The Professional Bull Riding tour is not your granddaddy’s rodeo. It features Rank bulls, fearless riders and flaming dirt and bills itself as America’s original extreme sport. The rodeo roots of the sport combine with pop culture, dance music and modern athletic training and conditioning to create a spectacle unlike any other.
The performance showcases a long series of white-knuckle rides where the top bull riders in the world are matched against what is said to be the best bucking stock in the World. In the Ariat Invitational at First Interstate Arena in Billings held September 11-13 the highlight was the return of two-time world champion and Montana native Jess Lockwood from injury. The 22-year-old multimillionaire held the spotlight for less than 20 seconds spread over three rides on the evening and finished in 11th place.
Brazilian Jose Vitor Leme, currently the number one ranked rider in the world, won $40,575 by posting the best combined score on four rides over the course of the weekend. His was the lion’s share of the $111,000 prize purse awarded. Cody Nance of Paris, Tennessee finished dead last and took home a $400 paycheck.
Leme was one of 15 Brazilians in the 36 rider field. Their presence is largely due to Brazil’s meteoric rise to the number two beef producing country in the World behind the United States and has fueled the PBR’s efforts to create an international Global Cup that at first glance looks like it could evolve into the Olympics of pro bull riding.
The crowd at the Ariat Invitational had its fair share of cowboys, cowgirls and buckle bunnies along with people of all races, ages and genders that you might not expect to see at a more traditional rodeo. The diversity of the crowd is a victory for the PBR’s “Be Cowboy” campaign that promotes being a cowboy as far more than the clothes you wear or where you are from. To “Be Cowboy” is to share a passion for living honestly, fairly, respectfully; with pride, integrity, and humbleness according to the PBR.
Billings native Flint Rasmussen was tasked with entertaining the diverse crowd between rides and on commercial breaks from a raised stage in the middle of the arena. His show combined traditional rodeo clown bits with hip-hop, country and an impressive Lord of the Dance style routine. If clowns make you a bit uneasy, the vision of Rasmussen dancing to Billie Eilish’s song Bad Guy will keep you up at night.
Instant replay was featured for the fans and the competitors. Throughout the evening attention was turned to replays of great rides and gnarly buck offs on the big screen. Competitors had access to a big red challenge button they could utilize to request a re-ride if a bull did not perform as expected. When a re-ride was awarded, a red flag was thrown onto the stadium dirt. It has the look and feel of an NFL coach challenging a call in a football game.
All of these elements combined into a made for TV spectacle that can hardly be considered a rodeo in the traditional sense. The result is exciting, fun, inclusive and worth seeing whether you consider yourself a cowboy or not. You can learn more about the PBR at PBR.com.