LAS VEGAS – Rodeo is a business; in Las Vegas, it’s big business.
The Wrangler National Finals Rodeo has a purse of $6.375 million with nightly payouts of more than $61,000 in each of the eight disciplines. Steer wrestler Kyle Irwin has been taking care of business.
That was most evident in Friday night’s ninth round, where he posted a 4.3-second run to finish in a tie for fifth place with Oklahoman Cole Edge; both men earned $3,984.
“I was going to try to win the round, just like I want to do every night,” said Irwin, 24, of Robertsdale, Ala. “You win the round every night, you’ll win the world (title) at the end. But with Dakota Eldgridge going right before me and being 3.3 (seconds), I’m not going to make a dumb mistake and break the barrier to try to be 3.2.”
A broken barrier – not giving the steer the appropriate head start – results in a 10-second penalty. Sitting fourth in the all-important average race, Irwin didn’t need that type of delay heading into the final night of the 2014 season.
“I should have been a little faster, but I felt like that was a pretty smart business move we made tonight,” said Irwin, who attended Western Oklahoma College and Northwestern Oklahoma State University on rodeo scholarships. “I just need to knock my steer down tomorrow. If I can go out and be fast, make a good run on whatever steer they give me, I can put pressure on those other guys.
He has more than doubled his season earnings in Las Vegas, placing in five rounds, including at least a share of the win on three nights. He has pocketed nearly $62,000 and has moved to fourth in the world standings with $121,647.
He trails leader Luke Branquinho by about $32,000. Branquinho, a four-time world champion, is the average leader and has a stranglehold on his fifth gold buckle. But Irwin is well within reach should something happen Saturday night. He’s placed himself there with a solid performance on the biggest stage in which he has ever competed.
“This has been an awesome experience, no matter what happens from here on out,” Irwin said.
That’s just the way it should be for a man taking care of his business.