GLENDALE – Their presence was impossible not to notice, or feel. A sea of cowboy hats and boots surrounded the Desert Diamond Arena, and the pungent smell of the four-legged main attraction was everywhere. Flint Ramussen, a “rodeo clown,” trotted down the hall to entertain spectators ahead of the Professional Bull Riders’ first team event in Arizona.
Eight teams and 40 bulls filled the stadium last weekend for the PBR’s final competition in its inaugural tag team series season. The festivities began with a ring of fire, highlighting what was to be three days of high-energy bull riding.
The Arizona Ridge Riders, a new addition to the elite league with the best bull riders in the world, entered the farm in third place. All eight teams qualify for the PBR Team Series Championship debut in Las Vegas Nov. 4-6, with the top two teams earning byes to the first round.
The Ridge Riders went 1-2, losing their final game to the Austin Gamblers by 1.25 points on day three of competition. The Rough Riders finished the season 14-13-1 to grab the No. 5 seed, earning a playoff berth against the sixth-seeded Missouri Thunder.
“It’s an exciting time for bull riding. Obviously this weekend didn’t go as we expected, but we’re very proud of the home crowd that turned out,” said Ridge Riders general manager Casey Lane. “Excited to start planning for next year, really excited for the tag team series finale in Las Vegas in a few weeks.”
With every game, groans echoed throughout the stadium. Fans were shocked by the strength of the bulls and many were impressed by the bravery of the riders.
“Riding a bull is an experience like no other. There are no real words to put in there,” said Ezekiel Mitchell, a runner for the Austin Gamblers. “I always wanted to be a cowboy, so that’s the sport I chose. I can get hurt doing anything in the world, so why not do something I love?”
– PBR (@PBR) October 19, 2022
Riders were often thrown and then trampled by the 1,000-pound bulls they had just mounted. Imagine being hit by 1,000 pounds of shear force on a typical work day. It is the fear that every rider overcomes when riding a bull.
“Every time you tie your hand to one of these bulls, you have the chance to hurt yourself. There are a lot of mental games,” Lane said. “Most of these guys will probably tell you they’re not scared, and I’d say they’re lying to themselves. It’s less about being fearless than understanding how to control your fear.
Although many runners were seen limping over the Desert Diamond dirt, Mitchell said he was never seriously injured, just “a few bumps and concussions.”
Mitchell, who rode his first bull at the age of 15, is self-taught and made his PBR debut in 2019. He was a star performer for the Austin Gamblers in Glendale, helping his team earn the No. 1 for the Championship Series and earning $19,000 for his efforts.
In an undiversified sport, 25-year-old Mitchel is paving the way for others to get involved. Mitchell hopes to become the first black bull rider to win a world championship since Charles Sampson was crowned in 1982.
“We just have to put it in front of our kids and different people from different cultures,” Mitchell said. “A lot of people don’t know it’s out there, so we just need to let more people know about it and get it in front of more eyes.”
Although PBR has been hosting bullfighting events in Glendale since 2016, this is the first time a team from the Valley has been able to call the city home. Despite a tough performance on their home turf, the Arizona Ridge Riders are the only PBR team to have their own locker room and are leaders in a new era of bull riding.
In their inaugural season, they were the first organization to launch “Every Second Counts”, an extensive philanthropic campaign dedicated to making a positive impact in every state in which the team competes. For every second the Ridge Riders stay on the bulls, the team donates $50 to a designated charity in each event.
“We couldn’t be more thrilled with the way we were treated by the people here at Desert Diamond Arena,” Lane said. “The city’s chamber of commerce, the City of Glendale, has just been amazing in welcoming us to this community.”
PBR is on a tremendous upward trajectory. As riders like Mitchell continue to grow the sport, teams like the Ridge Riders are must-have entertainment. Don’t get trampled by a 1000 pound bull.