based rancher, is dedicated to raising the best bulls he can, and he’s getting results: His legendary bull Bushwacker stands as No. 1 in Built Ford Tough Series rankings.
Bushwacker is 1,680 pounds of champion material, son of Reindeer and grandson of Diamond’s Ghost, two master bulls in their own rights, Moreno said. Gentle and calm in the chute, Bushwacker bursts into competition with a ferocity that forces riders to earn their points.
“He’s probably going down in PBR history as one of the greatest bulls of all time,” Moreno said.
Attendees at Sacramento’s event, unfortunately, will not get to witness Bushwacker flinging cowboys. The bull will attend in grand style, however.
“He won’t be bucked at Sacramento, but he’ll be in the opening ceremonies,” Moreno said.
While the invitational’s $30,000 purse may be enough of a draw for the riders, Cates has deeper pulls to the region. One is the Ultimate Fitness gym, home to local Ultimate Fighting Championship fighters Urijah Faber and Chad Mendes.
Cates trained at the gym after multiple injuries cut short his 2013 season. “It was definitely an inspiration to train with these guys. It let me know how dedicated I needed to be to my sport in order to be successful,” he said of his week of intensive workouts with the gym’s TeamAlpha Male.
Cates and Mendes became friends. Cates said he still trains at a fighting gym back home in El Dorado, Ark., and Mendes comes out to see the bull riders whenever he can.
While Cates uses mixed martial arts as one form of training, there are many ways to develop the skills and the muscles needed for the intense competition, he said.
“Some guys, they like to ride horses, some guys like to get on bulls of lower caliber,” Cates said.
And while some riders train on mechanical bulls, Cates points out that the equipment is of a different orientation than the one you’d see downtown at Bulls Restaurant and Bar. For starters, the fake bulls for untrained riders don’t lurch or jump the way a real bull does.
“I hear people talk about how they ride bulls at the fair – completely different,” he said.
You won’t see Cates or other pros on that kind of mechanical bulls lest they learn poor habits.
Fans of bull riding will have the chance to see the champion of last year’s Sacramento invitational, Guilherme Marchi, along with six former PBR World Champions, including J.B. Mauney, Silvano Alves and Renato Nunes, compete today and Saturday.