Archive for December, 2017

postheadericon 9-year-old wins national title

Brazos Heck competed in both mini bareback riding and mini saddle bronc riding at the Jr.NFR in Las Vegas earlier this month, winning the all-around title there. (DALE HIRSCHMAN PHOTO)

Brazos Heck competed in both mini bareback riding and mini saddle bronc riding at the Jr.NFR in Las Vegas earlier this month, winning the all-around title there. (DALE HIRSCHMAN PHOTO)

Brazos Heck wins all-around championship at Jr.NFR in Las Vegas

KINGFISHER, Okla. – Brazos Heck is quite driven and focused.

He knows exactly what he wants in his future to be. He’s a cowboy in every sense of the word, and in rodeo, he competes on the backs of bucking bovines and bucking broncs.

“I want to ranch here in Oklahoma,” he said. “I think I can ride all three (roughstock) events, and it would just be a dream come true to win 10 all-around world titles.”

Driven. Focused. Oh, and he’s only 9 years old.

Brazos Heck

Brazos Heck

“I do this because I love to do it, and I think it’s my passion,” said Brazos, the son of Odie Heck and Shasta Yost.

He’s also pretty good at it. In early December, he competed at the Jr.NFR in Las Vegas. He finished several days of competition as the No. 2 man in mini bareback riding, where he won two rounds. He also finished third in the middle saddle bronc riding.

Because of his success, he earned the pee wee division all-around championship. No matter the age group, it is the most cherished prize in the sport.

“This is a once-in-a-lifetime thing,” he said. “I’m hoping to win more.”

He stands a good chance, thanks in large part to his work ethic, his study of the game and having a couple of the best-known cowboys as friends and mentors. His father is a cowboy in Tupelo, Okla., and is close friends with Jet and Cord McCoy, two all-around champs who made their names on CBS-TV’s “The Amazing Race.”

The McCoys have been rodeo champs since they were youngsters, too.

“In a lot of ways, he does remind me of me,” Jet McCoy said. “He’s pretty special. I’ve been pretty impressed with him.”

Brazos’ list of accomplishments is long. He’s been riding since age 5, and he’s progressed fairly rapidly, too

“He started out wanting to get on sheep,” Odie Heck said. “He’d been at a rodeo, and they had mutton busting. He was always around Cord and Jet, so he wanted to ride. Then we were at a rodeo, and kids were riding little ponies in bareback riding. He wanted to get a rigging and enter the bareback riding.”

Heck has been around rodeo all his life, but he was a timed-event cowboy. Roping and steer wrestling were good fits for the athletically built, 6-foot cowboy.

“Brazos’ athletic ability is a little different than mine,” he said. “He’s a bucking horse guy.”

In fact, Brazos craves it. When he’s not riding, he’s thinking about it, and he watches a ton of videos to help with those thoughts, from the bronc riding Wright family – brothers Cody, Jesse and Spencer have won world titles, as has Cody’s second-oldest son, the 2017 champ, Ryder – to the McCoys, to bareback riding world champions Kaycee Feild and Bobby Mote and world champion bull riders Cody Custer, J.B. Mauney and Cody Custer.

“They just make me feel like I ride really good,” said Brazos, who is sponsored by the American Hat Co. and Oklahoma Ag Transports. “I watch them over and over again, and I want to ride like them.”

Those are the types of champions he looks up to and wants to emulate. Even at his young age, he understands the need for constructive criticism if he is to improve. That’s why he looks to the McCoys for assistance. Both were five-time International Professional Rodeo Association world champions who competed in all three roughstock events.

“I almost make him ask me for help before I offer any,” said Cord McCoy, a 2005 Wrangler National Finals Rodeo qualifier in bull riding and a six-time competitor at the PBR World Finals. “If he wants to come to the house and train in our arena, I step back and let it be his idea. I let him show the desire.

“I think all of us have our own natural style. He’s pretty natural. I know he’s been watching every rodeo in the area and on TV. That’s all he craves.”

He knew Brazos was pretty good but admitted that there may have been some bias because of his relationship to the youngster.

