In what is quickly becoming a much-anticipated Black Hills rodeo tradition, the Professional Bull Riders Tour (PBR) returns to the historic Days of ’76 Events Center in Deadwood this weekend with performances on tap for Friday and Saturday nights (7 p.m. both nights).
The initial decision by the PBR to select Deadwood as an ideal location for a PBR event four years ago was predicated on the city's historic western heritage and the idyllic rodeo setting, said Adam Libby of Libby Productions, the event promoter.
“We chose Deadwood because when it comes to putting on an event like this, we wanted a somewhat unique atmosphere, with its unique beauty and history that is equal to how great the PBR is and that quality of bull riding. Deadwood fit that," Libby said. "This is the only PBR with wooden bucking chutes in the world. The Days of ’76 rodeo arena is a great venue, and the rodeo committee and City of Deadwood have been very receptive to our event, which has made coming to Deadwood a very exciting stop for us every year.”
The PBR Touring Pro Division event will include a field of veteran bull riders as well as many young up-and-comers looking to make a name for themselves on the most prestigious bull riding tour in the world.
The Deadwood format will feature each bull rider competing in two long rounds with the Top 10 aggregate scorers from the those two rounds advancing to Saturday night’s championship short go.
Among the top-ranked bull riders on hand will be 26-year-old Chase Outlaw, who currently holds down the No. 3 spot in PBR world standings and is seeking a return trip to the PBR World Finals in November.
As for his choice of bull riding as a profession, the Arkansas cowboy points out that his interest in the highly dangerous sport goes back nearly as far as he can remember.
“I was four years old and I saw it on TV and I thought to myself that I’m going to be a professional bull rider when I grow up, and here we are today,” Outlaw said. “My dad did it a little bit, and we grew up on a farm and had cattle and sheep and I was riding something all the time. And so, when I saw it on TV, I thought that’s me right there.”
A personification of the true grit required to be a professional bull rider, Outlaw was sidelined last summer due to an unexpected face-to-face (literally) encounter with a rank bull in Cheyenne that resulted in the breakage of more than 30 bones in his face, and multiple corrective surgeries. Undaunted, Outlaw came back later in the year to qualify for the world finals, the pinnacle of the sport of bull riding.
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“The PBR is not the oldest association, but if you want to be known as the best professional bull rider in the world, then that’s the PBR,” Outlaw said. “That’s where the best bull riders in the whole world come from, and if you want to be the best, you have to ride with the best.”
As Outlaw’s injuries attest, bull riding and painful wrecks are synonymous with the sport. Only the when, where, and how serious remain unanswered. Dues in the form of injuries will be paid.
Hopefully, 24-year-old Gage Gay is paid in full for the 2019, as the North Carolina man will be making his first PBR appearance this season following January surgery to repair damage to his ACL, MCL and meniscus.
As to thoughts of the possibility of another injury, or perhaps allowing an element of fear in the chute while awaiting an eight-second rendezvous with a rank bull, Gay has no worries.
“You can’t really worry about that. You have to just focus on what you’re doing and let nothing else cross your mind,” Gay said. “As a bull rider you can’t think too much, it’s all a reaction sport and responding to what the bull is doing. We all kind of know the bull’s set pattern and what they usually do, but they are animals and you can never predict what they will do. And they are smart enough that if they feel us on one side wanting them to go one way, they will go the other way and leave you sitting there.”
Despite the late start, Gay remains fully determined to gain a spot in the PBR world finals in November.
“It’s definitely doable,” Gay said. “I watched my buddy Chase last year, who was on the brink of death to be honest in July, and he made the World Finals and finished in the Top 15 in the world. So it’s very doable, but it’s all on me. I have to go do my job.”
As if bull riding was somehow not enough to ramp up the excitement level in Deadwood this weekend, Libby Productions, in conjunction with the PBR, will bring to town bullfighters from the American Freestyle Bullfighters and will match their courage and athleticism jousting one-on-one with Mexican fighting bulls.
Gates open both nights at 5 p.m. Tickets range in price from $11 to $56 and can be purchased at the Days of ‘76 Events Center or online at DeadwoodPBR.com.