By KEITH RYAN CARTWRIGHT
There’s an old belief that you surround yourself with the people you want to be like. Or, in some cases, you become like those you are surrounded by.
And that’s readily apparent in rodeo and western sports when it comes to travel partners.
Perhaps the most famous group of rodeo cowboys to travel the rodeo trail together was Cody Lambert, Jim Sharp, Tuff Hedeman and the late Lane Frost. And later Ty Murray famously joined the fold.
They didn’t simply know one of them was going to win the event every time they entered as a group. That was a given. They knew at the end of the season one of them was going to be the World Champion.
They fed off of each other’s success.
Thirty years later, with a resurgence in the popularity of freestyle bullfighting, more bullfighters are on the road then there have been in years, especially when it comes to competing at Shorty Gorham’s American Freestyle Bullfighting events and other open events across the U.S. and Canada.
Alex McWilliams and Colt Carlisle have been friends for three years and, last year, they started traveling together.
“He has the same goals as me,” said McWilliams, a California native who decided to base himself in Texas so he can travel and train with Carlisle. “We’re not going to go out there partying the night before a fight. We’re going to get some sleep, watch some (freestyle bullfighting) film and dedicate ourselves to it.
“It’s a job. It’s not a hobby.”
This year, Cade Gibson joined McWilliams and Carlisle.
The trio was in McAllen, Texas, on Sunday night for the second of back-to-back AFB events.
McWilliams won the event and Carlisle, who was a last minute replacement, was second. McWilliams was second the night before at an AFB event in San Antonio, Texas.
Chance Moorman won that event.
“That’s not meant to be cocky,” McWilliams said. “We’re going out there every time to win.”
In fact, all three are ranked in the Top 10 of the AFB world standings.
Gibson is currently ranked No. 1, while McWilliams went into the weekend No. 5 and Carlisle was No. 9. Once the new standings are released after a pair of events this coming weekend – Houston and Dallas – McWilliams will likely move all the way to No. 2 and Carlisle will move up two more spots as he sets his sights on the Top 5.
Carlisle will be competing again Friday night, in Houston, at the Toyota Center. A fourth AFB event for November will take place Sunday night in Dallas at the American Airlines Center.
McWilliams is not in either the draw this weekend, but he is absolutely planning to be in Houston to support and encourage his travel partner.
“We feed off of each other and it just helps all three of us out,” McWilliams said. “I don’t like taking the credit for the win. It was a win for all three of us. Everyone beat their bull and that’s all you can do in a bullfight.”
They focus on their job – freestyle bullfighting – and leave the scoring up to the judges.
Ultimately, all three are not only dedicated to the sport, but, more importantly, they remain dedicated to their faith.
“I can speak for these other guys because this is a big factor for all three of us,” McWilliams concluded, “we don’t take any of the credit. The Lord God our savior, He gives us the power to go out there and fight bulls.
“We’re all going to give the credit to the Lord and, I think, that’s the main part where we are.”
By KEITH RYAN CARTWRIGHT
The first time Dawson Solis was hit by a bull, it stepped right in the middle of his back.
He laid there for a bit.
Couldn’t move his legs.
But, ultimately, Solis said he was just fine.
However, for the next couple days, one by one his friends and family said, “Certainly you’re not going to get back in the arena. That was your one and done deal.”
“I said, ‘Oh no, I’m going to give it hell,’” Solis told each of them, “and people were just kind of laughing and calling me crazy for doing it, but here I am making a name for myself.”
Solis will be in McAllen, Texas, on Sunday, Nov. 11 for Shorty Gorham’s American Freestyle Bullfighting event at the State Farm Arena.
Solis is in the draw with two of the Top 5 freestyle bullfighters in the AFB world standings—Alex McWilliams and Cade Gibson, the No. 1 bullfighter in the world.
“I’ve seen those guys and I’ve watched them and seen what they done,” Solis said, “and it’s just cool because I’m there with those guys.
“I feel like I have something to prove to anybody and everybody.”
Solis, a Texas native, is 20-years-old.
He’s been bullfighting for the past two years and first tried freestyle a year ago.
He came to the sport after playing college football at Tarleton State University, in Stephanville, Texas.
“After the whole football thing was over for me, I was sitting there thinking, man, there’s no way I’m going to throw away that athleticism because God gave me that talent,” Solis said.
He added, “I never really thought about … let me go ahead and get in front of this big animal.”
The athleticism he is speaking of, comes in the way of speed.
In fact, he’s worked with Blake Miller and Clint Lott to hone his freestyle skills, and both of them have talked Solis about slowing down. He’s used “football moves” to get around bulls, but Lott has preached the basics.
“You just got to be calm about it,” said Solis, who added, “I’m blessed to have the opportunity to even do this.”
Solis has the opportunity because of one person—Shorty Gorham.
Ever since the legendary bullfighter started the AFB – this time last year – he’s prided himself on discovering and developing young, up-and-coming talent. Solis is his latest discovery.
Gorham saw a video.
He asked around, heard good things and called Solis with an invite.
Gorham has said now that he’s established a world standings for the AFB, he will fill 75 percent of every draw with the highest-ranked bullfighters available and leave the other 25 percent of the draw open for newcomers, who he feels have earned an opportunity to showcase their talent.
McAllen is a four-man bullfight and Solis is the lone newcomer.
Eight-man draws will feature a pair of newcomers, while 12-man and 16-man draws will feature three and four newcomers respectively.
“This will be his opportunity to show us whether he belongs in the AFB or not,” said Gorham.
Solis appreciates Gorham’s faith.
He’s also looking forward to competing.
“It’s a blessing to even get in the room with those guys,” said Solis, “but I’m one of the most competitive people you’ll ever meet in your life.”
He added, “I’m excited about it man. I really am and, like I said, go get the Top 3 guys in the world and let’s make it happen. Let’s see what it’s all about.”
By KEITH RYAN CARTWRIGHT
Last year, Shorty Gorham had not heard of Cade Gibson.
What a difference a year makes.
Shorty Gorham’s American Freestyle Bullfighting will stage four events in November beginning with a pair of events next weekend in San Antonio, Texas, on Nov. 10 and day later in McAllen, Texas, on Nov. 11.
Gibson will headline the draw as the No. 1 ranked freestyle bullfighter in the world.
Alex McWilliams, Dylan Idleman and Caden Harper will join Gibson in San Antonio, while newcomer Dawson Solis will be in the McAllen draw with McWilliams, Idleman and Gibson.
Gibson, an Idaho native, who now lives in Tioga, Texas, is no longer an unknown commodity.
In fact, this past week, Gibson received multiple text messages with photographs attached of young kids dressing up as him for Halloween.
“It’s very humbling,” Gibson said. “It’s awesome that I’m able to be a good role model for them and it’s unbelievable because I was in their shoes when I was a kid.”
In first grade, Gibson dressed up like rodeo legend Dan Mortenson.
Later, he dressed like bullfighting legend Rob Smets.
“I was blessed enough to be around the rodeo world,” said Gibson.
As for future freestyle bullfighters now emulating him, Gibson added, “It was an amazing feeling just to be able to give back in a way. It’s awesome.”
They might not have dressed up as Gibson, but if Harper and Solis hope to establish themselves as future stars of the AFB they will have their work cut out for them competing against three of the Top 5 bullfighters in the AFB’s most recent world standings.
Gibson leads Evan Allard by 235 points.
As for being atop the standings, Gibson quickly said the season is not over and let it be known there are “plenty of points to be factored” into whoever eventually earns the world title.
That said, he added, being No. 1 “is a dream come true.”
Gibson does not plan to look at the standings until “whenever they give the buckle to whoever wins it. That’s the way I look at it.”
Gibson also credited the Lord with giving him the confidence to make a leap of faith and commit to bullfighting full-time.
“He’s given me the guidance to make this work,” Gibson said, “and it stays with me every time I step in that arena.”
Gibson said he plans to enter every possible AFB event.
He explained the bull draw will not always be in his favor. There will be nights he draws the weakest bull in the pen and will be forced to go out and “really style them up.” Conversely, there will be nights he draws the hottest bull in the pen. Those nights, it will be extremely important be mistake-free when it comes to executing the fundamentals of the freestyle game.
“The game’s evolving every day,” said Gibson, who intends to participate in two-a-day training sessions at the gym in the week leading up to next weekend’s AFB events. “Guys are coming up with these crazy things … and they have to be able to do it when the lights are on them.
“Guys wouldn’t be able to do that without countless hours in the gym.”
By KEITH RYAN CARTWRIGHT
Cade Gibson admitted he shed a tear Saturday night.
He didn’t outright cry.
But a few tears certainly slid down the side of his face after winning the Freestyle for Hope event in Orem, Utah. They were not tears of victory. They were tears joy after seeing a 10-year-old boy, Nick, celebrate the matching buckle he was given.
“The smile on his face was worth a million words,” said Gibson. “To see that one moment was amazing.”
Gibson was one of 12 bullfighters taking part in last weekend’s charity event sanctioned by Shorty Gorham’s American Freestyle Bullfighting to raise money and awareness for childhood diabetes. Nick has been battling Type 1 Diabetes for the past four years.
“That’s something I can never imagine going through,” said Gibson, who twice added, “He’s tougher than I’ll ever be. I can promise you that much.”
Each of the bullfighters were paired with a child.
Gibson had a chance to have dinner with Nick and his parents beforehand.
While hanging out, he showed Nick a photographer of a previous bullfight in which he landed a backflip off a barrel. The young boy was excited just seeing a photo, so Gibson asked Nick, “What would you think if I pulled this out tonight?”
Nick was all about it.
In the opening round, Gibson drew Leap Frog – a little, wiry bull who’s fast and was not really one in which you would try a backflip out of the gate for fear that the bull would lose its fight and quit if it the barrel at full speed, so Gibson fought him straight up.
He simply stuck to the basics, styled him up and scored 89 points to win the round.
In Round 2, he drew 85 Claude Dallas—that same bull that had knock Alex McWilliams out back in Gonzales, Texas.
Gibson thought, “This is the one.”
He set up the barrel and landed the backflip, stayed hooked and moments later took home the victory with 91.5 points.
“That kid was pretty pumped about it,” said Gibson, who felt great knowing his plan came together, especially for the reason he did it. “There was a bigger reason than the money and my buckle.”
He explained the hard work and the time spent at the gym took such little effort on his part compared to the fight of lifetime for kids with Type 1 Diabetes.
