ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — He’s made a career out of starting every competition on the bottom.
But he’s going to finish that career on top.
And that’s no bull.
“He is the best I’ve ever seen,” Cody Lambert, livestock director of the Professional Bull Riders Built Ford Tough Series, said of Bushwacker – the circuit’s biggest attraction in more ways than one.
“I was real reluctant to say that a couple of years ago. But last year, I finally admitted it. I had watched him enough to make a statement like that. And he’s the very best.”
This weekend, the legendary 1,750-pound bull makes his final appearance at the Ty Murray Invitational in the Pit. The three-day event begins today at 8 p.m. and concludes Sunday.
This is the 12th of 27 stops on the 2014 PBR tour, with the last being the World Finals in October in Las Vegas, Nev. When the season ends, so does Bushwacker’s illustrious career, as he will retire.
Bushwacker – ESPN The Magazine’s Baddest Body in Sports – has left marks on plenty of riders over the years.
Come October, he leaves his mark as the greatest ever. And still at the top of his game.
“That’s how I wanted him to go out,” says Bushwacker’s owner, Julio Moreno. “I relate him to guys like Michael Jordan and Ray Lewis. They went out on top of their game. I want Bushwacker to be known as the all-time greatest.”
The 8-year-old bull from Oakdale, Calif., has won two PBR titles in his five previous seasons. He leads the standings this year.
Bulls, like riders, are judged on each performance and compete for an overall season crown.
But Bushwacker’s titles don’t tell the entire story.
He is to bull riding what Babe Ruth is to baseball. His dominance in the PBR is reminiscent of UCLA’s in college basketball in the late ’60s and early ’70s.
He has been nearly unbeatable.
“I had been on him (eight) times,” said current world champion rider J.B. Mauney, “and that bull is smart enough that he never does the same thing twice, so you can’t set a game plan.”
Still, game plan or not, Mauney did something last year no man had done since 2009 – when Bushwacker was a 3-year-old, 1,400-pound rookie in the PBR.
“The day I rode him, I was wanting him pretty bad,” Mauney, who will miss this weekend’s event with an injury, said of that day in August. “I don’t take losing very good. I told my wife when we left the house, ‘Bushwacker, he’ll be here this weekend.’ And she just kind of looked at me. I said, ‘I’m feeling Bushwacker today,’ and I ended up getting him.
“I just acted like I’d never seen him before, and I didn’t know anything about him. I got it into my head that I wasn’t going to turn loose. He was going to have to knock me off of him or stomp me loose, but I wasn’t going to turn loose.”
Mauney didn’t. His score of 95.25 was the best in PBR history on Bushwacker.
It was only the third score ever registered on Bushwacker. Any qualified ride has to last eight seconds.
“He had, probably, one of his weaker outs,” Moreno said of his brawny bull. “But it was still good. The best way to put it is he was 90 percent, and J.B. was 110 percent that day.”
In 2009, Bushwacker was ridden twice during his first year of competition.
That was it until last August.
Against only the best bull riders, he had a four-year buckoff streak of 42. That shattered the previous mark of 35.
He hasn’t been ridden since the streak ended.
“He’s the most famous athlete in the PBR – man or beast,” Lambert said. “Some bulls give you everything and some are physically gifted. Bushwacker is the most physically gifted – jumps higher, is more athletic – and on top of that, gives the maximum effort every time.
“I don’t know if we’ll ever see another one like him. We haven’t seen a thoroughbred as good as Secretariat or a quarter horse as good as Easy Jet. We may never see another bull as good as Bushwacker.”
Moreno says he and Bushwacker are even more motivated than ever to win another world title after a recent tragedy. Just three weeks ago, Bushwacker’s handler, Kent Cox, committed suicide.
“It makes me sick to my stomach,” Moreno said. “I had to go back to being his handler like when he first started; probably not as good as Kent would have handled him, but I’m just hoping I can finish the year off on a good note. Bushwacker and I both want to win the world championship for Kent.”
And then it’s off to greener pastures. Literally.
“I’ll probably bring him back to Oakdale and have him some girlfriends,” Moreno said. “I’ll find ’bout 20 girls for him to be with and have him retire on a green pasture and just enjoy life.”