BULLFIGHTER BATTLES THE BEAST TO KEEP EVERYONE SAFE AT AMERICAN ROYAL RODEO
KANSAS CITY, Mo. – Kenny Bergeron is one of the most decorated bullfighters in rodeo.
The south Louisiana man has been nominated as Professional Rodeo Cowboys Association Bullfighter of the Year each season since 2008. In that time, he’s been chosen by the bull riders to protect them during the Wrangler National Finals Rodeo.
He returns to Kansas City this fall for the second time to work the American Royal Rodeo, with three performances set for 7:30 p.m. Friday, Sept. 27, and 2 and 7:30 p.m. Saturday, Sept. 28, inside Hale Arena at the American Royal Complex.
“It is an honest thrill to be able to work an event with as much prestige as the American Royal,” said Bergeron, 35, of Iota, La. “It’s a very big deal to me to be able to work the Royal, because it’s that special. It’s the last weekend of the rodeo year, and there will be a big push for those guys to be there if they hope to make it to the NFR.”
The rodeo season concludes Sept. 30, so the American Royal and its healthy purse will be attractive for those cowboys and cowgirls trying to secure their spots in ProRodeo’s grand championship. Only the top 15 on the money list in each event qualify the NFR, set for December in Las Vegas. Money won in Kansas City can serve as a springboard for world championships.
But that’s just one aspect regarding the rodeo world’s love affair with the American Royal. There are plenty of others, and Bergeron knows them as well as anyone.
“When I think of the Royal, I think about those old guys who were pushing to make the NFR in their day,” he said. “I think about that, and I can feel the anticipation that guys like Larry Mahan and Tuff Hedeman and Jim Sharp had when they got to the Royal.
“When I realized what I was coming to Kansas City, I realized I was going to the capital of the Midwest, I’m going to the Royal. It’s a pretty good feeling.”
Bergeron began fighting bulls professionally in 2001, but he’s been around rodeo all his life.
“I was born into it,” he said. “My dad and uncle were stock contractors, and my dad was a bullfighter. He was still fighting bulls when I was really young, and I kind of remember him doing it. I grew up in the rodeo business. When you grow up in the business, you just do what you’re needed to do at the time. When I was 15, we needed a bullfighter, so I told my uncle that I was going to do it. He told me I couldn’t.
“I went out there and did it anyway. I took my first hooking, and I fell in love with it.”
A bull’s natural tendency is to hook, whether it has horns or not. It’s a natural reflex, whether in the grasslands or in the rodeo arena and serves as a means to move things out of the way.
A bullfighter’s primary purpose is to assist bull riders once they dismount the animal – whether the cowboy is bucked off or whether he leaps off after the ride. Bergeron and his partner, Kelby Pearah of Mansfield, La., will work in tandem to gather the bull’s attention and, hopefully, providing a clear path for all others to escape harm’s way.
Over the three performances, Pearah and Bergeron will look the beasts in the eyes, then touch the bulls to gather the animals’ attention. From there, it’s all about using athleticism to keep themselves out of the way. But there’s much more to the job that drives the bullfighters’ passions.
“Getting to rodeo with the very best friends in the world is the best part of my job,” Bergeron said. “I get to be around people that not only are my friends, but are people that I respect. I know that if I need anything, all I would have to do is make a phone call.
“It’s an honor to be part of a business where it’s more like a family.”
In his lifetime, Bergeron has seen many things and has had a front-row spot to witness some of the greatest feats in ProRodeo. He was in the arena in Silver City, N.M., in 2010 when Tilden Hooper rode Big Tex of the Pete Carr’s Classic Pro Rodeo string for a world record-tying 94 points. Bergeron also was inside the Thomas & Mack Center in Las Vegas when good friend J.W. Harris won his third straight world title.
And while one might consider working the NFR as the highlight of his career, Bergeron keeps things much more simple.
“All I’ve ever wanted to do was just be part of it and to be respected by the guys I rodeo with,” he said. “To me, my biggest honor is to talk out of the arena and some bull rider I saved that night says, ‘I’m glad Kenny was here.’
“That’s all I’d ever need.”
It’s what he gets, because it’s what he deserves.