ALEX MACWILLIAM

Alex MacWilliam, 18, was 14-years-old when traveled from California to Oklahoma and stepped into an arena under the tutelage of legendary bullfighter Frank Newsom. MacWilliam and his father had met Newsom at a PBR event when the veteran bullfighter invited the younger MacWilliam to attend one of his bullfighting camps.
“I had never done anything like that before,” recalled MacWilliam, who admitted he had a few sleepless nights prior to the trip. “I had never gone face-to-face with something that big.”
He added, “I fought my first bull and just kind of fell in love with it.”
Afterward he returned home to Paso Robles, which is located along the central coast of California, and said he was “fired up.” His father bought him some calves for the practice pen and a family friend would work with him.
MacWilliam has returned to Newsom’s annual school, which is held at the home of Elsie and Clyde Frost in the very arena the late Lane Frost built as a teenager, every year since and plans to be there again this coming summer.
“It’s kind of a lifestyle now,” MacWilliam said
Newsom and Cody Webster noticed his eagerness to learn and willingness to get in the arena and work bull after bull after bull, but his grittiness is what impressed them.
MacWilliam explained, “I got my butt hooked a couple times, but you gotta learn to get up and go at it again.”
He worked his first event three weeks after attending his first school. He was 15 by then. The fourth bull out, the rider hung up and because of his training with Newsom, MacWilliam instinctively jumped in and got the rider loose.
Everyone was impressed with the youngster’s fearlessness. He kept working local events and as soon as he turned 18, McWilliams tried American freestyle bullfighting. He entered his first event within a week of his birthday and quickly followed with three more.
In just his fifth time working a freestyle event, he entered the annual event in Ardmore, Oklahoma, which features the best American freestyle bullfighters in the world. He finished second.
“It was pretty cool ended up second at such a big event where there are so many eyes on you,” said MacWilliam, looking back at his runner-up finish. “I love the feeling of a 1,400 pound, 1,500-pound animal that’s just trying to hunt you, I love the feeling of, ‘Lets dance this way. Lets dance that way.’ You kind of control them.”
That’s right, to him it’s a dance—the most dangerous dance on dirt.
And, no, he’s not much of a dancer on the dance floor.
“I like dancing with bulls more,” MacWilliam joked.
Newsom has been so impressed with the kid, he introduced him to Shorty Gorham. Likewise, Gorham was so impressed he invited MacWilliam to be part of Shorty Gorham’s American Freestyle Bullfighting.
MacWilliam thrives under pressure and loves the adrenaline of big moments. He’s not into tricks and gimmicks. Like Newsom and Webster, he has a solid ground game that proves (to judges) he’s in control and can always hear Newsom telling him “rounds win rounds.”
“I just can’t give enough thanks to Frank and the good Lord,” concluded MacWilliam.

BLAKE MILLER

BLAKE MILLER was born into a rodeo family. His father was a bareback rider and a team roper, his older brother was a bull rider and, of course, his cousin Justin McBride is a two-time World Champion PBR bull rider.

“I still put in a lot of work,” said Miller, who doesn’t take anything for granted despite coming from a family with championship bloodlines. “I know I have to work at it, but, yeah, it’s in my blood.”

The 20-year-old, who makes his home in Troy, Texas, has been bullfighting for three years and has spent the past 18 months also working on his American freestyle bullfighting skills because he thought it would be a good way to get his “name out there.”

Miller said stock contractors were the first to take notice. “They want somebody who can put on a show,” Miller explained, “if they need to and fight a mean bull. If you can fight a hot bull then if you get in a bind protecting somebody you can control (a bucking bull).”

He enjoys freestyle, but readily admits the game is about making a name for himself.

“I like protecting guys more than freestyling,” said Miller, who looked up to admired all the bullfighters who kept him safe back when he first started riding bulls. As a bullfighter he’s always stayed busy and, in fact, Miller filled his PRCA permit within the first month he had it. And was then approved for his PRCA card this year.

Bullfighting and especially American freestyle is not a hobby for him and it’s certainly not merely a hope either. It’s a reality. He’s been advancing at a fast pace “by the grace of God and the drive and the want to.”

“I rode bulls for two years,” Miller said. “Well, I got on, but I wasn’t as successful at that. … I’d be getting ready to get on a bull and I’d be watching (the bullfighters) instead of focusing on riding.”