“Then they had the Jr.NFR, which was all the kids who qualify from across the country, and he’s the all-around champion,” Cord McCoy said. “He’s got raw talent. If he keeps the desire he has today, he’s going to be a contender when he gets older.

“It was pretty inspirational to go to the Jr.NFR and see Billy (Etbauer), Ty (Murray) and Larry Mahan there. The superstars of rodeo got to watch the next generation compete.”

Jet McCoy likened the Jr.NFR as the Little League World Series, and that young cowboys and cowgirls who compete at the pinnacle of their sport are taking the steps necessary to excel as teens and adults.

“If you want to compete at the highest level, you’ve got to start early,” he said. “To have the opportunity to go to Vegas and spend three or four days to see what it’s like, it gives them something to visualize and something to shoot for.”

For now, though, those closest to him support and believe in what Brazos Heck is doing because they see his passion for the sport.

“You’ve got to have the want-to, and I don’t think anybody’s forced it on him,” Cord McCoy said. “When you nod your head, you’ve got to have the eye of the tiger.

“He’s got that winning attitude to go along with the talent.”

postheadericon Gizmo wins PRCA comedy award

Dale "Gizmo" McCracken, third from leftl, is surrounded by his family on the night of the PRCA Awards Banquet, the night it was announced that McCracken was named the 2017 Comedy Act of the Year. (COURTESY PHOTO)

Dale “Gizmo” McCracken, third from leftl, is surrounded by his family on the night of the PRCA Awards Banquet, the night it was announced that McCracken was named the 2017 Comedy Act of the Year. (COURTESY PHOTO)

FAIRVIEW, Mo. – There’s a gleam that shines across Dale McCracken’s face.

It’s not about his first major ProRodeo award, the 2017 Comedy Act of the Year, but it could be. It’s not about his being in the hunt to be the barrelman for the Wrangler National Finals Rodeo, but it could be.

No, McCracken’s twinkle arrives as he talks about the loves of his life, his wife, Janice, and their brood, and his faith in God. Nothing “Gizmo” McCracken has ever done in the rodeo arena will bring a bigger smile to his face than discussing Cassie and Mandy, their husbands and their children.

They’ve enriched his life in so many ways, and they’ve been a big part of the family business.

“They’ve always been a part of what we do,” he said of his daughters. “Now they’ve got two kids apiece.”

Those kids – Cassie and Jeremy Crouch have Brimley and Raeley, while Mandy and Jimmy Evans have Bronc and Jaylen – are now the next phase of what the McCracken family hopes to do with his rodeo comedy. He travels the country – and even the world – as a rodeo funnyman and entertainer, and this year, he was recognized as the best in the business.

“I’m honored to be in that crowd,” he said of the other four entertainers that were nominated with him: Bert Davis, David Whitmoyer, Johnny Dudley and Mark Swingler. “There are some great acts out there.”

He knows. McCracken first began his funny business 41 years ago as a 15-year-old high-schooler, building acts while studying agriculture. He’s been part of the Professional Rodeo Cowboys Association since 1992. This is just the first time in his distinguished career he has received a PRCA award.

“You always hope you’re going to win,” McCracken said. “Everybody wants to win something like that. The first couple of years I was nominated, I was hopeful. I was a little jittery. Then we had a dry spell for a few years that we weren’t even nominated.

“Last year (in 2016) I was nominated for Clown of the Year and comedy act. I had gotten a little numb to not winning. I felt like I was past my shot at winning it.”

He wasn’t, and the moment he was called to the stage to be presented with his award, he had Janice, Mandy and Cassie by his side.

“We used them in our act when we first started,” he said of his girls. “As soon as they could walk in the arena, they would doddle in there with a guitar or something, and we’d do some little music act.”

He even got to unveil a long-time trophy he’d been keeping as another gag or gizmo that helps make his comedy what it is.

“That little roll of adding-machine tape had become a joke in our family,” McCracken said. “The first couple of years we were nominated, I thought I’d take that up there if I won, because I’m a comedy act and I’m supposed to do something funny. I figured I’d take it up on stage and reel it out to thank all these people.

“Then I’d take it back home and set it up on the desk like a trophy.”

