From big scores to bigger wrecks, three Bullfighters Only events had it all
The opening weekend of the 2017 Bullfighters Only season lived up to what everyone expected.
With three events spread across North America, freestyle bullfighting’s best put on a show in Brighton, Fla.; Red Deer, Alberta; and San Angelo, Texas.
“It was the perfect way to kick off our season,” said Aaron Ferguson, founder and CEO of Bullfighters Only. “We crowned our first three champions and had great crowds at all three events.”
Daryl Thiessen of Elm Creek, Manitoba, won in Red Deer, while Toby Inman of Davis Junction, Ill., took the title in Florida. Zach Call – one of three men to fight in both Brighton and San Angelo – claimed the west Texas title.
“When I saw the first bull come out in San Angelo, I knew they were going to be a great set,” said Call of Thedford, Neb. “I knew I was going to have to hold up my end of the deal if I wanted it to end well.”
Call did his part, scoring 87.5 points to win San Angelo. Schell Apple of Fay, Okla., was second, while the No. 1 man in the BFO, Weston Rutkowski, was third. All three had solid bulls, animals that kept the action tight. In fact, Rutkowski’s bull got the better of him, hooking him in the corner and dropping him to the ground.
“Some days are diamonds, then some days you get thrown against the wall, get beat up, get your vest and shirt ripped off you and have to go back to the fight,” he said. “It’s not how long you’re down but how you finish.”
Like most bullfighters, Rutkowski wears a padded vest to protect his torso. The bull got its horn under the vest and ripped it from the bullfighter. Once Rutkowski regained his feet, he went back to the bull and finished the fight by jumping the animal.
“I was going to jump him no matter what,” he said. “It’s a very humbling sport. One minute you can be on top of your game, and the next you can be under your bull.”
Call didn’t have any problems with his animal, though. In fact, the two danced across the San Angelo Coliseum as if they’d rehearsed. Call remained in control during his fight, making several fakes to keep the aggressive Spanish fighting bull at bay.
“As far as events go, that was one of the best I’ve ever been to,” Call said. “The crowd was really into it. While the fight was going on, it felt great. The bull was honest, but he was also extremely hot. He was blowing through all the fakes, so I was able to keep in control.”
While his fight didn’t go as he would have hoped in his return to west Texas, Rutkowski realized just how special it was to compete at the historic stock show and rodeo.
“Zach put on a great fight, and so did Schell (Apple),” Rutkowski said. “I’d rather go to a bullfight with guys like that, ones that are going to be great, especially with great bulls.
“That crowd is a very knowledgeable crowd. They know what a good ride is and a good roping run. I’m not sure if they fully knew what to expect with the freestyle bullfights, but once they watched the first one they knew the danger factor and what all we were going to do.”
Call, Rutkowski and Schell Apple, arrived in San Angelo on Saturday afternoon after flying in from Florida, where they had competed Friday night. That, too, was quite an experience for the bullfighters.
A transportation mishap stalled the initial stock contractor, who was to have a trailer load of Spanish fighting bulls in Brighton. The replacements didn’t make it on time for the Friday bullfight, so Bullfighters Only opted for another option: cross-bred bulls that were already at the rodeo grounds for the Brighton Field Day Festival and PRCA Rodeo.
“We fought big, scary swamp Brahmas that were in the back pens,” Rutkowski said. “There is a big difference between the cross-bloods and the Spanish bulls. With the cross-breeds, we can take the heart out of a bull with three or four fakes. The Spanish bulls are bred to fight, so they won’t quit you.”
The difference could be seen in San Angelo. All three Spanish bulls battled through each 60-second bout, which made for excitement.
“It’s not very often that I can hear a crowd, but I could definitely hear them after I got hooked down,” Rutkowski said. “It shows what a crowd can make a guy do. These people wanted to see a show, and there wasn’t anything that was going to stop us from putting one on.”