“I like the fact that a bullfighter is going out there to save somebody’s life,” added Miller, who was in Cody, Wyoming, when he injured his arm and it led to his bullfighting career.

Miller never wanted to be the star of the show, which was always part of his attraction to cowboy protection. He was always drawn to bullfighters whether he was riding bulls at the practice pen or an event. It actually got to a point where he spent more time learning how to fight bulls then getting on them.

“It was meant to be,” said Miller, who is and always has been a faith-based person, is proud of his accomplishments and said God has made it all possible for him.

BRYCE REDO

BRYCE REDO only rode bulls until he was 22 because he “wasn’t having any fun and wasn’t winning any money.” More importantly, he was honest with himself and admitted he couldn’t envision himself winning a world title in the next five years, so he thought it was best to go ahead and transition from riding bulls to fighting them.

“I basically woke up one day and went to the practice pen to be a bullfighter,” Redo said. “I kind of liked it.”

The 24-year-old from Texas is naturally athletic. The same skills that attracted Texas Tech to recruit him for football and LSU for track, applied to bullfighting. He’s quick. And he’s tough. In fact, in high school, he played damn-near every position on the football field, including outside linebacker and defensive back. He loved the contact.

When it came to making the transition to bullfighting, Redo Googled videos on YouTube and watched a promotional clip featuring Cody Webster. He emulated what he saw and within two months he was working open bull riding events. After building his credibility, Redo said, “One phone call went to a hundred phone calls.”

BRYCE REDO only rode bulls until he was 22 because he “wasn’t having any fun and wasn’t winning any money.” More importantly, he was honest with himself and admitted he couldn’t envision himself winning a world title in the next five years, so he thought it was best to go ahead and transition from riding bulls to fighting them.

“I basically woke up one day and went to the practice pen to be a bullfighter,” Redo said. “I kind of liked it.”

The 24-year-old from Texas first learned how to bullfight by watching videos on YouTube, including a promotional clip featuring Cody Webster. He emulated what he saw and within two months he was working open bull riding events. After building his credibility, Redo said, “One phone call went to a hundred phone calls.”

Redo started freestyle bullfighting last year after attending a school taught by Ross Hill. Gorham had seen videos of Redo and they followed each other on social media. They kept in touch and, Redo said, Gorham was always offering words of encouragement.

He excelled by staying calm, cool and collected. “I just like to keep it simple,” said Redo, who tries to keep from running around. “Simple, like a dance.”

Like a bull rider taking their 8-seconds jump for jump, Redo likes to focus on one round at a time as a freestyle bullfighter and wants people to remember the whole 40 seconds instead one trick. He’s capable and athletic enough to perform any of the big tricks – be it a flat-footed jump or a backflip off the barrel – but it’s just not his style.

“I feel blessed and it’s all in the good Lord’s hands,” he said, of his bullfighting career. “A lot of people say I’m lucky, but I truly believe I’m blessed.”

Redo is truly blessed considering he had a pretty tough upbringing.

His mother, Justine Sullivan, rode bulls in a women’s organization back in the Eighties and she was also a barrel racer, while his father, Kenneth Redo, rode bulls, but the younger Redo has been estranged from his parents since he was 10. “We kind of had a falling out,” he said.

For the next eight years “it was a rough childhood” and he stayed with teachers and the families of rodeo friends. Redo again said he “was blessed to know a lot of people,” who took him in for different lengths of time. It certainly wasn’t easy and it forced him “to grow up fast,” but he uses that resiliency in the arena. He now uses that same determination to work hard and focus on winning regardless of whatever situation he finds himself in.

Redo learned to rely on himself at a young age, and now bull riders feel good about relying on him as a professional bullfighter.

 

CODY EMERSON

CODY EMERSON has been in and around rodeo his entire life. His father, Randy Emerson, was a calf roper and his older sister, Mandy Bari, ran barrels and breakaway. Like his father, Cody was also a calf roper until he graduated from high school and signed up for a Frank Newsom bullfighting school.

“That’s where it all started,” Emerson recalled.

Although he grew up at the end of the arena with all the timed-event athletes, Emerson often found himself at the other end watching bullfighters. He was in his first semester of college at Arkansas State University, where earned a four-year degree in agricultural business, when he saw an ad for Newsom’s school in a magazine.

