PUEBLO, Colo. – If there were ever to be a Mount Rushmore for animal athletes, it would be hard to not consider three-time World Champion Bull Bushwacker as a leading candidate for a spot among some of history’s greatest.
During his six-year Built Ford Tough Series career, Bushwacker brought the sport of professional bull riding to new levels and became a world-renown athlete. He is right up there with other famous animal athletes Secretariat and Seabiscuit, says PBR co-founder and Director of Livestock Cody Lambert.
However, Lambert took Bushwacker’s impact on the PBR one step further when asked about what the champion bovine has meant to the PBR. Without hesitating, Lambert placed Bushwacker in an elite class of PBR legends.
He rambled off names like the PBR’s first World Champion and three-time champ Adriano Moraes. He then brought up two-time World Champions Chris Shivers and Justin McBride when trying to put into context just how important Bushwacker has been to the organization.
“He is as important to the sport as any of the riders we have ever had and more famous than most of them and more well known,” Lambert said. “We will have all of the great bulls from now on, and all of the great bull riders from now on, and we will never replace Bushwacker or Chris Shivers or Justin McBride or Adriano.”
There is no denying it. Bushwacker is a legend. It is an understatement to simply call him a fan favorite.
There have been other popular bulls in the PBR, Lambert added. Bull riding fans and those familiar with Western sports certainly know the names Blueberry Wine, Mossy Oak Mudslinger and Dillinger. Lambert believes the difference between those bulls and Bushwacker is the fact that Bushwacker touched a worldwide audience of fans that may not have been familiar with the sport.
“We have fans that don’t know any of the riders’ names that know Bushwacker,” Lambert said. “Lots of them. It’s a level that no animal has taken it to so far – until Bushwacker.”
Part of his popularity stems from dominance like no other bull in the history of the sport.
Lambert may have put it best in the months leading up to the 2013 Built Ford Tough World Finals last year:
“He is that uncommonly great. I don’t think – I am sure he is the best I’ve ever seen.”
Bushwacker was born in Marysville, California, in 2006 and is the son of Reindeer Dippin and Lady Luck. He eventually moved to Stephenville, Texas, in 2008 to work with the late Kent Cox, who hauled and raised many of Julio Moreno’s bulls starting in 2005.
Cox would be influential in Bushwacker’s early years and throughout his career, helping mold the young bovine into the eventual World Champion that he became.
When Bushwacker first started competing in the ABBI, no one could have expected him to evolve into one of the greatest bucking bulls of all time. He finished 26th as a 2-year-old in the ABBI World Finals Futurity Finals and won zero competitions.
But once he turned 3 years old, the Bushwacker we have all come to know began to take shape and form.
He qualified for the 2009 ABBI World Finals as a 3-year-old Classic bull after being crowned the ABBI Wild Card reserve champion. He placed third at the ABBI World Finals and it was there that he would be ridden for the first time by Markus Mariluch for 88 points.
Thiago Paguito then covered the up-and-coming bull for 89.75 points in Round 4 of the 2009 Built Ford Tough World Finals.
Mariluch called Bushwacker the greatest bull on earth last year and faced him again at the Ty Murray Invitational this past March. He lasted 2.27 seconds this time around.
“You know you are getting on the baddest cat out there,” Mariluch said. “He doesn’t move. His ears hardly twitch. It is kind of nerve racking in there. You are like, ‘Buck around a little bit or something.’ He stands like a rock. He knows what’s coming and it is kind of nerve racking and you have to try and block that all out.”
Bushwacker began his march toward legendary status in 2010. He bucked off all 11 foes he faced on the Built Ford Tough Series and 21 riders overall. He capped off his final season as a 4-year-old Classic bull by winning the 2010 ABBI Classic Championship, which included a 46.5-point bull score at the PBR World Finals for bucking off Jody Newberry in 2.2 seconds
At the time, Lambert compared Bushwacker to the other ABBI bulls by saying, “He blew them all away.”
Bushwacker even almost became the first bull to win both the Classic title and the World Champion Bull title at the Built Ford Tough World Finals, but he fell just short against 2010 World Champion Bones.
