Respected barrelman a saving grace in Las Vegas Championship bouts
LAS VEGAS – The cliché of rolling with the punches has never been more applicable than for Andy North.
He’s the barrelman who will be in the arena during the Bullfighters Only Las Vegas Championship, set for Dec. 7-10 and 13-16 at the Tropicana Casino and Resort. He is a safety valve for the freestyle bullfighters in the competition, which begins at 2 p.m. daily. His protection is his 120-pound, aluminum-shell barrel that is padded on the inside and out.
At full speed, a fighting bull can hit the barrel at nearly 20 mph and with enough force to send it end-over-end. It can be brutal for the man inside, despite the padding.
His body already contorted to absorb the impact as much as possible, those shots take their toll. But that’s OK for North.
“I love working the barrel,” said North of Piedmont, Okla. “I think it’s something I was born to do. I’m trying to put a little subtle attention to what we do and what we’re there for.”
North has a few tricks to his trade, which is why he’s the most sought-after barrelman in the industry. His seven years as a bullfighter have helped him with the instincts of being in the right place at the right time. By gripping the hand-holds on the inside and shuffling his feet through a one-foot-square opening at the bottom, North just glides into position.
“Having fought freestyle bulls before, I have a little more insight where a guy is likely to get into trouble,” he said. “What makes a difference is that I have a knack for knowing when the wreck is going to happen. I don’t want to distract the bull and pull him away from the bullfight. Fortunately, I’ve always had the ability to get sneaky with that thing.”
He’s made it into an art form.
“Andy North is the best barrelman in the business, hands down,” said Weston Rutkowski, the reigning BFO world champion is No. 1 heading into the eight days of competition in the City of Lights. “In times that pure chaos has come out, he’s been the guy to save me. He’s always been there when I needed him. He’s just so savvy in the freestyle bullfights that he knows where to be and when to be there.”
One reason he’s always there is that he’s protecting his dear friends. He’s been in their position before, and he wants to be there for them again. Being part of Bullfighters Only is just an added benefit.
“The reason I keep doing this is the brotherhood I have with those guys,” North said. “Being in the arena with the very best is a good thing. It’s neat to be part of, to me that’s such a big thing. It doesn’t matter if it’s the No. 1 guy out there or a rookie, I value them and what they bring to the table.
“If I have to take a shot in that barrel to save someone, I’m going to do it.”
The bullfighters know that. They hope to never need North, but they trust him if the situation arises.
“What makes Andy special is that he’s always right there,” said Kris Furr, the No. 5 man in the Pendleton Whisky World Standings. “If you go down in the arena, it may take four seconds for the other bullfighters to get to you to help you, but Andy is in position in a second.”
That savviness comes from 13 years on the job. Now he has the best seat in the house to watch the sport’s top men battle for the Bullfighters Only world title.
BFO’s Seeded Bullfighters
Las Vegas Championship Schedule
All performances begin at 2 p.m.
Thursday, Dec. 7: Roughy Cup – a stand-alone competition featuring the top nine athletes in the BFO. The event has become a staple for BFO fans.
Friday, Dec. 8-Sunday, Dec. 10: Qualifier Rounds – An open door for the sport’s rising talent, providing a chance to compete at the elite level. Nine of the 27 bullfighters competing will advance to the Preliminary Rounds.
Wednesday, Dec. 13-Thursday Dec. 14: Preliminary Rounds – Winners from each performance advance to Championship Saturday.
Friday, Dec. 15: Wild Card Round – Bullfighters will get one final chance to advance to Championship Saturday.
Saturday, Dec. 16: The 2017 BFO world champion will be crowned at the completion of a 9-man semifinals, followed by the 3-man Hooey Championship Round.