He thought, “That might be fun,” so is old man drove with him over to Oklahoma. It went well and afterward, he worked a “little local family rodeo every Saturday night.” That experience led to Emerson working all the high school rodeos in Arkansas, while he finished college and a few other rodeos for the next three years. On his weekend’s off, Emerson started to win some freestyle events and that’s when he met Cody Webster and a group of other PRCA bullfighters.

In 2012, Emerson won the annual freestyle event in Ardmore, Oklahoma, and earned his PRCA card the same year. For the past six years, he’s worked at the pro level along with entering freestyle events on weeks off.

When it comes to cowboy protection, Emerson follows the same school of thought Newsom, Webster, Jesse Byrne and Shorty Gorham use at the elite televised PBR events—teamwork. It’s a style that allows bullfighters, who understand what they’re doing, to fight with anyone in the world.

“You watch those guys on the PBR and they roll ‘em around,” Emerson continued, “and everybody is in their spot. There’s no need for anybody else to fight bulls any other way. … It’s the easiest and it’s going to keep people out of wrecks.”

Emerson uses that same model of consistency when it comes to American freestyle bullfighting. “On my freestyle, I pretty much stick to the fundamentals,” said Emerson, who likes to “get as many step-threws in and not really do anything too crazy.”

Emerson’s goal is to be on his feet the entire time and to keep his bull hooked up without giving it any opportunities to run off. He’ll face one down and throw a fake from time to time, but, when he’s at one of Shorty Gorham’s American Freestyle Bullfighting events, he wants his bull just as strong at the 40-second horn as it was when the time started. At 29, he’s a veteran who is confident in his ability to perform the entire duration as opposed to setting up to rely on performing one big stunt.

“Honestly, it’s about knowing cattle,” said Emerson. “I have 50 of my own. I’m around cows every day. I helped a man for six years take care of 1,000 momma cows. … Like you see Frank and Webster, they’re very good cowboys and they know cattle very well and how to read them and see stuff before it’s happening. I think that helps me out quite a bit as well.”

DALTON BRODY

DALTON BRODY knew he was in for a bad night. It had rained and the outdoor rodeo arena was slowed up by all the gloppy mud directly in front of the bucking chutes. “I had already worked like eight hang ups and got the baggies ripped off of me,” he recalled.

The next bull was hot. In fact, it was so mean that it turned back and popped the rider in the face with a horn – knocking him out cold. Brody stepped right in and tried keeping the bull off the rider, but he was slowed a bit by the mud and his timing was off. He wound up getting thrown against one of the bucking chutes.

Brody was pinned between the bull’s right horn and the steel gate. He was mashed up in there a few times and – for good measure – the bull leaned in on him with 1,800 pounds of pressure.

“I broke all the ribs on my left side, bruised my hip and broke my elbow and knocked my shoulder out of place,” Brody recalled. “All in one hit, but I still finished the bull riding. I worked eight more bulls after that and then went and got looked at by the paramedics.”

Brody, 21, was 18 at the time. Only two years into his bullfighting career he missed more than a year before returning to the arena. When he did, he not only returned to cowboy protection, he had also developed a fascination for American freestyle bullfighting. Brody is one of The Magnificent Seven named to the roster for next year’s inaugural season of Shorty Gorham’s American Freestyle Bullfighting.

At his first ever freestyle event, in 2016, Brody was in Gonzales, Texas, for an AFB showcase event. He won the first round with 90 points and finished fourth overall. “I just put on my game face,” said Brody, who called winning the round an indescribable feeling after all the work and conditioning he’d been through following his earlier injuries. “I love doing it.”

He followed up that success by outright winning AFB’s exhibition event, in Fredricksburg, Texas, but the youngster expected that of himself. Prior to the event, he said, “I told my wife and I told my dad, I’m going to go down there and win it. That was the first buckle I ever won freestyling.”

Brody was born and raised in Alabama. His father is a welder, who moved south from Chicago. His mother was a barrel racer and Brody dreamed of riding bulls. And he did—for a short time. He started when he was 13, but by 16 he questioned his commitment, so “I bought a pair of cleats and just went out there. I loved it ever since. It’s something I think about every second of the day.”

He added, “I got a taste of bullfighting and fell in love.”

He patterns himself – both cowboy protection and freestyle – after Weston Rutkowski and the late Rex Dunn. Brody is drawn to the adrenaline rush and, athletically speaking, he is capable of jumping three feet off of a single head fake.

When he’s not in the arena, he spends his free time visualizing himself fighting bulls. Whenever he’s asked what he’s doing, Brody laughs, “Man, I’m just over here dreaming.” His dreams are fast becoming a reality with Shorty Gorham’s American Freestyle Bullfighting.