“It was about these kids and be a role model for them and give back,” Gibson said. “It’s a cool event to even be invited to.”
Had it not been for the reason Gibson was there – the cause made the event that much bigger for everyone involved – the story of the night would have been seeing his family for the first time in a little of a year.
Gibson is originally from Blackman, Idaho, which was only a three-hour trip away for his parents, siblings and other relatives who were on hand the UCCU Center.
“For them to come out and see, I guess you would call it, the finished product,” Gibson said, “it was humbling.”
By KEITH RYAN CARTWRIGHT
Ten years ago, Gary Jones and his wife Cyndi took a family vacation down to Texas.
After returning home to Utah, the couple started to wonder if, perhaps, they had left their seven-year-old son, Westlee, in Houston and brought someone else’s son back to Payson with them.
Their normally rambunctious boy was lethargic if not tired. He got sick. And then only got sicker until Cyndi took Westlee to the emergency room.
When the doctor emerged from the examination, neither of them ever imagined Westlee would be diagnosed with Type 1 Diabetes.
“The first thing you think, is what did we do wrong?” said Cyndi, who admitted, “You start blaming yourself.”
Truth is, diabetes can not only be hereditary, it can be trigged by environmental conditions as well. It’s an autoimmune disease that Cyndi explained attacks itself, “thinking there is something foreign in the body.”
“We have a pretty good handle on it,” she continued. “The thing with diabetes is I tell people all the time that the only predictable thing is unpredictability.”
One day, Westlee’s blood sugar level could be high. A week later, he might be following the same diet and his sugar level will be low.
“There’s nothing predictable about this disease,” Cyndi said.
It’s been a decade now.
Later this month, Gary and Cyndi will be producing the fifth annual Freestyle for Hope event at the UCCA Center, in Orem, Utah, on the campus of Utah Valley University.
It is the first year the freestyle bullfighting event is being moved indoors to a coliseum.
The Jones’ will be donating proceeds to the Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation as well as starting a scholarship foundation.
The standalone freestyle bullfighting event has grown in each of the first four years.
This is the first year that it will be sanctioned by Shorty Gorham’s American Freestyle Bullfighting. The 12-man draw will feature Alex McWilliams, Cade Gibson, Brackens Gittens, Ely Sharkey, Garrett Wilkinson, Jeffrey Wheelock, Jon Roberts, Colt Carlisle, Richard Ratley, Tanner Zarnetski and Tate Rhodes.
There will be one child assigned to each of the bullfighters, who will serve as their mentor and chaperone for the evening. The kids will be out on the dirt during introductions and have their names read along with each of the bullfighters.
Westlee, who is now 17, will fight a bull for the third year in a row.
His father, Gary, was a longtime bullfighter and although Westlee is not in the competition, he will participate in an exhibition performance for the crowd.
“The first year I nearly hyperventilated,” Cyndi recalled, “and they were holding me up because I was terrible. … If he wasn’t good and naturally talented at it, I would probably freak out.”
Westlee has attended Frank Newsom’s bullfighting school in Oklahoma.
And he’s been influenced by Cody Webster, Chuck Swisher and Nathan Harp, and looks up to the trio as his hero.
Cyndi added, “Those boys have all worked with him and so he knows what he’s doing, but I still get nervous.”
The event is about raising money for kids.
In their first year, the Jones’ donated $3,500 to charity. Last year, they donated $20,000 and this year their goal is to surpass $25,000.
For those who are not able to attend the event on September 29, you can log onto www.freestyleforhope.com and donate to the cause. Tickets to the event and merchandise are also available.
“Long down the road, I don’t care how long, we want to start other events for not just juvenile diabetes,” Cyndi said. “We have a friend that has a disease and would like to help them, teach them how to start a fundraiser for their event and maybe do one.
“We have another friend who had lost a family member to pancreatic cancer, so help them set up different freestyle bullfights for their charities. That’s what we really want to do with our Freestyle for Hope.”
By KEITH RYAN CARTWRIGHT
California native Alex McWilliams feels pretty good about himself right now.
As a matter of fact, he feels “amazing.”
This past weekend, he won Shorty Gorham’s American Freestyle Bullfighting event in Fredericksburg, Texas, and will next compete at the Fighting for Hope event in Orem, Utah, as the fifth-ranked bullfighter in the world.
“I’m finally getting back into the swing of things,” McWilliams said. “I just kind of got back to the basics and did what I was trained to do.”
McWilliams said he had been literally fighting his head all summer long.
For starters, he got away from making rounds and started trying to dress his bulls up in an effort to entice crowds and woo judges. Yet he knew damn well, “rounds win rounds.”
He just simply got away from the time-tested approach.
“You kind of forget what real actual bullfighting is and that’s true rounds and owning your bull,” said McWilliams, who watched some old videos and reminded himself of the No. 1 less he was taught by Frank Newsom.
He admitted he fell victim to the SportsCenter mentality of being featured in highlight videos, “Exactly.”
He added, “You just get away from the basics.”
He got his mind right and readjusted his focus.
Then there was the real issue with his head—a trio of concussions led to taking time off.
He got knocked out in Gonzales, Texas, and then again twice more. The broken neck he suffered a couple years back is healed and has not bothered him, but he said the head injuries started “piling up.”
The time off was good for him.
Fredericksburg was his fourth event back and the first after a disappointing appearance at the DOXA event in Oklahoma, where he “made some mistakes.”
He was disappointed in himself and spent the past two weeks working to fix those issues.
“It was a good one to get reset and get back to the basics and I’m pumped and ready for the next one,” said McWilliams, who fed off the encouragement of his fellow freestyle bullfighters.
“It’s a brotherhood out there.”
McWilliams was in Fredericksburg along with Cade Gibson, Colt Carlisle and Seth Wilson.
Early in the fight his bull hooked the banner, but once McWilliams got him to connect he went to work.
It was a flawless, textbook outing.
“The bull didn’t leave me,” McWilliams said. “He was on my tail the whole entire time, so I knew I had done enough of my job and I was pumped.”
McWilliams is happy with his performance, thankful to be ranked in the Top 5 and gives all the “credit to the good Lord above.”
Fighting for Hope, a charity event to raise money and awareness in the continued fight to find a cure of Type 1 diabetes, will take place Saturday, September 29 at 7 p.m.
The event will be held at the UCCA Center in Orem.
“It makes me happy knowing I get to go support kids,” McWilliams said.
By KEITH RYAN CARTWRIGHT
The drive home from the DOXA Extreme Rodeo was not exactly a happy one for Cade Gibson.
He placed the blame for how he felt squarely on his own shoulders.
“I’ve gotten away from the basics and how I was taught,” said Gibson, a top-ranked athlete who is in the midst of a breakout season with Shorty Gorham’s American Freestyle Bullfighting.
At the DOXA event he was the second to last fighter in the opening round and wound up with a refight, and in less than five minutes he was back inside of the arena calling for another bull. His score just missed the cutoff for the eight-man short round a day later.
But he wasn’t merely upset with his performance at DOXA.
“It’s reflected in those couple of second or third place finishes,” he continued, at other recent events, “that have been separated by a point, point-and-a-half.”
Gibson knows, he needed to step in, drive his shoulder and make more rounds.
Rounds are what he was taught makes a bullfighter. He plans to get back to doing just that this coming weekend at an AFB event in Fredericksburg, Texas.
Gibson is in the draw with Seth Wilson, Colt Carlisle and Alex McWilliams.
“There’s going back to basics and then there’s going back to basic with a fire lit under you,” Gibson said. “And I haven’t had that fire lit under me.”
It’s a hell of a time to feel that fire burning.
In the latest updated AFB world standings, Gibson is ranked third in the world. He’s 265 points from being No. 1 and a win in Fredericksburg would certainly give him more than the 70 points he needs to move up to second in the AFB world rankings. McWilliams, who is also in the draw, is 385 points off the lead and currently ranked sixth in the world.
Evan Allard is ranked No. 1 followed by Myles Essick, Gibson, Dylan Idleman, Garrett Ryles, McWilliams, Justin Ward, Triston Seargeant, Andres Gonzalez and Tori Ozane.
“That’s a cool deal,” said Gibson, speaking only for how he feels about the standings, “but you still got to go out there and fight your bull.”
He added, “There’s no script written on how everything’s gonna go, how it’s all going to pan out – so those standings, it’s cool to look at and maybe at the end of the season it’ll work out. Ultimately, right now, I’m really not trying to pay a whole lot of attention to it.
“It’s almost a distraction in my world.”
He’s not worried about where he’s ranked today. Gibson said ultimately he and every other freestyle bullfighter are chasing a world title at season’s end.
As with bucking bulls, fighting bulls are bred to be bigger, faster and stronger, so the difference between winning a title or not are “split-second decisions.”
“We need to be smart about our decisions out there because (fighting bulls) are meaner,” Gibson said. “The wrong step could turn into a hooking and the wrong step, you could lose your bull and points.”
He’s been working harder in the guy to improve his quickness and stamina.
And stepping in front of more bulls in the arena and taking extra reps.
“A real champ,” Gibson concluded, “they’re gonna make sacrifices to do what they love.”
Saturday’s event starts at 7:30 p.m. and will take place at the Gillespie County Fair and Festivals. The AFB event is being held in conjunction with the Fredericksburg PBR Touring Pro event.
By KEITH RYAN CARTWRIGHT
Evan Allard had already etched his name in stone on a list of the all-time great freestyle bullfighters.
But after winning this weekend’s richest bullfight in the world, the 29-year-old is now in the conversation for being the greatest freestyle bullfighter of all-time.
Allard is a three-time World Champion and the frontrunner for a fourth title later this year – “I don’t think they can mathematically catch me” – and now he added a $30,000 payday for winning DOXA to his resume.
“It solidifies my spot in the freestyle world,” Allard said. “I honestly felt like I didn’t have much to prove the last year or two. I’ve kind of made my mark, but this allows me to leave – whenever I want to leave – on top. Even if I go another two years and never win another bullfight, I finished my career out in a high spot.”
Nothing to prove.
Leaving the sport.
“I don’t know,” said Allard, who was only speaking with regard to his freestyle career. “I kind of want to – a little bit – but I’m still fighting bulls good. I’m just tired of hurting all the time. It’s a lot of travel with a lot of risk when I’ve got so many good rodeos. I don’t know.