Now he’ll be able to wrap it around his Montana Silversmiths trophy buckle as a reminder of what resilience and faith can do. It wasn’t but a few years ago that McCracken watched so much around him crumble. Gizmo’s Event Center, a complex he had dreamed about creating, was unable to sustain.

“That’s amazing how God works,” he said. “I’ve worked all my life to make things happen, and I went in way over my head. We lost a lot of things and had to start over. When you’re down to nothing, and the only thing you’ve got is God, it comes down to you and God.

“I said, ‘OK, you’ve got my attention.’ And that’s when it started over.”

He was first nominated for Comedy Act of the Year in 2002, then returned in 2005. He wasn’t part of the landscape until 2014 and hasn’t left the scene since.

God definitely got his attention.

“We put everything we’ve got into this,” McCracken said. “For a handful of folks to acknowledge that, it’s just amazing. It was awesome to have the kids and Janice there with me.”

But there’s no place else for Janice McCracken to be. They’ve been married for 38 years, and they’ve made every step in this rodeo career together.

“In this business, it’s tough, but we always go together,” he said. “She is my rock. Between her, the kids and God, we can do anything.”

That’s exactly what faith and love can do, and that’s reason enough for McCracken’s gleam.

postheadericon Lucia excited to call circuit finals

WEATHERFORD, Texas – Being the son of a rodeo personality, most things about the sport came naturally for Anthony Lucia.

But he wasn’t afraid to work at it, either. That’s why, as a trick roper, he was asked to perform at the National Finals Rodeo, the sport’s grand championship. He did it four straight years, from 2010-13, all while developing his skills as one of the young announcers in the game.

“Announcing gives me the opportunity to be the voice of the contestants and to captivate an audience,” said Lucia, who will announce the RAM First Frontier Circuit Finals, set for Jan. 10-13 at the Pennsylvania Farm Show Complex in Harrisburg, Pa. “Entertaining is in my blood, and I want to make sure the fans have the very best time.

“Being a contestant myself, knowing what they go through, gives me an insight into what they feel whenever they win or when they don’t.”

Anthony Lucia

Anthony Lucia

He is the son of Tommy Lucia, a decorated rodeo entertainer who was a contestant, rodeo clown and specialty act. For three straight years (2003-2005), the elder Lucia was the Professional Rodeo Cowboys Association’s Specialty Act of the Year; he worked the NFR as both barrelman and specialty act, and in 2015, just a few months before his death, was inducted into the National Cowboy & Western Heritage Museum’s Rodeo Hall of Fame in Oklahoma City.

Anthony Lucia is continuing that rodeo legacy in more ways than one. By working the regional finale in the Northeast, it serves as proof that his labor of love is working pretty well.

“Seven years into my announcing career, to get to announce one of 12 circuit finals was an emotional moment for me,” he said. “My dad always encouraged me to announce, and I never got a chance to tell him that I got the finals.

“Even though I didn’t get to tell him, I know that he knows. He never doubted my announcing ability.”

Lucia announces several rodeos throughout the year, including two of the most prestigious events in the Professional Rodeo Cowboys Association: the Grand National Rodeo in San Francisco and the Days of ’47 Rodeo in Salt Lake City. No matter the size, though, he takes the same approach to his tasks.

He will put in countless hours of homework and study as he prepares for the First Frontier finale.

In fact, he may work harder to call the action for the First Frontier finale than many of the others.

“For the contestants that compete in the Northeast United States, the First Frontier Circuit Finals Rodeo is the NFR to them,” said Lucia, who credits some of his success to the sponsors that support him: CINCH, Justin Boots, Classic Ropes, Kerry Kelley Bits and Spurs, Resistol, Smarty Roping and Brazos Valley Equine Hospital. “I want to work hard and do my job so the contestants are given the due they deserve.”

“What matters more is those contestants qualified, and they all have the opportunity to make their way to Kissimmee (Fla.) to compete at the National Circuit Finals Rodeo.”

Only the top 12 contestants on the money list in each event advance to the regional finale. The year-end and circuit finals average winners advance to Florida to compete for the national championship. Each step along the way is a better opportunity to cash in. Each dollar earned at either Harrisburg or Kissimmee counts toward the 2018 world standings, and the cowboys and cowgirls will have the opportunity to chase their qualifications to the NFR.

