Between the Bull and the Rider You’ll Often Spot the Bullfighter

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We’ve often wondered, so we had to ask what it feels like to place yourself purposely and directly in the face of a 2,000-pound bull with no barrier. Pure adrenaline, maybe! We were fortunate enough to get some insight from our friend Cliff Maxwell who was selected to be one of your 2016 RAM National Circuit Finals Rodeo bullfighters.

Forty-seven-year-old Cliff Maxwell, hailing from Taylor, Arizona, has been a bullfighter since 1994. In 1996 he received his Professional Rodeo Cowboys Association member card. He worked his first professional rodeo as a bullfighter at the Arizona Stock Show and Fair at the Coliseum. Since his first rodeo, Cliff has worked as a bullfighter for as many as thirty rodeos each year.

Growing up, Cliff rode steers and then graduated on to riding bulls. Years ago, while riding a bull, Cliff had a pretty horrible accident. He got hung up on a bull and then was stepped on, causing him to break five ribs, puncture a lung, and ultimately have his spleen removed. After the accident, his daughter, who was only three years old at the time, kindly asked her dad to stop riding bulls. It was then that Cliff decided to fight bulls instead of ride them.

Clifford Maxwell Headshot

So what exactly is a bullfighter’s responsibility in the sport of rodeo? A bullfighter’s role is to protect the bull rider when he gets bucked off by distracting the bull or helping the rider get to safety if the rider gets hung up for any reason. These men run towards a bull to face it when everyone else is running away.

There are no rules or regulations on a bullfighter’s uniform inside the arena, however most of them will wear specific clothing items for protection in case they are approached or hit directly by a bull. Cliff said he wears face makeup like a clown as a fun distraction, a jersey with the number 19 on it, a protective vest, hockey breezers (which are like padded shorts that even cover your hip bones), bandannas, and baggies. Baggies are made of material that looks like denim, but is actually a skirt designed specifically to rip away should a bull hook them.

You may be curious why Cliff wears a jersey with the number 19… Fun fact: Cliff shared that Shane Doan, captain of the Arizona Coyotes hockey team, gave him his jersey soon after 19 firefighters were killed in Arizona. When he is bullfighting, he wears this in memory of those who died. We think that’s a pretty neat way to honor them!

Cliff shared that in order to be a great bullfighter, you must have immediate, smart, and instinctive reactions. “You need to be able to see what the bulls are going to do, then react to them. So many bulls are so different. You may see a bull buck 500 times one way, but then he could come out and do something completely different the next time,” says Cliff. You always have to be on your toes… sometimes literally!

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After years of bullfighting, you tend to work with so many different bulls and sometimes you even begin to learn their behaviors. Sammy Andrews’ Scat Kat Scoal is Cliff’s favorite bull to fight. However, he’s not such a big fan of the bull known as 1-Inch Crush. Apparently, 1-Inch Crush was known by most bullfighters and bull riders as being a “hooker”. Cliff’s experience with 1-Inch Crush was in Heber City, Utah, waking up after getting knocked out cold in the arena. Cliff said there were six bucking chutes at this arena, all of which were a different color, and when 1-Inch Crush was finished with him, he was wearing each color from every chute. Scary! Good news, though – Cliff walked away only needing stitches that time.

Bullfighting is very intense and physical. These men risk a lot to protect the cowboys. Though it may seem like Cliff has taken a beating over the years, he truly loves what he does. When speaking with Cliff, you can hear his true love for bullfighting.

Cliff couldn’t be more excited to be a part of the 2016 RAM National Circuit Finals Rodeo. He said this was something he has always dreamed of being selected for, and now he is living his dream.

We hope you will come out and watch Cliff in action April 7-10th!

From under the hat: “Live your dream!” – Cliff Maxwell

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