“I think I’ll probably keep going just because deep down inside, who I am is a freestyle bullfighter.
“When I leave, I want people to say that guy was the best freestyle bullfighter of all-time,” Allard continued. “I’m not going to get 10 or 12 NFR’s. I’m not going to get 10 or 12 PBR World Finals. But I’ve got something in the freestyle world that most people don’t have and that’s the mark I want to make.”
Allard really wanted to win this weekend.
So did 28 other freestyle bullfighters, but with a $600 entry fee they wanted to win the money. For Allard, money is nice, but it was about winning. Period.
“The $30,000 is great – that’s awesome – but, to me, winning this bullfight proved I made the right decision two years ago,” Allard said. “I proved a point, by winning this deal.”
Allard, who raises and hauls pure bred fighting bulls, but did not haul bulls to DOXA, said this weekend’s event “had the best set of pens a guy could ask for.”
The bulls were hauled in by Shorty Gorham’s Lights Out Fighting Bulls along with Crooked Horn Ranch, run by Cody Webster and Caleb Hilton.
Coming into round one, which featured a younger pen of bulls, Allard reminded himself to stay in the moment and focus on the task at hand as opposed to getting ahead himself. He admitted that, in the past, he’s had a tendency to get himself hooked by “bulls that (he) should be able to fight for two hours straight.”
Allard said he’s unsure if he tries too hard and gets too fancy.
This time he avoided “a stupid hooking” for a textbook bullfight.
He scored 87.5 points to split third and fourth in Round 1 with Tristan Seargeant. Tyler Thiessen, Jeffrey Wheelock, Riley McKettrick and Austin Ashley all advanced from Friday to Saturday with Allard and Seargeant.
Allard then scored 85.5 points to advance to the Championship Round along with McKettrick, which featured some of the more experienced fighting bulls.
“I’ve always known that old bulls play to my advantage,” Allard said. ““I knew it was mine to lose at that point.”
In the final matchup, Allard was bumped around a time or two and managed to stay up on his feet and felt good about his bullfight, but until he heard the scores he was nervous.
Allard won with an 82, while McKettrick scored 81.
“It’s a pretty awesome deal,” said Allard, who won more money this weekend then the other bullfighters will win all year. “Yeah, it feels good.”
By KEITH RYAN CARTWRIGHT
As a young freestyle bullfighter, Evan Allard used to travel up and down the highways. He’d crisscross the United States for an opportunity to win $500.
Freestyle events were few and far between 10 years ago.
In the years since, Allard is still hauling bulls and fighting bulls wherever and whenever he can.
A couple things have changed.
Now he’s a three-time World Champion freestyle bullfighter and this weekend he is competing at and producing the freestyle bullfighting event taking place at the third annual DOXA Extreme Rodeo in Alex, Oklahoma.
This year’s freestyle bullfighting – sanctioned by Shorty Gorham’s American Freestyle Bullfighting – is the richest freestyle bullfight of all-time.
It pays out total of $40,000 with $30,000 going to the winner.
“This is going to change someone’s life,” Allard said.
There are 28 bullfighters entered in the opening round.
The list includes Myles Essick, Cade Gibson, Tucker MacWilliam, Chance Pruitt, Tristan Seargeant, Chance Moorman, Alex McWilliam, Jeffrey Williams, Cory Mills, Brett Hodson, Austin Ashley, Jerry Tyler, Kody Nance, Seth Wilson, Riley McKettrick, Tyler Thiessen, Jeffrey Wheelock, Jamie Clinch, Andrew Garey, Blake Miller, Wayne Ratley, CJ Shanklin, Jon Roberts, Tanner Brantley, Kane Livingston, Brandon Moore, Colt Carlisle and Allard.
Allard said he’s honored to be the guy “making it happen” and although the 29-year-old’s “days are almost over in the freestyle world,” like everyone else, he’s at DOXA to win.
“I’m going to do my best to go out there and win it,” Allard said.
And he doesn’t plan to do that by focusing on a mistake-free bullfight. In fact, he’s not even worried about making mistakes. Instead he plans to take chances that leave him as close to the edge of disaster as he can get in an effort to stand out from the others and impress the judges.
“I’m not going to try to be mistake free, especially if I get in those final two rounds,” Allard said. “With $30,000 to win, I’m damn sure going to bring what I can to win.”
The top eight scores will draw back on the second night with the top two or three fighting it out for $30,000. Second, third and fourth place will win their share of the remaining $10,000.
“The PBR has their Majors, you can kind of look at DOXA as our Major,” said Cade Gibson, who is second in the recently released AFB world standings and would easily move to No. 1 in the world with a win.
“As soon as the entries opened,” Gibson added, “I called in and said, ‘I want in.’”
Allard added, “Lets compete. That’s what drew me to the freestyle was the competition factor.”
Allard provides cowboy protection at some of the biggest and most legendary rodeo events, but, he said, “I always let it be known I wanted to be known as one of the greatest freestyle bullfighters.”
He also happens to be providing a pretty stout pen of pure-bred Mexican fighting bulls.
He developed his current herd simultaneously to developing his skills as a bullfighter.
“I was trying to get my bull herd going,” Allard said. “Nobody knows the sacrifices I made to get my bull herd going.”
He added, “This is going to help keep my name in the game—putting on a bullfight or two, hauling around bulls and especially one of this magnitude.”
By KEITH RYAN CARTWRIGHT
Myles Essick tops the debut release of the world standings for Shorty Gorham’s American Freestyle Bullfighting.
Essick’s standout event was in Uvalde, Texas, where he had the high-marked performance in both rounds to win the average and the event.
His rise to the top is not just that he won an event, but that he has done so in convincing fashion. In fact, he’s scored points in every AFB go-round he’s fought.
“That’s quite a few points right there,” said Gorham, who likes the look of the standings. “But, yeah, those were the guys I expected would be up there.”
Gorham said the difference being, Uvalde had three go-rounds as opposed to the more conventional two-round events that made up the majority of the schedule.
Essick is ranked No. 1, while Cade Gibson is No. 2 in the world and then Garrett Ryles, Alex McWilliams and Dylan Idleman.
Gorham said Justin Ward, who is ranked sixth, has also done extremely well throughout the first part of the AFB season.
The full standings:
1: Myles Essick, 780; 2: Cade Gibson, 710; 3: Garrett Ryles, 645; 4: Alex McWilliams, 590; 5: Dylan Idleman, 555; 6: Justin Ward, 530; 7: Tristan Seargeant, 420; 8: Andres Gonzalez, 347.5; 9: Tori Ozane, 335; 10: Ryker Fenstermaker, 295; 11: Seth Wilson, 290; 12-13: Evan Allard, 220; 12-13: Chance Pruitt, 220; 14-15: Tanner Brantley, 185; 14-15: Ely Sharkey, 185; 16: Colt Carlisle, 145; 17: Mason Sheldon, 95; 18: Noah Krepps, 90; 19: Chance Moorman, 80; 20-21: Tucker Lane MacWilliam, 60; 20-21: Jake England, 60; 22: Coy Danison, 45; 23: Knox Dunn, 37.5; 24: Brandon Moore, 30; 25-26:John Wayne Lackey, 15; 25-26: Colton Moler, 15; 27-28: Wyatt Mason, 10; 27-28: Caden Harper, 10; 29: Wayne Rattey, 5.
Gorham, who is best known for his cowboy protection at the elite televised level of the PBR, used the same formula as the PBR to determine the AFB standings.
Bullfighters earn round points and points for the average.
The regular PBR point system for the elite televised PBR events will be used for events that pay between $4,000 to $20,000 and the Blue Def point system for events that pay less than $4,000.
Any events above $20,000 – like this coming weekend’s DOXA event in Alex, Oklahoma, which pays $40,000, including $30,000 to the winner of the event – is considered a AFB Major.
“It forces people to place (in the round),” said Gorham, who wants every round to count. “I love that idea and that’s the thing that Myles has done that other guys haven’t. He does such a good job of it that, in Gonzalez, his first round bull, that bull was wanting to quit him. But he stayed with it and got everything out of that bull and he ended up winning the round, whereas a lot of guys would have backed off and quit and it would have been a refight.
“Myles stayed in close, kept pestering that bull and made him play. It’s a prime example of making every round count,” added Shorty, who then joked about the fighting bull, “His number is 211 and his name is For Sale.”
By KEITH RYAN CARTWRIGHT
There is one thing Cody Webster has done every single day of his professional bullfighting career — he watches videos.
Whether he’s watching his own or someone else’s, he said, “One way or another I watch film every day. I think it’s a cheap, inexpensive investment that a guy can make into his career.”
Today’s freestyle bullfighters – be it inexperienced young guys just starting out like Tucker Lane MacWilliam and Dylan Idleman or cagy veterans like Evan Allard or Webster – have the same ability to utilize technology and digital media.
Unlike their predecessors, all of them are able to watch, analyze and evaluate bullfighting videos.
By doing so, today’s bullfighters can mentally make adjustments before they even step on the dirt by watching the fights multiple times from multiple angles and even slow down the video clip to get a better idea of what other decisions they could have made.
“And learn all the little things that guys back in the old days didn’t get to do,” said Shorty Gorham, the namesake behind Shorty Gorham’s American Freestyle Bullfighting, “and quite frankly they’re getting pretty damn good.”
Idleman agreed with Gorham and Webster.
“We watch so many videos of what we do wrong and what we do right,” said the first-year pro. “You get your video and you use your technology to see what you did.”
Idleman added, “I had been third the past two weeks, but then I got home and I watched my videos and when I got up here (Washington, Missouri), I won first.”
The next night, in Mitchell, Nebraska, he made it two in a row with the second professional win of his career.
He said, “They took me to victory.”
Webster said it’s been an advantage in his career too.
And he’s literally seen the results in his game.
In fact, in the past month, Webster launched www.codywebsterbullfighting.com.
Bullfighters can submit their videos and Webster will breakdown their performance much like the coaching staffs do in football and basketball. The editing program he uses allows him to draw on the screen as well as add a web cam video box in the lower corner of Webster breaking down what he sees.
“It’s almost like a one-on-one way of taking a guy’s fight and breaking it down,” said Webster, who looks at everything from their starting position to developing a winning sell at the end of the fight.
Gorham, who has used social media to recruit young, up-and-coming freestyle bullfighters to compete at his American Freestyle Bullfighting events, said with the money available these days, every bullfighter ought to use the available technology to their advantage.