Lucia has seen it at all levels, and he enjoys being more than a fan. He began his rodeo regime following his father to events.

“My dad told me, ‘Be the best Anthony Lucia you can be,’ ” he said. “When I started to realize that, the announcing became fun.

“I love rodeo as a whole, and rodeo makes my heart happy. I think a lot of it has to do with the people in it. It represents true Americana. Rodeo represents the way our nation was founded, through true grit, determination and try, never giving up no matter how the odds seem.”

Lucia utilizes social me to stay in touch with rodeo, its contestants and its fans. He is active through is Instagram account – @SuperLucia33 – and has big goals. Of course, nobody that knows him would expect anything different.

“My ultimate goal is to do God’s will,” Lucia said. “If I can’t leave a lasting mark and build His kingdom through my actions and through my words, inspiring people, then everything I do is for not. I feel like God has given me the tasks of no matter what I’m doing, I’m going to be the best.”

He’s well on his way.

postheadericon Braden places 2nd in NFR average

Hardy Braden rides Andrews Rodeo's Fire Lane for 82 points to finish off his first Wrangler National Finals Rodeo with his eighth go-round check. He finished second in the average and earned more than $160,000 at the NFR. (TODD BREWER PHOTO)

Hardy Braden rides Andrews Rodeo’s Fire Lane for 82 points to finish off his first Wrangler National Finals Rodeo with his eighth go-round check. He finished second in the average and earned more than $160,000 at the NFR. (TODD BREWER PHOTO)

LAS VEGAS – Hardy Braden has always had faith in his ability.

Trained by his father, he knew what to do and when to do it before he ever got on a bucking horse. Over the last 10 nights in the Nevada desert, he gained even more knowledge and more confidence in his ability.

On Saturday night during the final round of the Wrangler National Finals Rodeo, Braden matched moves with Andrews Rodeo’s Fire Lane for 82 points to finish in a tie for sixth place. It was the eighth time he’d earned a paycheck at this year’s championship.

Hardy Braden

Hardy Braden

“Eight rounds … I placed in eight out of 10,” he repeated, somewhat amazed at what he had done. “I was second in the average. That’s pretty good for me.”

It was a pretty good week overall. Braden earned two go-round wins – scoring the highest points in the first and seventh rounds – and caught big checks along the way. His biggest came at the end. He rode nine of 10 horses for a cumulative score of 764 points to finish as the average runner-up to Wyoming cowboy Brody Cress. That was worth $54,577 to the Welch, Okla., cowboy.

In all, he earned $160,192 in Las Vegas and pushed his season earnings to $262,966. He finished fourth in the world standings.

“I think the thing is that you want to be riding to the best of your ability, and the rest of that stuff will take care of itself,” Braden said.

He did. He averaged just shy of 85 points per ride, which is saying something. The NFR features the top horses in the game. Some are harder to ride than others, but they’re all fantastic athletes. The one night that he came down was during the third round, which featured the “eliminator” pen, the hardest-to-ride bucking beasts in the game.

He was one of eight of the top 15 saddle bronc riders in the game who failed to score a point that night. Five nights later when the eliminators returned, Braden found redemption with an 88-point ride on Hi Lo Pro Rodeo’s Garden City Gal to win the round.

“If you have a good support system behind you like I do with my family – my dad, my mom, my sister and my brother-in-law – they’re going to stand behind mw whether it goes good or bad,” Braden said. That takes a lot of pressure off you in whatever you do. They’re going to love you no matter what.”

Hardy Braden just spent 10 nights doing what he loves, and his family was with him with every spur lick he made. That makes every step of his first NFR that much more special.

postheadericon Struxness finishes strong at NFR

J.D. Struxness turns his steer en route to a 4.3-second run Saturday night to close out his 2017 Wrangler National Finals Rodeo. He earned nearly $110,000 in 10 nights and finished seventh in the world standings. (TODD BREWER PHOTO)

J.D. Struxness turns his steer en route to a 4.3-second run Saturday night to close out his 2017 Wrangler National Finals Rodeo. He earned nearly $110,000 in 10 nights and finished seventh in the world standings. (TODD BREWER PHOTO)

LAS VEGAS – Something must be said for perseverance, especially at the Super Bowl of rodeo.

