His name is Don, but he answers to other monikers.
That’s the life of an entertainer, which defines Don “Hollywood” Yates, from his Elvis impersonations as a youngster to his over-the-top behavior as “Wolf” on the 2008 season of “American Gladiators.”
Don, Hollywood and the Wolf will come together as another piece of the entertainment puzzle that is the Professional Championship Bullriders event at 7:30 p.m. Saturday, Jan. 22, at DECC Arena in Duluth — he will also be part of the action Jan. 29 in Grand Forks, N.D., and the PCB World Finals on Feb. 4-5 at the Sears Centre in Chicago.
The competition will feature the top cowboys in the PCB and some of the toughest bulls in the sport, but it will also feature top musical talent in country artist Jake Owen and other athletes like Yates, one of the top rodeo bullfighters.
“There’s the element of danger that everybody wants to see,” said Yates, who began entertaining folks at 7 years old. “When people see (rodeo) freestyle bullfighting, they see the fact that it’s a big bull that’s basically trying to kill a guy. Putting a human being into that mix is like being back in the days of the gladiators, like throwing Christians to the Lions.
“People like to see blood. It’s like watching NASCAR; people don’t want to see anybody get killed, but they want to see the wrecks.”
That’s one of the drawing cards to bull riding events produced by the Professional Championship Bullriders, an organization that has events all across the northern Midwest. But having great entertainment like Yates as part of the show is something the PCB likes to offer fans.
“I believe in giving fans as much entertainment as possible when they want to come to one of our events,” said Robert Sauber, president of the Chicago-based PCB tour. “Jake Owen brings great music and an awesome show, which is why we love having him at our events. With that in mind, we wanted to bring Hollywood in and show everybody that kind of entertainment.
“You have to see Hollywood to really understand what he adds to the show. He’s a champion freestyle bullfighter, which means he’s a heck of an athlete. He just adds a lot of flavor, a lot of personality. He’s awesome.”
Yates’ main job will be cowboy protection, getting in the middle of the action once a bull rider gets off the animal.
“Whether you make the ride or don’t make the ride, you need somebody to help you,” Yates said. “That’s what we’re there for. It kind of started out as a necessity to have somebody out there as an extra target, but guys have gotten very good at protection. I study tapes just like a football player would, and I’d do things to help me be better at it.”
That’s the job he’s paid to do inside the arena, and it takes incredible athleticism to be within arm’s length of a 2,000-pound bucking beast and have everyone in the arena come away unscathed.
“I’m an adrenaline junky, and the adrenaline itself drew me to rodeo,” Yates said. “Then there’s the fact that this is the first thing I wasn’t great at. I’m not trying to be cocky, but the truth is football and baseball and that sort of stuff came easy to me.
“But bullfighting … for me to get good, I really had to work at it. Plus it’s different every time. That’s appealing to me.”
So what’s it like to go nose-to-nose with a snorting, muscular bull?
“It’s almost like transference, like when you’re getting bumped around by the bull,” he said. “I don’t get scared or nervous in that situation, but it’s more like a transfer of energy from you to the bull. You almost feel like you’re becoming one with the animal. It’s just that transference of energy, that transference of respect.”
Yates has seen it all in the arena. In freestyle events, bullfighters are matched one-on-one with the athletic animals. Bullfighters are judged on how close they get to the animal and their athletic maneuvers around the beasts. Protection bullfighting is about keeping the bull riders and others in the arena out of harm’s way.
That doesn’t mean Yates has gone unharmed, though. In fact, he’s broken more than 130 bones and has had other injuries and the surgeries to repair them. He doesn’t exactly crave injuries, but he doesn’t fear them.
“As you’re taking the beating from the bull, and as long as it’s not something that’s super painful, you’re kind of laughing at it, kind of digging it,” Yates said. “That’s what made me great in ‘American Gladiator,’ the fact that I thrive on that part of the fight. It’s what made me a great gladiator and what makes me a great bullfighter.”
And just like he did on national television, Yates allows his alter ego, Wolf, to make an appearance and handle the trash-talking that comes with competition.
“I’m the secret service of rodeo,” Yates said. “I take the bullet, or in this case, the bull. Now come watch me eat a bull or see how I can make a bull spin into the ground.”
Whether it’s Don, Hollywood or Wolf, Yates brings plenty to the show.
“There are a lot of people that may have never seen a bull riding like this, you’re competing for that entertainment dollar,” he said. “Hopefully they can see something in this wild, long-haired guy that likes to have fun.”