Webster said when he first started his career he would “burn up the road” to make $150 a night. Nowadays, new bullfighters can make ten times that at a freestyle event, if not more.
In fact, later this month on August 24 – 25, the top bullfighters will be in Alex, Oklahoma, for the richest bullfight in the world.
DOXA pays out $40,000 with $30,000 going to the winner.
“It’s a neat time to be a young bullfighter who has A, heart and B, some talent,” said Webster, who noted that everyone, especially guys making their living on the road, has a smart phone with video capabilities.
There is no reason for anyone to show up at an event like DOXA ill-prepared.
Gorham and Webster both stressed that athletes get out of their career what they put into it.
“Studying is just as important as being in the arena,” Webster concluded.
By KEITH RYAN CARTWRIGHT
Dylan Idleman celebrated his first event win as a professional freestyle bullfighter by packing up his gear bag, tossing it in the back of his pickup truck and driving halfway from Washington, Missouri, to Mitchell, Nebraska.
He and a buddy from back home got a couple hours of sleep Wednesday night and then drove another six hours Thursday morning.
Idleman was unfazed by the 12-hour drive to Missouri or the 12-hour drive to Nebraska. In fact, that night, Idleman became the first bullfighter to claim back-to-back wins in the inaugural season of Shorty Gorham’s American Freestyle Bullfighting.
He’s now won two of the four AFB events he’s competed in.
“It was confidence,” said Idleman, who added. “There was a couple guys there that I had really looked up to and watched over the years. I just kind of wanted to impress other guys.”
Ely Sharkey and Seth Wilson were the pair of veterans Idleman wanted to impress.
Following his 84.5-point performance in the long round, Idleman asked Sharkey what he could have done differently, if not better. Sharkey pointed out that Idleman needed to stay closer to his bull and face him more than he previously had.
Idleman took the advice to heart.
He made sure to do just that in the short round.
“I watched the video and I saw where I was too far away from him,” Idleman said. “I never stayed in tight and never made my rounds, and then I turned around in the short round and did what he said.”
Idleman has gone to every event knowing he had the ability to win, but it wasn’t until Thursday night in Nebraska believing he was going to win.
“I’ve had a lot of people ask me how it felt and to be honest,” he recalled, “I told them I’m speechless … but now I’m driving another 12 hours to try to win another one.”
Idleman is in the draw for Saturday night’s AFB event in Gallman, Mississippi.
He hopes to maintain the momentum he captured in Missouri.
On Wednesday, Idleman drew a great bull, No. 11 King Kong, stayed hooked up and kept his hands on him for an impressive season and career-high 87 points.
Idleman had previously seen the same bull at an earlier event in Missouri when Evan Allard drew him. From that outing, Idleman knew King Kong, owned and hauled by the Dunn brothers, was going to be fast and come at him strong out of the gate, so he kept his feet moving and stayed smooth.
“Now I’m hoping to make it three in a row tomorrow night,” Idleman concluded.
By KEITH RYAN CARTWRIGHT
In his first year of freestyle bullfighting, Cade Gibson already feels as though his participation has “evolved my cowboy protection.”
“Everything is so slow,” he explained. “I wouldn’t say it’s a cake walk, but everything makes sense, clicks, I’m reading cattle better and this freestyle game has taken my protection to a whole other level”
Gibson added, “We face those Mexican fighting bulls and they’re out to kill you. Once you’ve been around them and figured out how to protect yourself, just being able to protect another person – your partner, the cowboy – it’s so much easier now because you trust yourself.”
Freestyle is all about speed, whereas bucking bulls use more power.
Even bucking bulls described as fast are nowhere near as fast as a pure bred Mexican fighting bull.
Fighting bulls only compete once every six, seven or eight weeks.
Bucking bulls, on the other hand, can be out twice in a weekend on back to back weekends.
“You have to be able to move fast enough to get out of the way and slow enough to keep them hooked up,” said Gibson, talking about the speed of the freestyle game. “It’s a fine line.”
Gibson, 20, is the only bullfighter entered in both of Shorty Gorham’s American Freestyle Bullfighting events next week.
He will be in Washington, Missouri, on August 1 and then Mitchell, Nebraska, the very next night on August 2.
Gibson, who recently won the AFB event in Deadwood, South Dakota, said he’s looking forward to traveling “lots of miles” and the key to his success is “trusting my preparation.”
Just to make sure he has the legs to compete on back-to-back nights and three times in five days, he’s been at the gym every morning he’s home in Texas.
Gibson said his trainer at Fit-N-Wise Rehabilitation and Performance Center, in nearby Denton, increased his cardio and moved their workouts outside in the sweatshop as temps have been nearing 100 degrees.
He said the workouts have also been brutal.
However, Gibson said he’s confident that if he were to be in the last section of the long round and have to compete in the short round with little time between the two performances, his legs are conditioned for it.
“It’ll drain you regardless,” he said, even as much as I train.
“It’s a dog eat dog world, but you have to be able to just block it out, go fight your bull and trust in yourself”
It’s been a breakout season for Gibson.
He finished second at the Bulls of the West and was invited to compete at a few other major events. In addition to being in Missouri and Nebraska next week, he will be in Alex, Oklahoma on August 24 and 25 for the DOXA event.
DOXA is the richest freestyle bullfighting event and 2018 will be Gibson’s first time there.
Between now and then he’ll either be in an arena or in the gym.
By KEITH RYAN CARTWRIGHT
That’s been the key to the entire first portion of Shorty Gorham’s American Freestyle Bullfighting season.
After having a few days to evaluate the opening slate of events, Gorham said he has been impressed the most by “kids” he had never even heard of as recently as two and three months ago.
Cade Gibson is one of those bullfighters.
The 20-year-old won the AFB event in Deadwood, South Dakota. The win came on the heels of back-to-back second place finishes, making Gibson one of the more consistent bullfighters to have competed in multiple AFB events.
“He’s a guy that’s really impressed me so far,” said Gorham, who also talked at length about Justin Ward.
Ward, 22, is a Minnesota native, who makes his home in North Dakota.
He scored 89 points in New Town, North Dakota, to advance to the short round and then scored another 89 points for the win.
“He pulled some stuff off in the short round where at any moment I was thinking he was going to get hooked and he escaped by mere inches,” said Gorham, who was yelling for Ward to give himself more room against an experienced bull. “But looking at his face, he was in total control.”
Gorham explained experienced fighting bulls like the one Ward faced in the short round tend to “prey on the slightest of mistakes.”
Ward was mistake-free.
By the end of the bullfight, Gorham was focused on Ward’s facial expressions and body language, which told him Ward was in control the whole time.
“That’s what it takes,” Gorham said. “You gotta believe in yourself or you better not get out there.”
Besides youth, Gibson and Ward have one other common bond. Gorham had never seen, much less heard of them prior to entering an AFB event.
However, their success illustrates why Gorham has structed AFB events in a way that gives bullfighters like them an opportunity to prove themselves.
“How do we know how many people there are out there like that if we don’t give them all a chance?” asked Gorham.
It is Gorham’s philosophy that young, unknown bullfighters who “don’t want it bad enough” or don’t have what it takes to succeed in matchups with the best pure-bred Spanish fighting bulls will ultimately weed themselves out.
“But if we don’t give them a chance we might be missing huge opportunities,” Gorham added.
Since last year, Gorham has relentlessly searched through social media – Facebook, Twitter and Instagram – and found dozens of bullfighters that he has friended and followed. Dozen more have done the same in seeking out Gorham.
A lot of these young athletes with a rodeo backgrounds have been developing their bullfighting skills from an early age.
“I think the PBR has had a lot to do with that because they’ve given us an opportunity to be noticed,” said Gorham, who is a CBS Sports commentator.
Gorham, Frank Newsom and Jesse Byrne have recorded their weekly Bullfighting 101 lessons for the past few years. Those clips are then broadcast during televised PBR events as well as being available for viewing online.
“It points out that what bullfighters do is something special,” Gorham said, “and that’s got a lot to do with those young kids being interested in it.”
The PBR also hosted the season-opening AFB event at the Ty Murray Invitational in Albuquerque, New Mexico. The bullfights were broadcast on CBS Sports Network and made available online via the PBR’s new Ride Pass platform.
Even with so many young kids interested in pursing cowboy protection, a lot of the bull riding events and rodeos are already taken up with more experienced bullfighters.
Freestyle might not be the easiest way, but it has proven to be the quickest way for unknowns like Gibson and Ward to get noticed and in turn make a name for themselves.
“That’s why I think we’re seeing a lot of them,” Gorham said.
The AFB returns August 1 and 2 in Washington, Missouri, and Mitchell, Nebraska. More events will be announced in the coming weeks.
By KEITH RYAN CARTWRIGHT
The home state crowd in North Dakota got more than just a winning bullfight from Justin Ward.
In the final five-man round of Shorty Gorham’s American Freestyle Bullfighting event Saturday night, in New Town, Ward wanted to sell his second fight of the night with one last cross jump.
The bull caught his foot, knocked him on the ground and then came back around to give him one good shot to the ribs. But Ward knew he had given the crowd and, more importantly, the judges a solid performance prior to the 30-second horn sounding.
He knew it was going to be another good score.
As he ran to the fence, Ward threw his hat and then promptly threw up after getting over the panel.
“Oh yeah, I could feel it,” said Ward, of his battered and bruised ribs. “I threw up pretty good.”
He added, “After I got all the way through the fight and I jumped him – even though I didn’t make that jump – I knew right then and there that title was mine.”
Judges marked him 89 points.
It was the second 89-point effort of the night for Ward and his first AFB win of 2018.
“To do it in North Dakota with a bunch of my friends and family around,” he said afterward, “it was outstanding. There is no better feeling in the world.”
He added, “It was a really good night for me.”
Ward said his ribs were still a little sore Sunday afternoon “but nothing too bad.”
Saturday’s standalone event at the 4 Bears Casino and Lodge was a 15-man event with the top five scores drawing a second bull to determine the event’s winner.
Ryker Fenstermaker, Evan Allard, Tanner Brantley and Mason Sheldon rounded out the Top 5.
New Town unofficially closed out the first half of the AFB season. The next two events are scheduled for Washington, Missouri, and Mitchell, Nebraska, on August 1 and 2 respectively.
Ward said he talked with Gorham after winning New Town and hopes to compete at a few AFB events that will be announced later this month.
“I am so appreciated that he lets me come to these events,” Ward said.