If J.D. Struxness didn’t have it before, he found it over the last 10 nights of the Wrangler National Finals Rodeo. He rode three horses, wrestled 10 steers and handled all sorts of adversity over his time in Sin City, but he found a way to the pay window quite nicely.

J.D. Struxness

J.D. Struxness

Struxness, 23, of Appleton, Minn., closed out his NFR with a 4.2-second run Saturday night to finish third in the 10th round, pocketing another $15,654. He also finished fourth in the average race (worth $31,731) and left Las Vegas with $109,479. He wasn’t that far off his 2016 NFR earnings, where he won at least a share of four go-rounds.

“It was a pretty good week,” said Struxness, who finished the season with $185,921, good enough for seventh in the world standings. “We had minor mistakes happen and a couple weird things happen. Overall, with what went on, it was a good week, and we are coming out of here with good money.”

His good horse, Peso, became ill earlier this past week, so that put the talented sorrel gelding on the sidelines. He rode Todd Suhn’s horse, Max, for a few rounds, but was having trouble getting the start he needed to be fast enough to place.

Struxness then mounted Rusty, a sold horse that guided Nevadan Dakota Eldridge to his second NFR average championship in three years.

“The key was getting that start tonight and having a steer and placing on him again and place in the average,” he said. “That is what we wanted to do, just up our money in the standings. That’s what we came here to do tonight, and that’s what we were able to accomplish.

“I knew that horse works good here, and I knew we could get a start. Dakota let me on him, thankfully, and I got a start the last two rounds.”

In his inaugural two qualifications to the NFR, Struxness has earned $238,152. That’s a quarter of a million dollars in just 20 nights of work.

The Nevada desert might be the right climate for him.

postheadericon Champion finishes ranked 2nd

Richmond Champion rides Hi Lo Pro Rodeo's Wilson Sanchez for 86.5 points Saturday night to finish in a tie for fourth place to close out his incredible Wrangler National Finals Rodeo. (TODD BREWER PHOTO)

Richmond Champion rides Hi Lo Pro Rodeo’s Wilson Sanchez for 86.5 points Saturday night to finish in a tie for fourth place to close out his incredible Wrangler National Finals Rodeo. (TODD BREWER PHOTO)

LAS VEGAS – There is no buckle to go with it, but the title is still prestigious.

Richmond Champion is the reserve world champion bareback rider, and he earned it on the backs of the best bucking horses in ProRodeo. He placed in seven Wrangler National Finals Rodeo go-rounds – including two round wins – and placed second in the average, riding 10 horses for 847.5 cumulative points.

“In ’14, I was second in the average and third in the world, so this is one up on that, and we are one step closer,” said Champion of The Woodlands, Texas. “Tim (O’Connell, the world champion) rode outstanding. Last year he ran away with things, and this year we put the heat on him.

Richmond Champion

Richmond Champion

“That’s what we came here to do, and I take my hat off to him because of what he did.”

Champion earned his seventh go-round check during Saturday’s 10th go-round, riding Hi Lo Pro Rodeo’s Wilson Sanchez for 86.5 points. That was good enough to tie for fourth in the round, worth $8,885. In all, he earned $167,314 in Sin City, $54,577 of which came in his average payout. He finished the 2017 campaign with $268,511.

“To place in seven out of 10, that’s what I came here to do, to be consistent and take advantage,” he said. “I’m just blessed and super thankful, because I can’t believe it’s over. The time just flew by.”

The NFR is no place for the timid. Bareback riders know they must handle all the challenges that come their way, with the biggest being the most athletic bucking horses in the game. Throw in the atmosphere and the big money that is available for 10 straight nights, and there’s a lot that can happen between the ears.

It is conquering those challenges that helps define the winners.

“Pressure isn’t given to you,” Champion said. “You earn pressure, and that’s something we all crave. This place creates pressure, and to see Tim go out there and put 10 rides together is amazing. For me to be that close on his tail is pretty awesome, and I look forward to next year.”

