JULY 4: From clowns to bull fighters, Canadian Rodeo is living history

If you imagine capes and swords when you hear the term bullfighting, think again. The national sport of Spain is nothing like bull fighting in the professional rodeo world, as attendees at Canadian’s 131st Annual Fourth of July Rodeo will see.

This year, for the first time in this community’s long and revered rodeo history, bull fighting will follow both Friday and Saturday’s regular rodeo performances. Judging from stock producer Justin Russell’s sneak preview, it will be well-worth sticking around for.

Think X Games. Think Rocky vs Apollo Creed. Think man versus beast, unarmed and capeless—all instinct, and agility and muscle memory.

Think NASCAR, said Russell.

“It’s kinda’ like going to a NASCAR race and waiting on a wreck,” he said. “There’s going to be one in bullfights. I promise you. Somebody will get rolled up, and normally—nine times out of 10—those guys will bounce right up and go back at it again.”

“Those guys are crazy, crazy good athletes.”

Instead of pyrotechnics, monster 4-wheelers or big-time clown acts to rev up the rodeo crowd next weekend, the Canadian Rodeo Association is presenting two nights of Freestyle Bull Fighting.

For those not familiar with the sport, here’s what to expect:

Four contestants—Ty Powell, Alex Paredes, Tyler Forrell and Colton Miller—will face off in a 100×100-foot pen against a quartet of “mean-ass bulls,” each night. “It’s kinda’ like dodging a bolt of lightning,” Russell said, “because it’s coming at you in all directions.”

Each fight lasts 40 seconds—or an eternity, depending on whether you’re watching or fighting.

“When it first starts, it’s on,” he said. “It’s like those [defibrillator] paddles in the hospital room. Then after about 15-20 seconds, those guys are sucking air. They’re slowing down a little bit.”

The final 15-20 seconds are more finesse and strategy, he said. “You know this bull is not going to leave you. He’s going to keep coming, keep coming, just as fast as he can. So you make those moves and slow it way down, and control that bull.”

Their performances are scored just like those of bull riders: 50 possible points for the bull and 50 for the fighter.

In lieu of capes, these bull fighters wear big shirts, Kevlar vests and pads on their legs. One would assume they wear helmets, too, but Russell is dismisses that notion immediately. “No, that’s not what they do,” he said.

“They wear ball caps or cowboy hats. These guys are athletes. They go out there and put their life on the line for $250/night.”

Russell appreciates the drama of the fight, and likes to get the crowd close to the action. “Close enough to see the horns,” he said, “to see the guys digging into the dirt, moving and jumping…to smell ‘em and hear ‘em.”

“You want to see the wreck. People drive by slow when you go by a wreck. It’s the same thing.”

The original American bull fighter was actually the rodeo clown, whose job it has always been to protect riders thrown from the bull—and to provide a little comic relief, as well. The transition from clown to bull fighter was a natural one, requiring the same quickness, athletic prowess and courage.

Russell has admired bull fighters since he was a kid, and even dreamed of pursuing the sport once, “until dad knocked some sense into me,” he said. “I watched those guys, and I emulated them…the moves and the facepaint and stuff. I respected them, because they could get out there and save that bull rider and fight that bull, and then walk out of the arena.”

“When a guy gets hung up, you can’t ride out there on a horse,” he explained. “That bull moves this way, and you’ve got to be able to shoot the gap and get to him. Whoever’s the fastest on their feet, that’s the guy that got the job.”

Though Russell raises some rodeo stock, he won’t raise fighting bulls. A good fighting bull is bred for its genetics, just like bucking horses. “His mama bucked, his daddy bucked, and the colt bucks,” he said. “It’s the same way with the bulls. The calves come out, they’re just weaned and those little suckers will come get ya’. That’s just the way they are.”

“We’ve got about 35-36 head of bucking horses,” Russell said, “but I’m not a big bull guy. They’re jackasses.”

But come next Friday and Saturday night, you’ll find him standing up on the fence and watching those bull fighters. “It’s a crowd favorite,” he said. “People like to watch it, and I’m not going to lie…I like to watch it.”

“It’s kind’ve like a soap opera,” Russell said, remember a bull fight in Perryton last year. “The last guy to fight, he got hammered. He got knocked out, busted in the head, just tore him up. But you’re going to come back the next night. Is Rocky going to fight Apollo Creed again?”

“That’s the mantra. And that’s the allure of rodeo. It’s a drama, sure enough.”

This year’s KPRA/IPRA-sanctioned July 4 Rodeo performances will be held Thursday, Friday and Saturday nights, July 4-6, at 7 pm. Freestyle Bull Fighting will finish out the shows on July 5 and 6.

Admission for each night is just $5/person, with kids 3 and younger admitted free.

Stick around Friday night for the rodeo dance with Country Justice, and finish out the celebration Saturday night two-stepping to Jake Hooker and the Outsiders, along with Country Justice.

The doors at Jones Pavilion will open at 9 pm.

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