With a win in New Town and a second place finish in Deadwood, South Dakota, Ward has proven himself to be among the top consistent and young freestyle bullfighters, who have dominated the 2018 season.
Ward was reluctant to predict he’ll be among the Top 5 when the rankings are released, but, he said, “When I enter up in these deals I don’t show up to take second. I wouldn’t enter if I didn’t believe I could win each and every one of them. I know that’s not always the case. It’s about drawing the bull and putting on a good bullfight, but when that chute opens I have no doubt in my mind that I am going to give it the best I got.”
Saturday night he actually preferred having no idea which bull was even coming out of the shotgun chute when it opened.
In fact, he still does not even know the name of either bull he fought.
He just reacted in the moment.
“The order you were in the list is the number (bull) you fought,” Ward explained. “Whatever bull was in front of you at the time is the one you fought.
“I would way-rather have it that way. You can’t think about it. You don’t know what he does, so you can’t stretch yourself out. You just go out there and do the best you can. It’s just you and the bull.”
It is indeed.
Which is why Shorty Gorham’s American Freestyle Bullfighting has become known as the most dangerous dance on dirt.
By KEITH RYAN CARTWRIGHT
Justin Ward finished second at Shorty Gorham’s American Freestyle Bullfighting event in Deadwood, South Dakota.
This weekend, the AFB returns to the Dakotas.
Gorham will be hosting a 15-man, two-round, one-night-only outdoor standalone event at the 4 Bears Casino and Lodge in New Town, North Dakota.
Ward, who attended nearby Dickinson State University, will highlight Saturday night’s draw with an eye on making to the five-man short round and claiming the victory.
“There’s going to be a lot of people from around this area going up there,” said Ward, who now makes his home in Richardton, which is 20 miles due east of where he attended college. “It’s incredible that all these people that I call friends and family from North Dakota actually get to come, so it’ll be pretty cool.”
His parents and other folks from his hometown of Mabel, Minnesota, saw him in Deadwood – “that was the first time they got to see me freestyle in-person” – and now his adopted rodeo family will have the same opportunity.
Colton Moler, Garrett Wilkinson, Dylan Idleman, Andres Gonzalez, Chance Moorman, Sylas Stendar, Chase Crowder, Tanner Brantley, Mason Sheldon, Brody Smith, Bradley Redfearn, Bracken Gittins, Trenton Ross and Conner Rowley will be competing along with Ward.
The bulls will be coming from Wild and Reckless Fighting Bulls in Montana.
Ward, 22, has called North Dakota home for the past four years.
In high school, his rodeo team competed in a Wisconsin conference.
Mabel is located in the southeast corner of Minnesota – three miles from Iowa and 30 miles from the Wisconsin border. High school rodeos in Wisconsin predominately took place in border cities along the Mississippi River, whereas the Minnesota high school rodeos were mostly up north.
Ward won the Wisconsin high school steer wrestling title in 2013.
He attended Dickinson State on a rodeo scholarship and studied agricultural business. He qualified for the College National Rodeo Finals, however, after two years, he left the team to focus on bullfighting.
Ward had done some cowboy protection as a junior in high school, but was untrained until he attended a school taught by Nathan Jestes and Al Sandvold.
While attending the school, Ward “learned there was a need for a bullfighter in North Dakota, so (he) kept with it” and quickly “decided it was a better path” for his career.
Then he began freestyle bullfighting.
“I like the money,” joked Ward, before he added, “Instead of taking the hit for somebody else you get to pizzazz it up a little bit and make it look pretty cool for the crowd.”
Ward will have an opportunity to claim his first AFB win and, in the process, line his pockets with some money on Saturday night. The New Town event will take place from 7 – 9 p.m.
By KEITH RYAN CARTWRIGHT
On the heels of a trio of open freestyle bullfighting wins earlier this year, 18-year-old rookie Tucker Lane MacWilliam earned his first professional win at one of Shorty Gorham’s American Freestyle Bullfighting events.
Competing in a freestyle event for the first time in his home state, MacWilliam brought the Missouri crowd to its feet with an 88-point effort in a match up with Jimmy Johns.
“It was nice to be able to perform at home,” MacWilliam said, “and come away with a win over some really nice competition.”
He added, “My family weren’t able to make it out with the weather conditions, but, I guess, if there was any added pressure at all, it was performing in front of Evan Allard. He’s a three-time World Champ and he’s a really big role model of mine, so performing in front of him added a little bit to it.”
MacWilliam briefly met Allard at the AFB event in Gonzales, Texas.
In Missouri, MacWilliam got up the courage to let Allard know he would love to be part of his Hookin A Ranch team.
“He didn’t guarantee anything, but he said there’s always a possibility to join the team,” MacWilliam recalled. “He did tell me there are not a lot of guys he likes to help, but he likes helping Noah Krepps because Noah’s got the talent and the want to win. He said he sees that in me too.
“That’s goes a long way to hear somebody who has been there and had success, to say he sees the potential and want-to in me.”
Along with MacWilliam, Allard and Krepps fellow Missouri natives Myles Essick and Coy Danison highlighted the eight-man draw. Danison will be a high school senior this coming fall.
MacWilliam said his bullfight, in Sullivan, Missouri, went just as he expected it.
In fact, 2018 high school graduate said his event-winning performance was a mirror image move-for-move of a practice pen matchup – “after going back and watching the film of both, I basically did the exact same thing twice” – two nights before the performance.
Thursday’s event was a one-round, high-mark wins, so MacWilliam kept things simple and mistake-free, so he stayed in his circle and focused on having a fundamentally sound performance.
And whenever he did get pushed out in front of Jimmy Johns, MacWilliam said he kept his feet moving.
“I knew that going into it I had to keep that bull’s attention for as much of the 30-seconds as I could,” said MacWilliam, who had previously seen all eight bulls at another freestyle event. “That way I could get a decent score. I didn’t want to create too much space because I knew that bull would leave.”
MacWilliam will be competing in an invite-only freestyle bullfight in San Angelo, Texas, before returning to Missouri, on August 1, for another AFB event in Washington, Missouri.
However, the next AFB event is June 30, in New Town, North Dakota, at the Four Bears Casino.
By KEITH RYAN CARTWRIGHT
Jen Jeanes did not look happy when she elbowed her husband.
“What are doing?” she asked, as Robert Blue Jeanes collected fees from freestyle bullfighters at one of his open events back in January.
She followed up with, “Why did you let that baby enter?”
The bullfighter she was referring to was Tucker Lane MacWilliam.
At the time, Robert said MacWilliam did not even look like he was 16 when in fact he was already 18-years-old and had driven down to Texas from Missouri.
Robert told his wife, “I been hearing he’s real good.”
She rolled her eyes.
“And looked like she wanted to kill me,” Robert recalled.
By the end of the night, MacWilliam won the round. He won the second round the following night and, in turn, won that event. In fact, MacWilliam has entered three open freestyle bullfighting events promoted by Robert. He’s won five of six rounds, won two of the three events outright and split the other win.
Looking back, Robert remembers MacWilliam’s hat looked like it was brand new and “he dressed like a kid.”
He was skinny, lanky “and looked like he ought to be playing the flute in the high school band,” Robert said.
MacWilliam graduated from high school in May.
After his second consecutive win, Robert called Shorty Gorham.
Gorham still remembers the conversation.
Months later, Gorham laughed when recalling Jen was originally not very happy with Robert, but he remembers Robert described MacWilliam as “a pretty handy.”
Robert, who produces five or six open freestyle events every year, provides opportunities with his events specifically for young kids, who are just starting their careers.
“I’m finding out who can play and who can’t,” said Robert, who also told Gorham, “This boy’s got it.”
Gorham will find out Thursday night in Sullivan, Missouri.
MacWilliam is one of eight freestyle bullfighters entered in the event and one three from Missouri. Coy Danison and Myles Essick are the other two.
* * * * *
Tucker Lane MacWilliam, 18, was named after the late Lane Frost.
His parents were fans of the movie “8 Seconds” and while they wanted his first name to be Lane, his mother could not find a suitable middle name that naturally fit with Lane MacWilliam.
That’s how he eventually wound up being Tucker Lane.
He grew up in Oak Grove, which is 35 miles east of Kansas City along Interstate 70.
MacWilliam watched the PBR on television – Missouri cowboy Luke Snyder was among his favorites – and when his parents took him to his first rodeo, he thought bull riding “looked like a lot of fun.”
“So I gave it go,” said MacWilliam, who loved the adrenaline rush and loved being able to be a cowboy. “I rode steers and worked my way up through the bull riding system and then just quit having fun. Looked for something else.”
That something else turned out to be bullfighting.
MacWilliam made the transition two years ago when he “landed right in harm’s way” at an event in Kansas.
“I just remember seeing the guy step up and take what should have been mine,” MacWilliam recalled. “He was so humble about it and made like it wasn’t a big deal. I decided then that that’s what I wanted to do.”
He had previously been to a rodeo Bible camp as a bull rider. They also taught bullfighting, so used those camps to and develop his skills. He said he prepares himself by watching lots of videos and he’s attended other rodeo schools as well, including one hosted by Lyle Sankey.
This summer marks two years as a bullfighter.
His career in cowboy protection had been progressing, but once he started freestyle bullfighting, the contractor whose amateur events MacWilliam was working would not allow him time off in order to pursue both.
MacWilliam had to pick one or the other.
He chose freestyle.
“I told him I could not miss this opportunity to be a professional,” MacWilliam said. “I lost a lot of rodeos for it, but I don’t regret it either.”
As mentioned earlier, he’s been to a trio of open freestyle events in Texas.
And unlike the other rodeo promoter, Robert has helped MacWilliam not only develop and grow as a freestyle bullfighter, but he’s also helped the youngster gain the attention of Gorham.
He made his professional debut at Shorty Gorham’s American Freestyle Bullfighting event in Gonzales, Texas, and, Thursday night, he will fight professionally in his home state for the first time.
He plans to what he’s done all year, stick to the fundamentals.
“I knew the basic of it and that was kind of my game plan—just to keep it as basic as possible,” said MacWilliam, who is working to master the fundamentals of the sport. “It worked out.”
By KEITH RYAN CARTWRIGHT
American freestyle bullfighting is a relatively unknown sport in Missouri.
But like it says on the license plates of the “show me state,” Ben Prilwetz is working to expose the sport to a new audience and, in turn, introduce fellow Missouri natives to one of the most popular sports among longtime rodeo fans in other parts of the country.