This season marked the third time he has earned the right to compete in ProRodeo’s grand championship. That’s pretty good for a man who just turned 25 on Saturday. He got to celebrate with 14 friends as they chased this dream in the sport they all love.

“We are all thankful to be here,” he said. “The comradery in that room, the way everyone showed up this week, is really awesome. It really doesn’t get any better than this.”

postheadericon Breuer has his best NFR yet

Ty Breuer spurs Pete Carr Pro Rodeo's Dirty Jacket for 86.5 points to place during Saturday's 10th round to close out his best Wrangler National Finals Rodeo. (TODD BREWER PHOTO)

Ty Breuer spurs Pete Carr Pro Rodeo’s Dirty Jacket for 86.5 points to place during Saturday’s 10th round to close out his best Wrangler National Finals Rodeo. (TODD BREWER PHOTO)

LAS VEGAS – Before arriving in town a couple of weeks ago, Ty Breuer had been a workout machine.

It was more than his ranching work, which is hard work in itself. The bareback rider had been training harder than ever to get ready for the 10 days of the Wrangler National Finals Rodeo. Though he placed in just two rounds, he could easily tell Saturday night that the work had paid off.

“My body feels great, and I can’t wait to go back and keep training,” said Breuer, who placed for the second time during Saturday’s 10th round after an 86.5-point ride on Pete Carr Pro Rodeo’s Dirty Jacket. “I’m ready for more horses. Compared to every other finals I’ve had, this is the best I’ve felt.”

Ty Breuer

Ty Breuer

Now he’s ready to return for a fourth time in his career. Though he placed twice as many times at last year’s NFR, this was the best finish he’s ever had. He earned $56,538. He finished seventh in the average race by earning 814.5 cumulative points on 10 rides.

And he accomplished things. He earned his first go-round victory last Sunday with his highest NFR score, a 90.5-point ride. He also got to ride the two-time Bareback Horse of the Year to close out his campaign.

“It was a dream come true to get on that horse,” he said of Dirty Jacket. “I’ve actually seen that horse a lot, but my rigging has never been on it.”

The horse has a big leap out of the chute, and if a cowboy can get a good start, the ride will likely pay off after that.

“I was nervous about the mark-out,” Breuer said, referring to having his spurs over the animal’s shoulders on the first jump. “That horse feels good. He is a rodeo athlete.”

So is Breuer. It takes a lot to make it to ProRodeo’s championship, and he has done it three times. He has proven why he is one of the greatest men in bareback riding at this time. And this year, he got to experience the NFR in Las Vegas with his wife and their 1-month-old daughter, Kayd.

“It was pretty cool every night going back and seeing her and take a nap with her every day before I would come over here,” he said. “It was a different experience than all my other Vegas experiences, but it was definitely fun.

“I’m not hanging my head at all. I’m pretty proud of this year just to make it here. It was pretty tough to get here, and I feel like I rode good this week. I’m just happy.”

It shows.

postheadericon Clements earns $80k at the NFR

Mason Clements rides Pickett Pro Rodeo's Top Flight for 88 points to share the 10th-round victory Saturday night in closing out his first Wrangler National Finals Rodeo. (TODD BREWER PHOTO)

Mason Clements rides Pickett Pro Rodeo’s Top Flight for 88 points to share the 10th-round victory Saturday night in closing out his first Wrangler National Finals Rodeo. (TODD BREWER PHOTO)

LAS VEGAS – Mason Clements sat down and took a deep breath, reflecting on his first qualification to the Wrangler National Finals Rodeo.

In front of him was a golden sheet of paper that revealed his work in Sin City. He had ridden nine bucking horses, was knocked to the ground in Round 3, and placed four times – he won the fifth round and shared the win in Round 10. In all, he pocketed $80,372 in Las Vegas, his birth home 25 years ago.

“To be here 10 nights and win as much money as I’ve made all year trying to get to this point, that is a special feeling,” said Clements, who jumped five spots to finish the season 10th in the world standings with $166,486. “It has been well. I’ve had a lot of successes; I’ve had a lot of downs. It’s always a learning situation; you never lose.”

