People still call them rodeo clowns, but there is nothing funny about the job that bullfighters do.
Their job is not only serious; it is literally life or death, for themselves and for the cowboys that they protect.
The rodeo clown name arose in the early 1900s when they were employed to fill voids in the rodeo action.
It was not a profession at that time, so when the rodeo rolled into town someone would put on some oversize farmer clothes and a little face paint and go out and entertain the crowd.
Eventually, some people decided that they could make a living being a rodeo clown and developed a recognizable persona of makeup and clothing.
They also took on more duties, such as cowboy protection and carrying on a constant banter with the announcer.
With the advent of the modern, specialized bucking bull, cowboy protection became more important and became its own specialty and the “funny man aspect” evolved into the barrelman.
These days, to use clown make up or wear baggies is totally up to the individual bullfighter.
Some do not like makeup and baggies because of the connotation to the rodeo clowns of the past and some believe it is part of their trademark.
With any endeavor that requires a lot of skill, people will eventually want to compete to see who is the best.
That is how rodeo started and that is how competitive, freestyle bullfighting got its start.
From 1981 to early 2000, Wrangler sponsored a bullfighter tour, culminating in a world champion competition at the NFR.
Wrangler discontinued the tour in early 2000, and if you have been to the Greeley Stampede and seen cowboy protector Lance Brittan from Windsor, Colo., you have seen the last Wrangler World Champion Bullfighter.
There have been attempts to resurrect some sort of freestyle bullfighting, but, except for the Salinas Championship in California, nothing has really stuck.
Into that empty space stepped an American bull fighting partnership of promoters, Mark Reinert and Wes Sargent and stock contractor Kevin Rich.
“We were talking about the Wrangler bullfights and how wildly popular they were,” said Mark Reinert. “They stopped doing the tour in the 90s and there has been a void there for a long time. There are little organizations that will still do them but our concept was not necessarily to bring bullfights back to the way they were, but kind of our own concept of doing heats and having occasional added elements.”
Reinert and Sargent have put on the Roundup at the Fort, and both have extensive experience with the Greeley Stampede.
Sargent has been the Grand Marshal and his wife, Trudy, is currently the general chairman, and Mark Reinert was the Night Show chairman and also served as the general chairman.
The third member of the partnership is promoter and stock contractor Kevin Rich.
Rich is the promoter for the long running Bull Riding at the Sundance Steakhouse and Saloon, and was a successful PRCA bullfighter.
An exciting event at the Sundance is the King of the Ring series, which features Mexican fighting bulls raised by Kevin Rich.
There is no comparison between the Mexican fighting bull and rodeo bulls.
The Mexican fighting bull is smaller and faster with explosive quickness.
The fighting bull can turn from either end so bullfighters thrown into the air by its speed and power will land on the ground and find themselves face-to-face with the bull that just ran through them.
The major thing that sets the Mexican fighting bull apart from rodeo bulls is their attitude. Mexican fighting bulls are just plain mean.
They have been bred for centuries to want to hurt anything that they see, and they have the stamina and aggressive nature to continue the fight.
Some rodeo bulls can be pretty ill-tempered and Kevin Rich has been breeding these bad tempered animals to his Mexican fighting stock to produce a bigger, more powerful version of the original Mexican fighting bull.
Bullfighters that reach the final round of an American bull fighting event will find themselves staring eye to eye with a bull that is fast, agile, smart, powerful and wants nothing more than to hurt its adversary, the bullfighter.
For those that have never seen a contest between an American bullfighter and a Mexican fighting bull, they are nothing like Mexican bull fights.
Wes Sargent described the difference as, “In Mexico, they try to kill the bull; here the bull tries to kill the bullfighter.”
World champion freestyle bullfighter Evan Allard from Vanita, Okla., says “it’s being in the ring for a minute with a bull that is trying to kill you while you taunt him and egg him on. You get points by allowing that bull to get as close to you as he possibly can without hooking you.”
If you think that a person would have to be a little crazy to do this, you are not alone.
It means something totally different to bullfighter Evan Allard, who said, “it’s an art form to me. It’s special when you are in the pocket with the bull and there is nothing that he can do about it.”
In a contest a number of years ago between bullfighter Tony Scott and a Kevin Rich fighting bull named appropriately, “Six Feet Under”, Scott was mauled and tossed three times over twenty-five feet into the air.
All of this happened in less than forty seconds, with a bull that is not one of the current crop of Rich super-sized crossbreeds. After he recovered, bullfighter Scott said, “I was upside down most of the time just trying not to come down on my head. He kept turning and would be right there waiting for me when I came down.”
As Mark Reinert says, “American bull fighting is kind of like NASCAR where everybody watches because they are waiting for the big wreck. This is nonstop action and there is going to be a wreck. We like to say a good bullfighter is great to watch and a bad one is even better. That is because of that wreck factor.” ❖