After hosting a smaller open bullfighting last year, in Sullivan, Missouri, Prilwetz has teamed with Shorty Gorham’s American Freestyle Bullfighting and will sanction an eight-man, best score on one wins.
“When I was fighting bulls there really wasn’t a lot of freestyle,” Prilwetz said. “For us guys here in the Midwest, we had to travel far away to get it. There was nothing. Honestly, right now, in Missouri, there’s still not.” Prilwetz added, “Now I have a platform to help bring it back, so I want to definitely be part of that.”
Gorham, who was born and raised in California and now resides in Cotulla, Texas, is a national brand and because of his association with the PBR – Gorham provides cowboy protection in the arena and a CBS commentator on television – he’s something of a household name in Missouri. The PBR annually hosts sold out bull riding events in St. Louis and Springfield, Missouri.
Gorham is sanctioning Thursday night’s freestyle bullfighting event in Sullivan, which also features a bull riding and bronc riding event on Friday.
The freestyle draw includes Noah Krepps and Evan Allard, both of whom were part of Gorham’s original Magnificent Seven bullfighters, as well as Dylan Idleman, Sylas Stender and Daniel Unruh. It will also feature a trio of Missouri bullfighters: Myles Essick, Tucker Lane MacWilliams and Coy Danison.
Danison will be a senior in high school this fall. However, when Prilwetz first saw Danison compete, he said, “I felt like I was watching a seasoned veteran, and that was last year.”
This will be Danison’s first major freestyle bullfighting event.
With the emergence of AFB, Gorham said he felt the Sullivan event was a good opportunity to partner with a promoter like Prilwetz.
Prilwetz s a retired bullfighter. He fought professionally from 2004 until September 2016. In addition to judging PBR Velocity events, Prilwetz is in his sixth year promoting events.
“I looked up to Shorty,” he said.
Prilwetz said watching old school freestyle videos “is one of the things that drew me to (bullfighting) as a child,” but the sport did not reemerge until he was on the backside of his own career. Now he’s working to introduce it to Missourians. Along with the Sullivan event, Prilwetz will sanction another AFB event, in Washington, Missouri, in August.
“It was fun to do,” said Prilwetz, of his own time competing at freestyle events. “It’s even better to watch as a spectator.”
He added, “I’m glad to be part of the AFB and growing that.”
Following the Sullivan event on Thursday, June 21, Shorty Gorham’s American Freestyle Bullfighting will be at the Four Bears Casino, in New Town, North Dakota, on June 30.
By KEITH RYAN CARTWRIGHT
There were no words of wisdom.
There was no inspirational speech.
Cade Gibson, 20, simply motived himself to win Shorty Gorham’s American Freestyle Bullfighting event this weekend, in Deadwood, South Dakota, with his own actions.
OK, perhaps, it wasn’t so simple after all.
He quit his fulltime construction job.
“If you’re going to chase your dream,” Gibson said, “you have to make a sacrifice”
Gibson had finished second in back-to-back freestyle events, including the AFB event last month in Gonzales, Texas, when he decided the difference between second and winning was commitment.
When he would have been on a job site, he was training at Fit-N-Wise Rehab Clinic in Denton, Texas. The workouts paid off.
He finished second for a third consecutive time at another AFB event in Granbury, Texas, before traveling to Deadwood for this weekend’s AFB event, which was held in conjunction with a PBR event.
“It’s been a long couple of months,” Gibson said. “I was blessed to take second, but it got aggravating after a while.”
He said he prayed about his decision to go all-in.
And, ultimately, had faith in himself to do it.
Three consecutive second place finishes might break other freestyle bullfighters, but Gibson remained mentally strong and focused on pushing through, especially in Deadwood.
“Two months of freestyle every weekend, it wears on you,” he said. “It starts playing mind games with you and that’s where guys start to break.”
“It just fuels my fire.”
In the week leading up to Deadwood, he pushed through a pair of grueling workouts on Monday and Tuesday despite being beat up and wore out after taking a hooking in Granbury. He was contending with a sore sternum, but said focused on why he was at the gym.
It was a show of commitment to himself, to his craft and his determination to be in the best shape possible.
It was about creating an opportunity for himself to win.
Deadwood was a two-day AFB event with six bullfighters competing on Friday and the top three returning on Saturday. Gibson finished round one a half-point behind Justin Warren before outscoring Warren in the final round by a half-point for the win.
Gibson said despite being worn down the excitement of the crowd carried him through his final matchup with what he had been told was “a nice bull with a wide set of horns.”
Warren told Gibson beforehand the bull would bite on a fake.
“And he dang sure did,” said Gibson, “but (the bull) made me work for it.”
Following the first whistle the bull trailed off, so Gibson set him up for a jump to sell his fight and pick up the win. As he went to him, it lifted its head up about four inches. Gibson told himself, “We’re either going to get over him or this is really going to hurt.”
He added, “It worked out.”
Gibson cleared his head, came over the left shoulder and stuck the landing.
The win could not have come at better time. Gibson plans to take the next couple weeks off before he’s back to providing cowboy protection. His next AFB won’t be until August 1 in Washington, Missouri.
“It felt good to end it on a high note,” Gibson said, “and let my body heal up and just go bust tail in the gym. I just have to prepare my mind, my body, eat right and stay healthy.”
The AFB will be in Sullivan, Missouri, on June 21 and then New Town, North Dakota, at the Four Bears Casino on June 30.
By KEITH RYAN CARTWRIGHT
Andrès Gonzalez has never been to South Dakota.
But he’s going to Deadwood this weekend to make a name for himself.
Last month, the California native traveled to Uvalde, Texas, for one Shorty Gorham’s American Freestyle Bullfighting events. He didn’t quite win, but afterward Gorham talked about the newcomer as if he had.
At the time, the veteran said he was impressed with Gonzalez but wanted to if he could be same the same kid he saw compete in Uvalde the next time his name was called and, well, every single time thereafter.
That’s what Gorham is looking for from Gonzalez.
“Yes sir,” Gonzalez said. “I believe it.”
He added, “That obviously gives me more motivation, more enthusiasm to get after it. … That means I have to do better than I did in Uvalde, so he knows I’m the crazy man.”
Uvalde was only the second time Gonzalez was in the draw for a freestyle bullfight and this weekend’s event in Deadwood is only third time and it comes just one day after Gonzalez, who is celebrating his birthday on Thursday, turns just 21-year-old.
Like Gonzalez, this is the first AFB event in the Black Hills and, likewise, a unique event set in an old school setting with wooden bucking chutes.
Gonzalez is one of six bullfighters scheduled for Friday night with three of them fighting their way into the championship round on Saturday night. Gorham’s event will be held in conjunction with the Deadwood PBR event also taking place Friday and Saturday night.
Gonzalez is from a small town, Woodland, 15 miles northwest of Sacramento.
He looked up to one of his uncles who rode bulls in the PRCA and originally planned to ride bulls as well, but those plans changed when he was 15. Gonzalez was at a local open event and they needed a bullfighter to help with cowboy protection.
“And my buddy just kind of threw me in there,” recalled Gonzalez, who added, “He knew I was the crazier one at the show and I went in there.”
He tried his best to help, but in hindsight he “just ran in circles” and did whatever else he could on instinct.
He liked it enough that he “decided to stick with it” and only recently – last October – got involved in freestyle bullfighting.
Not unlike many other young bullfighters, Gonzalez said it’s been tough booking rodeos and bull riding events, so he thought he would try to make a name for himself in the freestyle arena.
In relatively short order he caught Gorham’s attention.
“Thank God,” exclaimed Gonzalez, who is also slated to compete in an AFB event in Washington, Missouri, on August 1. In the meantime, he wants Gorham to see that he’ll give it 120 percent every single time he goes one-on-one with a Spanish fighting bull.
By KEITH RYAN CARTWRIGHT
The first time Myles Essick ever tried his hand at freestyle, he was just happy to get a place in the draw for one of Shorty Gorham’s American Freestyle Bullfighting events.
That was last year, in Gonzales, Texas.
Essick finished second.
So it comes with little surprise the Missouri native won the AFB event in his return to Gonzales one year later.
“It was something else coming back and winning it,” Essick said.
It came down to a five-man short round in which the 19-year-old admitted, “I was kind of clueless – honestly – going in there.”
He had never seen Run Gun, which was a new Mexican fighting bull from Gorham’s own Lights Out.
Nativity played in his favor.
Rather than planning to set up any tricks or trying to woo the crowd, he stuck to the basics of a good ground-game and “wanted to do everything right.”
Essick was confident and motivated after scoring 86 points in the long round earlier that night in a matchup with Tactical Advantage. He had seen the bull at previous AFB events, but it was his first time going one-on-one with him in the arena.
“I stuck in his face and made him fight me,” said Essick, despite what he described as an “epic fail” when he tried jumping Tactical Advantage only to wind up doing a cartwheel in midair. “The crowd loved it.”
Looking back, Essick said he did not do anything different from a year ago.
He’s more experienced and focused on doing what he does as best he can. He also drew well and, ultimately, made the most of his bulls.
He hustled and, damn right, he kept digging.
“Not cheating myself and not giving up,” Essick added.
A year ago, like this past weekend, he showed the grit that comes with giving 100 percent. Last year, Essick joked, he spent more time in the air than on the ground and “the crowd loved it.”
Last year, proved to be a great opportunity to show Gorham and others what he was made of. It led to Gorham naming Essick among the first seven bullfighters he signed to AFB. This year, was an opportunity to prove he belonged on that list and although he got “tossed around” his inherent “power not to quit” paid off on Saturday night.
Going forward, Essick said he’s motivated to keep pushing and to keep doing what he loves—American freestyle bullfighting. He’s in the best shape of his life and able to perform the best he can.
And now he knows the difference between competing and actually knowing how to win.
Sometimes you have to be willing to take a chance.
“You gotta have a good start and you’ve got to have a good sell,” Essick concluded. “If the fight’s going wrong and I’m not going to win, I’m sure enough going to make sure I sell some tickets.”
By KEITH RYAN CARTWRIGHT
If bull riding legend Jerome Robinson has been heard saying it once, he’s said it a million times.
“There’s only one Saturday night a week.”
And this coming Saturday night, Shorty Gorham’s American Freestyle Bullfighting will be in Gonzales, Texas, for the second year in a row.