That all changed in 2011, as his buckoff streak continued.
The Rivalry Begins
There is one moment in particular that stands out to Julio Moreno when he looks back at Bushwacker’s career beyond the World Championships, fame and records his prized bull obtained.
To him, a major milestone – and a favorite memory of his – in Bushwacker’s saga came in Anaheim, California, in January 2011.
It was in Anaheim where Bushwacker made PBR star rider J.B. Mauney look like a helpless Cirque de Soleil performer. Bushwacker (47.75 points) erupted high into the air and tossed the 2009 World Finals event winner toward the rafters of the Honda Center, before gravity saved Mauney in mid-air and brought him crashing back to earth in 2.67 seconds.
“He really, really fired and got in the air as high as he could, and J.B. was riding as good as he can be, and Bushwacker spun him like a ragdoll,” Moreno recalled. “Flung him like an airplane.
“They all took notice. That is really what caught everyone’s attention.”
Mauney said, “The first time I got on him, he jumped up five feet off the ground.”
It began a rivalry that turned into a battle between two foes with the utmost respect for the other. Call it David versus Goliath or Beowulf versus Grendel. No matter what analogy is preferred, the two formed one of the sport’s biggest rivalries. They met a total of 13 times and all but once Bushwacker was victorious.
“J.B. is as hard as anybody there is to buck off,” Lambert said. “Some bulls are really hard to ride without it showing and Bushwacker has always shown and had the wow factor while he was bucking.”
Mauney said, “Bulls that last real long like him are bulls that are smart. As you can tell during the first half of this season, he doesn’t have to use all of his power to throw them off. He just uses his brains.”
The First World Title
Bushwacker clinched his first world title in 2011, after he bucked off Mauney in 3.58 seconds at the 2011 Built Ford Tough World Finals. He was marked 47.5 points for that buckoff, but his real beauty came in the third round when he bucked off Cord McCoy in 3.39 seconds.
Bushwacker, who finished the season 14-0, was marked an astounding 48.5 points, which is the second-highest marking in PBR history.
It was no longer a question. Bushwacker was clearly going to go down as one of the best of all time.
However, the celebration evolved into a cloud of doubt when it was discovered two months later that Bushwacker needed to have surgery to fix a fractured P1 bone in the fetlock of his back right leg. The surgery, which was performed by Dr. Gary Warner, went so well that Warner even removed a small fragment from Bushwacker’s left fetlock.
Bushwacker eventually returned two months later at Iron Cowboy and was able to shed Mauney off his back just shy of the whistle at 7.22 seconds. It was the first buckoff of another undefeated season (9-0), but he would fall just short of his second career world title when Asteroid upset him at the 2012 World Finals.
The Streak is Over
Bushwacker was well on his way to his second world title when the night of Aug. 17, 2013 arrived. He had bucked off a record 42 consecutive riders on the Built Ford Tough Series (and 56 overall) when Mauney brought the Tulsa, Oklahoma, crowd to its feet by selecting and conquering Bushwacker in the championship round for 95.25 points.
It is a ride that will go down as one of the greatest moments in PBR history, and it will forever be tied to Bushwacker’s legacy.
“There were finally several big jumps in there and it looked like Bushwacker almost choked him down,” Lambert remembers. “I was hoping J.B. would ride him, but with every jump, Bushwacker was getting tougher. When he finally went around to the right and J.B. made the round, I thought he was going to ride him.”
It is commonly believed that Mauney’s ride sparked his historic come-from-behind world title performance in 2013. Yet even after receiving his first World Championship gold buckle, Mauney was left talking about Bushwacker.
“Winning this world title means everything to you,” Mauney said later that year, “But the highlight of this year was riding that bull.”
Redemption: Bushwacker Wins Second World Title
No one would ride Bushwacker again that year.
The 2011 World Champion Bull finally reclaimed his World Champion Bull title by bucking off Eduardo Aparecido in 4.57 seconds during the championship round at the 2013 World Finals, earning a bull score of 47 points.
