BY KEITH RYAN CARTWRIGHT
A onetime college baseball player, Richard Wayne Ratley, pole vaulted his way to his first professional freestyle bullfighting victory and right into contention for Shorty Gorham’s American Freestyle Bullfighting world title.
Ratley was marked 90.50 points to outscore both Chance Pruitt (89.00) and Andres Gonzelez (85.00).
He opened his event-winning performance by pole vaulting a pure-bred Mexican fighting bull as it charged out of the shotgun chute at the Honda Center in Anaheim, California, and then stayed “hooked up” with his bull for the full duration of the fight.
“I was tired of being a bridesmaid,” said Ratley, who had twice finished second when he used the pole-vaulting trick, “so it felt good to finally win one.”
Ratley brought the crowd — many of whom had never seen freestyle bullfighting prior to Friday night — to its feet.
Friday’s AFB event was the latest in a series of three-man events held in conjunction with the PBR’s elite televised level of competition. In fact, a recap of the AFB event will be aired as part of the PBR’s Sunday afternoon broadcast on CBS Sports Network beginning at 1 p.m. ET.
“I heard everything,” Ratley said. “I heard everybody yelling.”
This was third time he’s tried the trick since Labor Day Weekend last year. It was his first victory with it.
“It was on a whim,” said Ratley, of what led to his trying it the first time. “It was on a bet (and) it worked and I kind of made it my signature deal.”
He added, “Gotta keep rolling with it.”
Ratley is not planning to use it Monday night in Puyallup, Washington — “I’m going to try and win this one without it” — but will try it again once or twice at the World Finals in early November.
“It’ll come out in Vegas,” Ratley said. “I guarantee you.”
Ratley will be one of five bullfighters ranked in the Top 10 — Alex McWilliams, 1; Tristan Seargeant, 2; Sage Seay, 4; Cade Gibson, 5, and Andres Gonzalez, 8— who will be competing in Washington on Monday.
Kody Adams, Colton Orcutt, Cody Escobedo, Ryker Fenstermaker, Andrew Garey, Tyler Norton, Tanner Scott, Dawson Solis and Bailey Ziehl make up the rest of the 15-man draw.
“These AFB’s are turning into a big deal,” Ratley said. “Getting on that stage and having guys set the tone, I couldn’t be happier. The AFB’s are going to be the biggest bullfights going and we’re glad to be part of it, the start of it.”
Ratley is headed to Washington on Sunday morning after working cowboy protection with McWilliams at a rodeo in Salinas, California, on Saturday night.
“It keeps me busy,” he said. “It keeps me in shape and it keeps me motivated.”
Not a bad bullfighting — both freestyle and cowboy protection — for a ballplayer whose collegiate career at Barton Community College — one of the top junior college programs in the country — was cut short by a shoulder injury.
“I just jumped in there and did it,” said Ratley, of the transition from baseball to bullfighting (and pole vaulting). “Fell in love with it and never looked back.”