BFO bullfighters will be part of their own border war at State Fair of Texas
DALLAS – Inside Fair Park Coliseum on the grounds of the State Fair of Texas, history holds its breath and awaits the future.
From roller derbies to professional hockey and basketball games, it was the epicenter of Dallas sports more than a half century ago. For many, its place in rodeo lore is well-established, the first home of the National Finals Rodeo from 1959-1961.
In just days, it will be the home of the Bullfighters Only Red River Rumble, which will begin at 6:30 p.m. Friday, Oct. 7, and Saturday, Oct. 8, and will feature the top freestyle bullfighters in the sport battling head-to-head just like the Longhorns and Sooners will that Saturday morning. It’s Oklahoma vs. Texas, but the bovines involved in this battle are real.
“I think it’s just cool to be part of the history of that coliseum,” said Weston Rutkowski, a four-time BFO world champion from Haskell, Texas. “With the NFR starting there in 1959, I grew up knowing all the rodeo greats that went to that coliseum and competed.
“There’s so much history in that one building. It’s not only being from Texas, but knowing we’re part of an event that just adds to the history.”
Team Texas and Team Oklahoma will feature five-man squads, and they will battle head-to-head in the opening round. Held in conjunction with the State Fair of Texas, this BFO event is as big as Big Tex standing guard over the fairgrounds.
There will be five winners out of the opening round of competition, with the four bullfighters that posted the highest scores advancing to the championship round. Those four will then battle with the top animals from Penthouse Fighting Bulls to see which one will come out the victor and walk away from Dallas with the lion’s share of the prize money and the edge rolling into the BFO World Finals.
“It’s pretty special to get to compete in that event,” said Austin Ashley of Purcell, Oklahoma, who will represent his home state in the bullfight. “I got to be part of it. It was such a cool event to have in that old coliseum where they had the NFR back in the day.
“The crowd really gets into it, and the atmosphere was electric.”
Expect that and more for this year’s showcase, which will feature established veterans mixed with some of bullfighting’s rising stars. Rutkowski is the winningest man in the field, but he will be joined by Beau Schueth, a past reserve world champion and a regular at BFO World Finals, and Aaron Mercer, a two-time world titlist.
The format helps highlight the symphony of a freestyle bullfight, where men utilize their athletic skills and bull savvy while facing agile Mexican fighting bulls that were bred for this type of fight. Based on a 100-point scale, the bulls will score up to 50 points for their aggressiveness, athleticism and ability to stay in the fight, while the bullfighters will score up to 50 points for their performance to remain close to the animal while performing maneuvers around and sometimes over the bull.
The Red River Rumble is also a chance to highlight the college rivalry that has been ongoing for more than 120 years. The event’s champion will be able to carry that title and all the bragging rights with them to their respective side of the Red River, which divides Oklahoma and Texas.
“When you’re raised in Texas, you grow up hearing about the game,” Rutkowski said. “That weekend is well-known for being about OU vs. Texas. It goes with the demographic in this part of the world.
“I have to hold my ground and represent Texas well.”
Ashley knows it all too well. His hometown is just 19 miles from the University of Oklahoma, so he knows what the OU-Texas rivalry means. Transitioning it to the bullfighting ring is just his way of extending it in his favor.
“It’s a pretty big honor to get to represent the state where I was born and where I grew up,” Ashley said. “It’s hard to describe all the emotions that go into it.
“This is my home state. There’s a lot on the line for it.”
This is also the last bastion of hope for title contenders and others hoping to make the December trip to Las Vegas to battle for the 2022 BFO world championship.
“This is the last big-money event there is,” Ashley said. “It gives some of the guys that are a little lower in the standings one last shot to get a jump on the guys that are in the top five.
“We’re going to fight a good set of bulls, and the talent is great on both sides.”
That just adds to the intrigue of the Red River Rumble.
“This is the last stop before the BFO World Championship at Resorts World in Vegas,” Rutkowski said. “There’s a lot riding on this event. If I’m going to win my fifth world title, or if someone else is going to win the world title, then it puts that person in a great position to do that.
“A lot comes down to this event, but I expect noting less than for all those guys to show up and lay it all on the line.”