SIDNEY, Iowa – Fans in this southwest Iowa community got a taste of freestyle bullfighting a year ago.
Everything steps up even more this year with Bullfighters Only, which will showcase nine of the elite men in the game during a five-night battle at Iowa’s Championship Rodeo, set for Tuesday, Aug. 2-Saturday, Aug. 6.
“The committee told me last year that it was the greatest thing they had there” since the early 2000s, said Evan Allard of Vinita, Okla., who not only will be one of the combatants but also will serve as one of the protection bullfighters during the rodeo and will be providing the fighting bulls. “They were definitely glad to have it back.”
Sidney marks the 19th stop on the Bullfighters Only inaugural tour. Bullfighters utilize their tremendous athleticism to try to outwit and outmaneuver equally athletic bulls, which are bred specifically for this type of fight.
“I think it’s a good thing we’ve all done to bring the bullfights back to where they belong,” Allard said. “It’s taken off because bullfighting is the greatest extreme sport in the world, and we have the best freestyle bullfighters alive all doing it right now.”
With scores based on a 100-point scale, men can earn up to 50 points per fight based on their ability to exhibit control and style while maneuvering around or over an animal; a bull can earn up to 50 points based on its quickness, aggression and willingness to stay with the bullfighter.
“It’s crazy to think this is our actual first year and that we have so many events at these historic rodeos,” said Chuck Swisher of Dover, Okla. “For my first year to walk into an arena with such prestigious awards, it’s a true honor for me to fight bulls there.”
Iowa’s Championship Rodeo has a storied history. Dating back more than 90 years, Sidney’s rodeo has been a staple for many of the greatest cowboys and cowgirls in the sport. In fact, the event was inducted into the ProRodeo Hall of Fame last August.
“It’ll be cool stepping out in front of those people that have made Sidney such a great event,” Swisher said. “It’s a true blessing.”
So is the talent these men possess. It takes a special personality to not only dance with the bulls, but do it up close. Bullfighters not only engage with the stomping, aggressive and quick animals, but they do so in a series of maneuvers that showcases undeniable athleticism.
“The bulls drive me,” said Allard, who has been fighting bulls for 11 years. “Just knowing that you’re able to go head to head with one of the fiercest creatures alive and know that if everything goes right, you’re able to control him.
“It’s the art itself that drives me.”
When done well, it’s as if Picasso was painting an elaborate image on a dirt arena. There is a fury of movement, and it seems orchestrated; it isn’t. It fact, every movement is done based on instinct and an understanding of what the animal does.
It’s a display of man vs. beast, and Bullfighters Only has created a public demand for the sport.
“To me, Bullfighters Only is more like a group of brothers,” Swisher said of the top 15 bullfighters in the game that make up the BFO. “We all went in and are part of this team that helps in bringing the freestyle bullfights back in front of the fans. It’s something we’ve always wanted for so long.
“Even before there was even a thought of the BFO, we always stuck together and stuck our necks out for each other. We push each other to get better, and now we put a name on it.”
That name is well recognized in rodeo, and it’s why Bullfighters Only is part of many of the most prestigious events in the sport. That’s why the best in the business will be in Sidney for five magical nights.