Mason Clements

Mason Clements

He learned a great deal in one of the greatest bareback riding competitions the NFR has ever seen. There were multiple 90-point rides and scores high in the 80s. On Saturday night, Clements rode Pickett Pro Rodeo’s Top Flight for 88 points to share the round win with eight-time NFR qualifier Steven Dent. Both men added $23,481 for that.

“To share the 10th round with Steven Dent is an honorable thing,” said Clements of Santaquin, Utah. “To share the win with a veteran NFR qualifier, a prestigious bareback rider, is a good feeling. It definitely gives you a little swag, a new step.

“You know you have it, and you’ve gotten to that point for sure. But then you leave here, and you’ve done this for your first time. You now know the sky’s the limit.”

Through an injury-riddled 2016 season, he finished 18th in the world standings. Only the top 15 in the world standings at the end of the regular season qualify to compete in Las Vegas. He upped the ante this year and was able to push his chips into the table, walking away a winner.

Most importantly, he learned through every ride, through every spur stroke, what it means to compete on ProRodeo’s grandest stage. While his earnings are amazing for 10 days, he watched two other competitors – world champion Tim O’Connell and three-time qualifier Richmond Champion – earn more $165,000 in that same time frame.

“I’m a contender and a competitor at the highest level,” Clements said. “I’ve opened up a whole new arsenal of things I can do now, a whole new bag of tricks that I’ve learned here. I’m taking my riding, the way I read horses and the feeling of horses to a whole new level.”

That will make him fun to watch for years to come.

postheadericon Irwin places to finish off great NFR

Kyle Irwin turns his steer en route to a 4.8-second run during Saturday's 10th round of the National Finals Rodeo. He placed sixth in the round and third in the NFR average. (TODD BREWER PHOTO)

Kyle Irwin turns his steer en route to a 4.8-second run during Saturday’s 10th round of the National Finals Rodeo. He placed sixth in the round and third in the NFR average. (TODD BREWER PHOTO)

LAS VEGAS – What looked like a slow National Finals Rodeo for Kyle Irwin turned out to be his best finale ever.

In fact, he earned nearly as much in 10 nights in Sin City as he did in his two previous NFRs combined. He placed in just four go-rounds, including the victory in Round 3; but consistency paid off big. He added $43,154 by placing third in the average with a cumulative time of 46.6 seconds on 10 runs.

In all, he pocketed more than $115,000 and left Las Vegas with $194,819 to conclude the season No. 5 in the world standings. That’s up six spots from where he started.

Kyle Irwin

Kyle Irwin

“I think there were a couple of opportunities I didn’t capitalize on, and there were a couple of times I caught some steers that might not have been catchable for most,” said Irwin, who had a 4.8-second run Saturday night to finish sixth in the 10th round. “This is what we train for; this is what we practice for. That is the most I’ve ever won here or a single year, so I’m grateful for that.

“I’m grateful for the opportunities I had. God is good.”

He did it all on the back of Scooter, the 2017 Steer Wrestling Horse of the Year he co-owns with the world champion, Tyler Pearson. The two are traveling partners and good friends, and Scooter also carried Ty Erickson and Tyler Waguespack to big paydays. In fact, the four bulldoggers earned more than $458,000 on his back.

For that, Irwin earned $13,590 in mount money, a percentage of the earnings made by Erickson and Waguespack.

“It was funny when I put him up tonight,” Irwin said of Scooter. “All week it has taken him a little bit to drink water and act like he feels good. Tonight he rolled right away. He drank water and went straight to eating. He knew his job was done, and he knew he had done well.

“That was the biggest limb I’ve ever stepped out on to be a partner on that horse with Tyler. That horse has been the greatest investment I have ever made. The biggest blessing, as far as making money, is doing what I love.”

postheadericon Rutkowski defends title

Weston Rutkowski manhandles WAR Fighting Bulls' Man of War for 90.5 points to win the Bullfighters Only Las Vegas Championship and add to his total. He earned more than $100,000 in 2017, becoming the first freestyle bullfighter in the game to ever earn that much money in a season. (TODD BREWER PHOTO)

Weston Rutkowski manhandles WAR Fighting Bulls’ Man of War for 90.5 points to win the Bullfighters Only Las Vegas Championship and add to his total. He earned more than $100,000 in 2017, becoming the first freestyle bullfighter in the game to ever earn that much money in a season. (TODD BREWER PHOTO)

Reigning world champ wins $75,000 at Las Vegas Championship

LAS VEGAS – The belt still fits Weston Rutkowski.

