As big as a Buick, mean and with horns


Professional Bull Riding pulls into Del Mar this weekend

San Diegans fond of extreme sports will have a chance to witness the man-versus-beast spectacle of bull riding when the Professional Bull Riders come to the Del Mar Arena at the Del Mar Fairgrounds July 26 and 27.

The tour brings with it some of the finest riders in the world to battle in what Jack Murphy once called “the roughest, toughest, fiercest, finest, most exciting darn sport in the world, period.”

The events kick off Saturday with the Del Mar invitational, which will feature Bull Poker and Cowboy Teeter-Totter as seen in “Jackass: The Movie.”

Marines from Camp Pendleton will participate in a winner-takes-all competition to see who will be the last man to remain sitting at the poker table after a Mexican fighting bull is let loose in the arena.

On Sunday, a brand new contest called the PBR Team Shootout will be introduced. It will showcase some of the leading names of bull riding. The top 20 riders in the world will be allowed to select any teammate from within Professional Bull Riding. Each contestant has to mount two bulls in one day, with the best score on four bulls winning the event.

A total of five similar competitions will be held throughout the United States, with the finals taking place in Pueblo, Colo., on Aug. 28. The Del Mar event is scheduled to air on Aug. 10 at 1 p.m. on ESPN2.

Three-time PBR world title-holder Adriano Moraes, of Brazil, said he is excited about the new format and looks forward to riding with his younger brother, Allan. Moraes, who said he never thought he could earn a living as a bull rider, admitted he is intimidated by most of the bulls. But, “being intimidated and getting on are two different things,” he said.

After 22 years of professional bull riding, Moraes will be retiring from the sport this coming November.

Bulls for both events will be provided by stock contractor Cotton Rosser.

Rosser has been providing four-legged rodeo performers for more than half a century. A living legend, he is affectionately called the P.T. Barnum of rodeo. His company, Flying U, which is partly owned by La Jollan Phillip Rutherford, is recognized as the oldest rodeo company in the world.

The real rodeo celebrities are the bulls, according to Rosser. He said that bull merchandise such as hats and T-shirts usually outsells that of the riders.

Event tours supervisor Edwin Lay of PBR describes the big, bucking beasts as athletes. If they’re not in top shape, they won’t perform, he said.

“These bulls are very valuable,” Rosser said. “I was once offered $300,000 for Reindeer Dippin.”

When asked on national television why he didn’t make the deal, Rosser responded, “I’ve got one good wife and one good bull. I think I’ll keep ‘em both.”

Supporters of rodeo claim that bull riding is currently the fastest growing extreme sport in the world. It is hard to say whether or not that is true, but what is indisputable is that more than 1.5 million fans attended live PBR events last year compared to 310,000 in 1995. PBR is expecting sales for 2008 to grow by 25 percent.

The sport is shown on NBC, VERSUS, Fox and ESPN, which recently inked a deal to rollout the first-ever PBR Team Shootout. In the United States more than 100 million viewers tune in each year on network and cable television. Internationally more than 500 million households in 85 different countries watch bull riding.

Part of what may make bull riding popular in this age of extreme sorts is that it is so dangerous. It has the highest rate of injury of any rodeo sport. Life-threatening injuries are always a possibility for those brave enough to ride a fierce and unruly bovine. Many of the bulls weigh as much as a Buick, and they have horns.

Still, 25-year-old rider Guilherme Marchi, appears to be immune to injuries. Marchi, who was the 2002 Brazilian champion, has been riding bulls professionally for the past eight years. He is currently the number one rider in the world, and he proudly brags that he has never broken a bone or suffered a serious injury.

He will come to Del Mar with no shortage of confidence.

“I’m not scared of any bull,” Marchi said. “Riding the bull is my job.’