The Professional Bull Riders Built Ford Tough Series returns almost to its roots this weekend when it embarks on a three-day affair in Oklahoma City.
Not too many years ago, central Oklahoma hosted the biggest names in the sport in early February during Bullnanza at the Lazy E Arena in rural Guthrie, just a stone’s throw northeast of Oklahoma City.
You see, the PBR wasn’t the first big bull riding. That distinction goes to the George Paul Memorial Bull Riding in Del Rio, Texas; close behind that was Bullnanza, a showcase that introduced the top bull riders in rodeo in a format that was a nice fit for television.
In 1988, officials at the Lazy E teamed with some of the biggest stars in the game to come up with the series, then known as Bullmania. The first show took place in February 1989, and 1987 world champion bull rider Lane Frost was the contestant director whose job it was to pit together the best cowboys against the baddest bulls. Frost was killed later that year while competing at the Cheyenne (Wyo.) Frontier Days Rodeo.
Each of the 30 contestants put up a $1,000 entry fee, and the Lazy E obtained a sponsorship purse of $10,000 to give the cowboys the opportunity to ride for an unprecedented $40,000. From those fantastic beginnings, the PBR was born. Today it thrives as the world’s premier stand-alone bull-riding organization.
At one time, Bullnanza was the epitome of great PBR competition. It was such a big prize that the Lazy E produced several others across the country, from Reno, Nev., to Nashville. It was a major player in the scheme and growth of the PBR.
When the competition takes place this weekend, there will be great familiarity and fantastic nostalgia. I’ll miss seeing Jim Sharp spin his way to his first Bullnanza title, then rave as much as Jim could rave about how cool it was to finally win that championship buckle. I’ll miss seeing a relative unknown named Cory Rasch act like a schoolkid when he won his title.
There will be big money available in Oklahoma City this weekend. But it’s not Bullnanza, and I’ll miss it.