It’s a one-night, two-round event with 20 freestyle bullfighters vying for the win. Five will make it back for a sudden death round to determine this year’s event winner.
Gonzales comes on the heels of last week’s three-day event in Uvalde.
“Man, I thought there was a lot of kids there that nobody really knew before that,” said Gorham, of the roster of relative newcomers who fought bulls in Uvalde, “and when it was over with, I thought there was a lot of kids everybody was going to know.”
One of those newcomers was Garrett Ryals.
The Arkansas native had a solid week and won the event largely because he used his athleticism and cardio training to jump the length of all three of his bulls right out of the chute and then sold all three matchups with a second flat-footed jump from side to side.
Gorham really liked his demeanor and the way Ryals carried himself among the veterans and more experienced freestyle bullfighters.
“You could tell he had that confidence even though it was his second bullfight,” Gorham said. “The guy is an athlete. He … never got winded.”
Ryals won it with an 88.5-point effort against The Patriot.
Gorham had the pen stocked with pure-bred Spanish fighting bulls from his own Lights Out as well as a truck from both Evan Allard and Brett Hull.
“Everybody had a chance to win something,” said Gorham, who thought the four-bull short-round was the best he’s seen firsthand in a long time, “and that, to me, that’s the most important thing when you’re putting on an event, everybody’s got to have a chance to win.”
He added, “I was pretty pleased.”
However, the two youngsters he could not say enough about were Chance Pruitt and Andres Gonzalez.
“He did a superman (jump) over the bull right out of the gates in the championship round,” said Gorham, of Pruitt, who is only 16-years-old, “and then had a heck of fight going.”
Gorham explained, “That is probably the best bull we own and that kid was handling it like an old veteran. The kid’s got a bright, bright future. … He’s the most impressive 16-year-old bullfighter I’ve ever seen.”
Gorham had never even heard of Pruitt before last week.
Noah Krepps recommended the youngster and told Gorham, “He’s either going to be 90 or get hooked, but he’s going to lay it all on the line every time. He was absolutely correct.”
Gorham said he saw Pruitt hang his head afterward when he didn’t win.
He chatted with the youngster and asked if he truly understood what he had accomplished last weekend. Gorham is hoping the reality will have set in this week and is interested in seeing how Pruitt responds a week later.
Like Pruitt, Gorham will be looking to see how consistent Gonzalez is from one event to the next.
“Those are two people to really keep an eye on to see if, as young kids, do they have the consistency,” Gorham rhetorically asked.
By KEITH RYAN CARTWRIGHT
Evan Allard likes to push boundaries.
He was the first freestyle bullfighter to do a knee fake. Everyone followed his que. First to do a knee fake? Yeah, that was Allard. He was also the first to turn his back to the shotgun chute and call for his bull using a mirror. Since then it’s been attempted using a cellphone, but, yes, he was the first to that too.
“About any trick that’s been done so far,” Allard said, “I’ve done in the past.”
But, for years, he’s had another trick in mind.
He’s daydreamed about jumping a purebred Spanish fighting bull on a pogo stick.
When he heard Shorty Gorham was going to offer money for the best trick at this past weekend’s American Freestyle Bullfighting event, Allard decided it was time to pack his own pogo stick and bring it along with him to Uvalde, Texas.
“I’m getting close to the end of my freestyle career,” said Allard, who seized the moment much like professional skater Tony Hawk did when he became the first person in history to land 900 on vert ramp.
Allard never once mentioned his pogo stick idea to anyone. Only Gorham knew and that was because Allard wanted to confirm he could use a prop.
Gorham replied, “Oh hell yeah.”
“I thought about it nonstop for about six days,” said Allard, who repeatedly played it out in his mind. “It went just exactly like I planned it.”
Which is to say, it went a hell-of-a-lot better than it did when he was jumping stationary bales of hay. There were times he would bounce right back toward the barrel he jumped from and other times he would spring to right or left of the hay bale. Or he would miss the foot pegs all together.
“It’s in your timing,” Allard said. “If you jump too late, he hits you on the way down. If you jump too early, he hits you after … you’ve landed. I mean, it’s all timing.”
On the first night, Allard kept his prop concealed under a blanket.
No one noticed.
Later that night, he laid it in the back Robbie Hodges truck. Even the barrel man had no idea it was there.
Once he finally grabbed it before walking into the arena, it took 23 other freestyle bullfighters a few minutes to realize what he was going to do with it.
Originally Allard thought about keeping it inside the barrel and selling his fight with a pogo-style jump in the waning seconds of the fight. Gorham convinced him otherwise and Allard decided to open with it by calling for his bull while standing atop the barrel.
The crowd did not entirely understand what was about to happen the first night until after he successfully jumped his bull. The second night was less of surprise.
But they still rose to their feet when he successfully completed the trick.
“I wasn’t really that aware,” said Allard, of the reaction. “Everybody said they went nuts, but I guess I had other things on my mind.”
A jump like that made the rest of the fight an easy display of fundamentals.
“I wasn’t worked up about the rest of the bull fight at all,” said Allard, who appreciates Gorham’s willingness to put up the extra money in an effort to push the boundaries of the sport.
Gorham intends to offer a best trick reward again this weekend at his American Freestyle Bullfighting event in Gonzales, Texas.
By KEITH RYAN CARTWRIGHT
Garrett Ryals was the last man added to Shorty Gorham’s most recent American Freestyle Bullfighting event. He was also among the most inexperienced freestyle bullfighters on a roster of 24.
But he wanted it just as much as anyone.
It being an opportunity not just to compete, but to win.
In fact, Ryals, 25, had been messaging and calling Gorham for a few months hoping a spot in the draw would not only open up, but that Gorham would select him from among those not already competing.
When Stanley “Ray Ray” Taylor pulled out of the Uvalde, Texas, event, Ryals got the call he had been hoping for.
The Uvalde event was only the second freestyle event Ryals had ever entered.
He knew his fundamentals were not as smooth as some of the veteran bullfighters, so he used the one thing he had more of than anyone else competing — stamina. Ryals trains damn-near every single day and after hearing a pair of his heroes – Weston Rutowski and Cody Webster – tell him the only way to win is to put the work in, he trained all that much harder.
He had been doing extra leg workouts, riding a bike and regularly training with his altitude breathing mask.
In a three-day event like Uvalde, the training and the cardio paid off.
It also helped that with his athleticism Ryals could jump bulls with the best of them.
Rather than relying a ground-game that he did not think was good enough to score him among the top bullfighters, much less win the event, he made a bold decision to jump his bulls – all three of them he faced – right out the chute and again at the end to sell each fight.
“Knowing I don’t have all the fundamentals,” Ryals said. “like the rest of these guys have – even the young kids have more groundwork than I do – I knew what I had.”
His first jumps were from head to toe and brought the crowd to their feet – “you got to win the crowd before you win the fight” – a and each of the second jumps were side to side over the shoulders.
Not an easy feat to do once. Let alone six times in three nights.
Ryals felt like it gave him two or three more points each night.
“That’s what I really believe got me through to the top four,” he said.
He had a bull from Brett Hall on Thursday night that “bumped him around,” but his 78.5 points was enough to advance to the round of eight. On Friday, Ryals said his bull had him moving more than either of the other nights, “but (he) never got winded.”
Ryals admitted his legs had finally weakened midway through the final round Saturday night and once The Patriot got him near the fence, he was heading out to the barrel when he heard several fellow bullfighters yelling for him stay away from the barrel.
Ryals could hear Robbie Hodges and several others yelling, “Don’t go to the barrel … and you’ll win.”
He heard that one word, made two more rounds and managed one last jump. The Patriot is one of the taller Spanish fighting bulls, so Ryals jumped as he were scaling a 10-foot fence with one leap.
He scored 88.5 points.
And, more importantly, he came Uvalde to win and he accomplished what he set out to do — jump his way to a freestyle bullfighting win.
By KEITH RYAN CARTWRIGHT
Alex McWilliams did not have the most technically proficient freestyle bullfight.
It wasn’t even a clean fight without incident.
But – as Shorty Gorham had predicted beforehand – a record-setting crowd of more than 10,000 at The Pit in Albuquerque, rewarded McWilliams with a standing ovation and a $10,000 payday.
The 18-year-old from Paso Robles, California, was selected as the winner of Shorty Gorham’s American Freestyle Bullfighting’s first ever Beast Pit bullfight held in conjunction with the PBR’s annual Ty Murray Invitational.
McWilliams was matched up with a Mexican fighting bull named Gun Runner, on Sunday, while Tristan Seargeant drew Trump Train.
Seargeant had beat out Noah Krepps on Saturday and McWilliams had done the same Friday night when he was paired against Dalton Brody.
Murray had literally dreamt the idea of having a gladiator-like Beast Pit.
Unlike a typical AFB event there were no judges and no scores. The crowd served as judge and jury in what was a four-man $10,000 winner-take-all format in which the bullfighters had to spend a minute inside the arena without climbing the wall.
“It was kind of interesting,” said Gorham, who added, “It went like I expected it to.”
Gorham selected the four toughest bullfighters he had.
And ultimately the crowd reward them for the toughness.
“I kind of thought the guy who got his ass knocked to the ground, but got right back up and went back to the fight, would win it,” Gorham said. “I thought the crowd would have a little more respect for him.
“I think that’s what Ty wanted. He felt like the crowd would pick the guy with the biggest sack and that’s what happened.”
McWilliams advanced Friday night by merely surviving.
Brody took a vicious hit from Mr. Harris in the opening seconds and after being knocked to the opposite end of the arena, the bull tore his jersey completely off. Brody initially got caught up in excitement of the crowd and, despite warnings to the contrary, was fixated on jumping Mr. Harris. Then thought better of it at the last moment. That hesitation proved disastrous.
“I think he would have been better off had he jumped,” Gorham said.
Thankfully Brody, who was boarded from the arena by the medical staff, suffered a concussion and broken ankle in a wreck that looked far worse.
He was at The Pit on crutches both Saturday and Sunday.
On Saturday morning, Brody told his social media followers, “I’ll be back.”
Krepps had a clean fight on Saturday, but the crowd responded to Seargeant’s willingness to be a bit more-risky and the Texas cowboy advanced.
“I thought a guy could get tossed around and beat up,” Gorham said, “and fans might like that better.”
“You need to have an open mind and that’s what’s going to make this thing unique,” said Gorham, of the four-man Beast Pit format.
