SALINAS, Calif. – Since he first strapped on a pair of cleats and decided that bullfighting was his career of choice, Nathan Harp has wanted to win California Rodeo Salinas.
He accomplished that goal over the past few nights of Bullfighters Only competition, winning the championship with a four-fight cumulative total of 325.5 points. He won the first and third rounds, was runner-up in the second round and finished off the week with a third-place finish Sunday.
“I went first (in the final round), so I had to sweat it out and wait for everybody else to go,” said Harp, 26, of Tuttle, Okla. “It’s an honor to be in an elite group of bullfighters that’s won a buckle from here.”
Harp held a one-point lead over Weston Rutkowski of Haskell, Texas, heading into the final day. The Oklahoman posted a 78-point fight to kick-start the afternoon’s competition, and Rutkowski followed two fights later with a 76.
The Texan finished second overall with 322.5 points, followed by Ross Hill of Muscle Shoals, Ala., a point behind Rutkowski. Hill, a 10-year veteran of the Salinas fights, won the final round with an 85-point bout Sunday afternoon.
“I thought Weston or Ross could’ve won it this year,” Harp said. “Both of them were drawing good and putting on great bullfights.”
Salinas has been one of the freestyle bullfighting leaders for years, this year teamed with Bullfighters Only, the top 15 bullfighters in the game who are all battling for the first world championship in the BFO’s inaugural season.
“There’s a lot of history here,” Harp said. “As you’re coming up through the ranks, everybody hears about the top freestyle bullfights, which have been Ardmore (Okla.) and Salinas. Those were the top two bullfights you could go to. Now there are a lot more bullfights, especially with the BFO. That’s great for bullfighting.”
It helps, too, that the men were matched with great bulls that were bred to be part of this kind of fight.
“We only get to see these bulls once a year,” Harp said of the herd in Salinas. “This is the only place they get any outs, so even the older bulls are a lot like fresh bulls. It’s a lot of fun coming out to Salinas. It has beautiful weather, great bulls and a great rodeo.”
And the competition – featuring six of the greatest bullfighters in the game – makes for a true challenge.
“You’re mentally exhausted from the stress of getting ready to freestyle bullfight for four days,” he said. “Winning this title is amazing. To beat some of these guys, it’s definitely a blessing to come out on top.”
Nobody knows better than Harp.
1. Nathan Harp, 325.5 points on four fights
2. Weston Rutkowski, 322.5
3. Ross Hill, 321.5