Bull team competition will be a featured piece of Ultimate Bullfighters Challenge
GRAND ISLAND, Neb. – They aren’t the biggest animals in Western sports, but what they do in the arena more than makes up for their lack of size.
They are Spanish fighting bulls, and they were bred to be part of the Ultimate Bullfighter Challenge presented by Pump & Pantry, set for 8 p.m. Friday and Saturday at the Thompson Food Open Air Arena at the Nebraska State Fair in Grand Island.
In the decades of freestyle bullfighting, all who participate understand the necessity to have a great animal be part of the mix. The UBF, however, is taking it a full step further with its bull team competition, which will be part of the state fair event this coming weekend.
Six stock contractors from around the country will have three bulls each, and the cumulative bull scores will be tallied together; the bull team with the highest score will be crowned champion and earn the lion’s share of the $25,000 purse.
“I think this is set up to be an exceptional event,” said J.B. Mauney, a two-time PBR world champion bull rider who is involved with Lights Out Fighting Bulls and is a UBF shareholder. “We set up the shows and try to do it as smooth as we can.
“With the bull team competition, it’s set up to showcase the best bulls. We’re going to have high scores, because the bulls are just that hot.”
It’s a nice mix of athletic talent, both human and bovine. With scores based on a 100-point scale, men can earn up to 50 points per fight based on their ability to showcase control and style while maneuvering around and, sometimes, over the animal; a bull can earn up to 50 points based on its quickness, aggression and willingness to stay in the fight.
“All contractors are paying fees, and there’s added money involved,” stock contractor Chad Ellison said, referring to sponsorship dollars that help make up the total purse. “It pays four places. All the contractors have a different strategy, but you don’t want to take bulls that are so hard the bullfighters can’t get by them
“You win the deal off the combined bull scores, so it’s unique. If you wreck your guy out and the judges don’t see but a few seconds of your bull, that will probably hurt your score.”
Ellison will have a couple of the top bulls in the game in Grand Island, including Blue Duck and Smoke N Mirrors.
“They’re two different types of bulls, but they’re both good,” he said, noting that Blue Duck is owned by his wife, Brandee. “When we got him, you could tell Blue Duck was really mean and would be hard to handle. People that have fought him have either been a lot of points or been wrecked out.
“Smoke N Mirrors doesn’t get too excited, but every time they’ve drawn him, they’ve been in the high 80s or low 90s. He’s pretty honest and comes pretty hard.”
The bull teams will add a different yet exciting element to the freestyle bullfight. Mauney, who has been around the animals all his life, enjoys the aspects of working with the fighting bulls. He just understands they take a special touch.
“If I’m not riding bulls, I’m messing with bulls,” he said. “It takes a different kind of person to work with bulls. You’ve got people that work with normal beef cattle, and you’ve got to be pretty handy to do that. Step over to the bucking bull side of things, and you’ve got to be quite a bit handy to mess with those.
“When it comes to fighting bulls, you’ve got to have your head on a swivel and know what you’re doing, because one mistake and it’ll end up a bad deal.”
There will be nearly two dozen of those beasts in the mix at the Nebraska State Fair. The men who tangle with them are in search of big points, which can result in big money.
“Not only are these bulls really mean, they’re extremely smart,” Mauney said. “I’d never get in front of them like those bullfighters do. They are very handy, and it’s amazing to see the guys do what they do. They’re matched up against a fighting bull like that, and they make it look smooth, make it look easy.
“Then you see somebody get hooked, and it’s a different story.”
Either way, there’s incredible action in store in Grand Island this weekend.