However, Gorham said he is not going to the format at standalone AFB events, but he’s willing to continue with it at future PBR events.
Although nothing has been confirmed yet, there could be a couple more of AFB events held in conjunction with future PBR events as the season unfolds.
The next two AFB events are scheduled for Uvalde, Texas, from May 10-12, and again in Gonzalez, Texas, on May 19.
Gorham said he’s hoping to announce one more event in May along with a couple in June and one in July as well as a series of standalone AFB events in Texas.
By KEITH RYAN CARTWRIGHT
Shorty Gorham announced two of the six fighting bulls he hauled to Albuquerque, New Mexico – The Spaniard and Helter Skelter – will not be competing at next weekend’s American Freestyle Bullfighting event in Uvalde, Texas, or a week later in Gonzales, Texas.
Gorham said the two most reliable performers he’s had with Lights Out Fighting Bulls are now out in the pasture breeding.
He put them out with 85 cows the last week of March and plans to leave them there for up to four months.
Lights Out has right at 50 bulls ready to compete and Gorham is hoping to eventually grow that number to 100, but said they are at least four years out from that number.
He’ll be hauling White Feather and Mr. Harris along with Patriot, RED Friday, Trump Train and Gun Runner.
“We need some more,” said Gorham, who feels “pretty good” about the Lights Out bull pen today. “We’ll keep skimming off the bottom and trying to add to the top.”
He’s looking for long-term sustainability.
And would like to add 40-50 newly bred bull calves each year.
With 85 heifers in the pasture, he said not all of them will be bred and if half give birth to bull calves, they will add 30-40 this year. But it’ll take four, almost five years to know if any one of them will be the next great Mexican fighting bull.
In the meantime, Gorham also plans to subcontract with other contractors like Evan Allard, who will haul a trailer-load of fighting bulls to the upcoming Texas events.
Lights Out is only a couple years out from having 100 heifers in the pasture.
They plan to hold on to all the heifer calves until they’re 18 months old and then put them in the pasture too. At that point, he’ll to see which of the older heifers have not produced as well as the others and then “cut from the bottom,” so they can “add (heifers) to the top.”
No one ever really knows how a heifer will breed, but they do look at what history teaches as taught them.
Success is ultimately in the genetics.
Gorham is looking for heifers with “a willingness to come to you. I don’t want something that is going to back into a corner.”
If he and others have to “dig them out of a corner,” Gorham said, they’re not mean enough.
In other words, yes, he wants mean momma cows.
“They have the more aggressive genes and you’re looking for stamina,” Gorham said. “The weaker ones will quit.”
Whereas mean cows will “go until they can’t stand up and they’re out of energy,” Gorham added.
As the Lights Out heifers get older, they will turn to their heifer calves in an effort to keep the breeding program moving forward.
It’s a law averages.
Or a numbers game.
Right now, it’s about needing more of everything. That’s why they will wait until next spring or the one after to pull White Feather from competition and put him in the pasture too.
“I think he’s good enough to get what we’re after,” Gorham said.
One thing is certain, with only The Spaniard and Helter Skelter out there now, they will be in “tip top shape” when they return to competition.
By KEITH RYAN CARTWRIGHT
For those who had never seen American freestyle bullfighting, they did not know what to think Friday night seeing Dalton Brody take a direct hit from a Mexican fighting bull named Mr. Harris.
After arriving in Albuquerque and drawing Harris, who has hooked every bullfighter he’s faced, Brody’s friends and fellow bullfighters told him not to try and jump the bull.
But will more than 10,000 people on their feet at The Beast Pit, Brody let his emotions get the better of his common sense.
He wanted to open with a jump.
When the horn sounded and gate opened, Brody ran toward Mr. Harris, started to lift his right leg. Then he actually fell for Mr. Harris’ head fake and thought better of it.
That hesitation, however, proved to be disastrous.
Brody took a direct hit at full speed and wound up flat on his back on the other end of the small pit-like arena.
“Then the bull just camped out on him,” said Shorty Gorham, the founder of Shorty Gorham’s American Freestyle Bullfighting and the organizer of this weekend’s gladiator-like competition held in conjunction with the Ty Murray Invitational, “and this crowd didn’t know what do or what to think.”
Gorham added, “When Alex (McWilliams) came out, it brought a whole new seriousness to the fight. Everyone realized how serious these bulls really are.”
The one man in the arena who knew firsthand what Brody had experienced was McWilliams.
The 18-year-old stopped by the PBR’s exclusive www.RidePass.com commentators and asked Craig Hummer how Brody was.
Hummer only knew he was talking with Dr. Tandy Freeman, but did not have a medical update.
McWilliams stepped into the arena.
And 60 seconds later he advanced to Sunday’s championship round.
Two years ago, in his hometown of Paso Robles, California, was working cowboy protection during a bull riding event when a Mexican fighting bull got loose at the opposite end of the arena. With his back to a bull he did not even know was inside the arena – let alone closing in on him – McWilliams took an unforeseen direct hit to his backside that blindsided the then-16-year-old.
He flipped into the air and landed on the top of his head.
“That’s probably the scariest thing I’ve had happen to me,” said McWilliams, who passed on a trip to the hospital despite having “no power in my arms or my legs. It just felt all weird.”
With help from others, he managed to get to his feet and walk out.
McWilliams said he had been hooked before and thought it was nothing more than a stinger, but in the locker room he could not even manage to unzip his vest or unbutton his long sleeve shirt.
It took three days before he agreed to see a doctor.
McWilliams was surprised to learn he broke his C6 and C7 vertebra.
Doctors told him, had it been the C1 and C2, he would have died in the arena.
An MRI that day indicated he had chipped a piece of bone off his C7, but – provided there is no more trauma to the neck – he avoided surgery and wore a neck brace while it healed.
That was the summer of 2016.
The doctor was unsure if McWilliams would be able to fight bulls again.
And he had just turned 17.
“I thank the Lord,” McWilliams said, looking back. “He had a plan for me and He wanted me to come back, so here I am now. He wanted me to come back and do something.
“I know there’s someone who’s always behind me.”
McWilliams missed four months and was set to return to competition when he crashed his motorbike “being stupid” and broke his arm.
His neck was just fine.
“It held up,” said McWilliams, who went on to win the award as “Top Hand” at a bullfighting school taught by Gorham’s close friends Frank Newsom and Cody Webster. “It’s just been pushing me to be better.”
Even Brody was fine this weekend.
“He’s here, he’s on crutches and he has a very small brace on his ankle,” said Gorham, 24 hours later. When Freeman saw Brody, he grinned and said, “Can’t be too bad.”
Brody said he will be back once his ankle heals.
In the meantime, Alex McWilliams is the winner of the inaugural Beast Pit.
By KEITH RYAN CARTWRIGHT
“I like winning.”
Those were first three words Evan Allard said when talking about freestyle bullfighting.
Allard, who was born and raised in Vinita, Oklahoma, and earned an associate degree in electrical engineering from Oklahoma State University, won his first freestyle world title in 2010 and back-to-back titles in 2014 and 2015.
Legendary freestyle bullfighter Miles Hare said, “(Allard) is every bit as good as we were.”
Allard’s childhood hero was rodeo barrel man Gizmo McCracken, but, at 15, Allard decided to start fighting bulls. That brought an end to his dream of following in McCracken’s footsteps and becoming a barrel man himself, but, at 21, he won his first freestyle title and this time next year he will have been also raising and hauling Mexican fighting bulls for a decade.
In the meantime, he’ll be involved in the next pair of events on the Shorty Gorham’s American Freestyle Bullfighting schedule.
Allard will be among the 25 freestyle bullfighters competing in Uvalde, Texas, on May 10-12 and then hauling bulls to Gonzales, Texas, a week later on May 19.
Allard – already a seasoned veteran among those who will be competing in the most dangerous dance on dirt – will be competing each of the two weekends leading up to the Uvalde event.
“I don’t know,” said Allard, as to whether or not he’ll have an advantage. “There are so many kids right now that I don’t even know. There will be a bunch of them at Uvalde that I’ve never even seen or heard of and they will probably do pretty good. There’s a lot of up-and-coming talent.
“I definitely have some experience on my side, but I’m getting older and I’m getting sore.”
One thing is certain, he’s confident in his own abilities.
And the only time he’s nervous is when he’s hauling bulls to an event.
His only goal is to see each one of them perform well.
“You don’t want to haul a load of bulls there and the crowd be disappointed,” Allard said. “If the bulls are good, the bullfight will be good. If a bullfighter gets hooked or goes 90 it’s good. If a bull sucks, the whole event sucks.”
Ultimately, with more than $1 million invested in his fighting bull program, Allard wants to be considered a dependable contractor.
He raised the reigning PRCA Fighting Bull of the Year, so he’s certainly worthy of being described as consistent.
That said, winning as a freestyle bullfighter and raising a top-ranked fighting bull are entirely different accomplishments.
And neither feels the same for Allard.
“I get more nervous when my bulls are going than when I’m fighting bulls,” Allard said, “but I like the competition factor when I’m fighting.”
He added, “I like competing and then winning.”
Allard’s winning attitude is what attracted Gorham not once but twice.
Gorham reached out to Allard when he needed bulls to help build the Lights Out Fighting Bulls program from scratch. The Oklahoma contractor sold Lights Out several fighting bulls, including The Spaniard.
If he’s not the greatest fighting bull of his era, The Spaniard is definitely the most infamous.
Allard, whose own program has evolved and been more fully developed over the past few years, is not surprised Lights Out has been able to establish itself so quickly, especially with Gorham’s involvement.
“Him being involved is a big step in the right direction because they have somebody who knows what’s going on,” Allard said. “When you do things right, good things happen.”
Allard and Gorham have known one another for quite some time.
The two, who first became familiar with one another as bullfighters, are not competitive with one another — even if they easily could have been.
Allard provides cowboy protection for PRCA rodeos, while Gorham is a veteran of PBR events. Allard likes to freestyle. Gorham has never participated. As contractors, they see each other as allies as opposed to rivals.
Back-to-back AFB in Uvalde and Gonzales created an opportunity for Allard.
And he was glad to accept Gorham’s offer to haul bulls.
“He could have brought some other guys in,” Allard said, “but he picked me, so that means he must think my bulls are pretty good. A lot of times there’s jealousy that goes on with guys and I’m glad that’s not the case.
“We get a long good and I want to continue to get along good.”