The Haskell, Texas, man proved why he is the greatest competitor in Bullfighters Only history by knocking down the competition Saturday during the final performance of the 2017 season at the BFO Las Vegas Championship at the Tropicana Casino and Resort.

“I woke up (Friday) morning as ready to go as I have ever been,” Rutkowski said. “It’s been a long 10 days, and I’ve had some bumps and bruises at 16 staples. Fortunately, I was able to take care of what I needed to come away with this championship.”

Rutkowski advanced to the three-man championship round after an 85.5-point fight in his section. Before the final three fights began, the Texan had already earned his second straight world title after Toby Inman failed to advance. But there was still business to tend to.

“It was a relief, of sorts, because I knew I came to Vegas and won some money,” said Rutkowski, who pocketed the BFO’s first $50,000 bonus paid to the world champion. “But I came here to win the event and solidify my status as a world champ.”

He was joined in the championship round by Kris Furr of Hamptonville, N.C., and Zach Call of Mullen, Neb. Call was unable to finish his fight with Rockin’ B and Magnifica’s Unicorn, and Furr matched moves with Manuel Costa’s Hulkamaniac for 87 points to put the pressure on Rutkowski.

But the champ proved worthy. Matched with WAR Fighting Bulls’ Soldier of War, the two gladiators maneuvered around the ring. Rutkowski took every shot the agile bull threw, sliding past the charging animal and showcasing his own athleticism in the process. The result was 90.5 points and another $25,000 for winning BFO-Vegas.

“The money is obviously a big amount, but at the end of the day, I’m here to fight bulls,” he said. “In order to win money like that, I had to stand in there and fight one for the full 60 (seconds) and do everything I could to take home this championship.”

It hasn’t been all glitz and glam for Rutkowski. After winning the first two Roughy Cup titles in 2015-16, he failed to advance to the championship round on Wednesday, Dec. 6. He also reinjured his hamstring and took a shot to the back of the head that left a 6-inch gash, which required 16 staples.

“It is all or nothing in this sport,” Rutkowski said. “If you’re not willing to put it all in the arena, then you don’t deserve to be here.”

It takes great preparation to be one of the best in the game, and that’s what the BFO has. Furr put on a solid fight for a big score. Rutkowski’s was just that much better.

“Kris Furr is a great athlete and a great bullfighter,” he said. “That’s what I love about the BFO; you’re going to go against the best guys in the world every time you nod your head.”

The BFO is also a showcase for the best bulls in the game. In a sport filled with danger, the animals are the primary ingredient with personalities more like heat-seeking missiles. They are aggressive and agile, and they put the fight in bullfighting, especially this week.

“I didn’t know Soldier of War at all, but that plays right into my game plan,” Rutkowski said. “I don’t like to know the bull. I like to just read and react and fight my fight.”

He’s done that well. Now he’s become the first man in the sport’s history to win more than $100,000 in a single season.

“There are a lot of guys that have fought bulls for a while and did it without making much money,” he said. “The sport of freestyle bullfighting seems like it has grown overnight, but it hasn’t. It has finally come full circle, and it’s finally paying off to fight Spanish fighting bulls for a living thanks to the BFO.”

Round 1: 1. Kris Furr, 84.5; 2. Toby Inman, 82; 3. Tanner Zarnetski, 80.
Round 2: 1. Weston Rutkowski, 85.5; 2. Noah Krepps, 82.5; 3. Cody Emerson, 76.
Round 3: 1. Zach Call, 84; 2. Justin Josey, 83.5; 3. Jimmy Essary, 80.
Championship round: 1. Weston Rutkowski, 90.5 points on WAR Fighting Bulls’ Man of War; 2. Kris Furr, 87; 3. Zach Call, 0.
World champion: Weston Rutkowski

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