MYLES ESSICK

MYLES ESSICK said it was a like a “basketball fan texting with Lebron James” when he had his first exchange of messages from Shorty Gorham. Afterward, he headed down to Gonzales, Texas, and entered Shorty Gorham’s American Freestyle Bullfights.

Gorham had fought bulls with Essick’s uncle Dusty Essick, so the younger Essick really wanted to show Gorham what he could do. Even though Myles is only 19, he made it a point to prove he had more than a familiar last name. Then his second bull hooked him and Essick was “trashed and tossed,” but made it a point to get back on his feet. He was determined to finish.

“It’s not in my nature to quit something,” Essick said, “or to give up.”

Essick, 19, has been fighting bulls since he turned 16. He started once he felt he had the physical ability and could handle himself. His dad Toby Essick, his uncle Dusty and great-uncle Larry Clayman all fought bulls. Clayman fought at the NFR and won the first Wrangler freestyle bullfight, while Toby and Dusty fought at the IFR and the Wrangler bullfights.

“I came from a family of it,” said Myles, who was a year old when his dad retired from bullfighting, so he never saw him in person and “never laid eyes on a video of him. All I have are tons of pictures and stories.”

Those stories sounded fun.

“It was big shoes to fill and I strive to be what they were,” said Myles, of the family members who fought before him. “They wore football cleats, which are what I wear now, full face makeup, baggies, goofy t-shirt. I try to keep that style the best I can. I kind of like that old look.”

Like his father, Myles is relentless and smooth. He tries to make it look easy—as if it’s second nature. He also likes to slow down and pick a bull up, but if he gets thrown out – like he was in Gonzalez – he’s right back up on his feet.

“I try to watch and see every little sign of a bull rider,” Myles said, “to where I know he’s going to be off a jump before he is and place myself where I need to be. I try not to rush or just blow right through there.”

And, when it comes to American freestyle bullfighting, he loves the adrenaline rush of being that close to a Spanish fighting bull and yet still be in control of the situation. Essick was introduced to the sport at a school taught by Rob Smets and Miles Hare. “I ate it up down there and had a blast,” said Essick, who won a buckle for Most Improved over the course of the three-days he spent there. “It’s the little thing that makes it easy.”

 

NOAH KREPPS

NOAH KREPPS was “pretty frickin’ excited” when Shorty Gorham called to invite him to be part of the inaugural season of Shorty Gorham’s American Freestyle Bullfighting. “It’s an honor and pretty wild to think not long ago I was watching videos on these guys,” Krepps admitted, “and idolizing him as a fan—a spectator. And now I’m talking to (Evan Allard and Gorham) on the phone. It’s crazy.”

After just three seasons of fighting bulls, Gorham said the 18-year-old is one of the most promising young bullfighters in the game—and that goes for his work as cowboy protection and American freestyle bullfighting.

He’s been watching Gorham on CBS and CBS Sports Network since long before he ever put a pair of cleats on.

Krepps grew up in Arkansas and now lives in Kansas, where he works as a ranch hand when he’s not fighting bulls. He was sixteen when his older brother and some other bull riders were in need of a bullfighter to help them out at a local practice pen, “so I just hopped in” and Krepp’s has been doing it ever since.

He loves the thrill of making a save when he’s working cowboy protection, but equally drawn to the idea of not being in control of what happens next when he faces a Mexican fighting bull in a one on one American freestyle bullfight — yet controlling the outcome.

Krepps has been “going on instinct” since he first tried American freestyle. His smooth style has been said to be reminiscent of Allard when it comes both protection and freestyle. “He’s who I look up to,” said Krepps, of Allard, who has been like a mentor. “Evan makes it look smooth. Kind of like a dance.” Krepps has paid especially close attention to how Allard methodically picks his routes and smoothly makes one save after another. Krepps also admires the way Allard handles bulls and breaks them down.

Krepps started transitioning to American freestyle in October 2016 and entered his first event in December of that year. This year, he’s competed at least once a month ever since May and he’s been trying to balance both careers – cowboy protection and freestyle – because he simply enjoys being in the arena, “so if I can get the best of both worlds then I’m going to do it.”

“But just the thought of taking an animal like that and working with him and dancing with him,” said Krepps, when asked what motivates him when it comes to competing at Shorty Gorham’s American Freestyle Bullfighting, “and trying to get along with him.”

TRISTAN SEARGEANT

TRISTAN SEARGEANT, 20, grew up playing football in Mineral Wells, Texas. He was an all-state linebacker and enrolled in college at Southwestern Oklahoma State University, but he just wasn’t big enough to make the cut. He was 19 when his older brother Trent suggested bullfighting.

Seargeant called Terry Don West, who was hosting a bull riding school and partnered with Zach Flatt to work with bullfighters. Seargeant got knocked down and had his ankle stepped on. He got right back up and later said, “I had a love for it as soon as I put the cleats on.”

That love is only fitting for someone who has always been an adrenaline junkie with a proclivity for exceling at “off the wall” sports.

But his love of bullfighting has everything to do with the feeling he gets from being on the dirt and protecting someone else’s life. He compared stepping between a bull rider and bull and taking a hit to that of a firefighter.

Everything changed in November of 2016.

He then attended another bullfighting school, this one was taught by Rob Smets and Miles Hare. Shorty Gorham was there with Lights Out Fighting Bulls. It was only three months since Seargeant had learned the fundamentals of cowboy protection. He thought this would be another opportunity to learn from the greats of the game.

But it was an American freestyle clinic.

“I enjoyed it and had a knack for it,” said Seargeant, who talked about focusing on the basic fundamentals as they worked with a dummy before moving to heifers and then advancing to more aggressive and faster livestock. On the final day featured an open freestyle bullfight with several experienced bullfighters. Seargeant entered without an expectation of winning and then proceeded to split first. “That raised a lot of eyebrows,” he recalled.

In turn, Gorham put him in touch with “Fearless” Frank Newsom.

Newsom invited Seargeant to work out at his house. He was a nervous wreck standing at front door, but it was gratifying to be invited into Newsom’s home and offered an opportunity for guidance. Newsom saw Seargeant’s toughness and invited him back.

Seargeant was knocked out in his first freestyle bullfight – “it kind of humbled me a little bit” – and then proceeded to win next three bullfights he entered, including a freestyle event at a PBR Touring Pro Event and the richest freestyle payout. He won $30,000 and a world title.

“It wasn’t the money,” said Seargeant, who thrives on the intensity of big moments like Shorty Gorham’s American Freestyle Bullfighting. “I love doing what I do, so why not be the best at it.”

ZACH FLATT

ZACH FLATT came to bullfighting after a brief career as a bull rider. Even then he didn’t get started in rodeo until he was 19-years-old.

Flatt grew up in Ada, Oklahoma. His father was a bullfighter and tried steering his son clear of the rodeo arena, but the younger Flatt grew up watching everything his father did when it came to protecting cowboys. “My whole life,” he said, “I’ve been around cattle and understand what a bull is going to do.”

As a bullfighter – both cowboy protection and American freestyle – that knowledge is invaluable. Flatt didn’t learn it. He came by it instinctually. “In freestyle, that’s good,” said Flatt, 29, who also applied the years-worth of lessons he had picked up from hanging around and watching old man fight bulls.

He had moved away to Virginia at 19, moved back home to Oklahoma at 21 after “a rough go of it” as a bull rider, so he tried his hand at bullfighting. His first event was a junior high rodeo

“The second or third bull out, there was a hang up and I hit it like I had been doing it my whole life,” Flatt recalled. “I came in there 90 miles an hour, did a stutter step just right to get in there past his head.”

He managed to get the boy’s hand free.

“It was just natural, like a healer to cattle,” Flatt said. “That showed me where I needed to be.”

That was June 2011 and it set up a transition that has proved to be career-defining.

At the time, he was fighting bulls as well as entering the bull riding. After working a full round, he’d climb into the bucking chute at the end of the night. That lasted all of two months and by the end of July he focused solely on cowboy protection – between practice pens and rodeos, he’d fight bulls no less than five nights a week – until he was introduced to freestyle.

Flatt has already been playing around with the idea.

“If a bull was mean I’d try to play with them,” Flatt said, “even if they didn’t want me to. It was fun for me and it still is.”

Instead of doing it for fun with a “hot bull” at the bull riding event, he entered himself in actually freestyle competitions, including Shorty Gorham’s American Freestyle Bullfighting. In his first event, Flatt split second and third in the first long round and then split first and second in the next long round.

“People get to know your name if you’re good at (American freestyle),” Flatt said.