It was one the closest bull races in PBR history, as five bulls – Bushwacker, Asteroid, Smackdown, Mick E Mouse and Shepherd Hills Tested – were separated by only half of a point entering the final day of competition.
After losing out to 2012 World Champion Bull Asteroid, Bushwacker bounced back in 2013 with a vengeance by bucking off 13 riders on the BFTS in 14 outs. He recorded a season-high 10 high-marked bull awards and had six of the Top 10 bull scores in 2013.
“This is just exciting,” Moreno said with confetti falling all around him. “It is the most exciting thing in my life to be a two-time champion.”
The Farewell Tour & A Third World Championship
Moreno was chomping away at his piece of Big Red gum when he was loading Bushwacker into the bucking chute in Oklahoma City this past January.
For every nervous twitch or glance from Moreno, there was Mauney with his black cowboy hat and a glare of radiating confidence.
“I couldn’t even spit and I couldn’t even talk,” Moreno said. “That was the first time I had flanked him since he was a 3-year-old. That was nerve racking.”
It was also the beginning of Bushwacker’s farewell tour after Moreno had announced earlier that week that the 2014 season would be Bushwacker’s last.
Bushwacker started off the year in shining fashion, bucking off Mauney in 1.13 seconds and being marked 46.75 points.
He concluded the season 14-0 on the BFTS and 17-0 overall.
Just this year alone he’s eliminated past World Champions Mauney, Guilherme Marchi and Mike Lee.
Bushwacker entered the final day of the World Finals trailing Asteroid by 1.5 points for the World Champion Bull title. He had previously bucked off Brady Sims in 3.9 seconds in Round 2, but had only been marked 45 points.
Therefore, Moreno knew he had to change something up if Bushwacker was going to rally for a third world title with Lee preparing to face Bushwacker.
Instead of flanking Bushwacker flat across the bull’s back like he normally does, Moreno put the flank over Bushwacker’s left hip – something Cox used to do when he hauled Bushwacker.
By the time Lee nodded for the gate, Bushwacker was leaping into the air with one final big, rear kick that sent Lee hard to the ground in 2.13 seconds in front of a raucous crowd of 17,204.
Bushwacker was marked 46.5 points and his total score of 91.5 points would be enough to clinch one final World Champion Bull title.
“It was tough, but we did it,” Moreno said moments later. “Oh man, this is great. This is the ultimate. … I can’t really explain how I feel; just, this is the greatest of my whole life.”
It was the 20th consecutive buckoff for Bushwacker, who ended his career with 64 buckoffs in 66 outs in six years on the BFTS. Overall, he has defeated 84 of his 87 opponents since his first out in 2009.
According to Probullstats.com, his 46.16-point average marking ranks third all time – Dillinger’s 46.83 points in 49 outs and Bodacious’ 46.4 points in five outs are higher.
Hauling Bushwacker had been a strenuous, gratifying and a worthwhile experience for Moreno. After the sudden passing of Cox on Feb. 27, Moreno chose to bring Bushwacker back home to his Oakdale, California, ranch and haul him for the rest of his career.
Moreno was always fond of Bushwacker in previous years, but this season, the two grew exceptionally close.
“Yeah, absolutely,” Moreno said. “Now he knows my voice and he can come up to me and knows it’s me, or he will hear my footsteps and it feels like he knows my walk or whatever. If there are people around and they are there with me and I talk to him, he comes to my voice to get away from them, but he still likes the limelight and taking pictures.”
Moreno admitted before the World Finals that he sometimes wondered if maybe he is retiring Bushwacker too soon. When he witnesses Bushwacker take care of rider after rider, he can’t help but wonder if maybe Bushwacker has one more year in him.
But those moments quickly subsided when he saw Bushwacker tired in the back of his trailer in between 14-plus-hour road trips to BFTS events.
Moreno almost retired Bushwacker in 2013, claiming he wanted Bushwacker to finish his career on top.
Bushwacker did just that in 2014, and now he can spend his days basking in the sun in Oakdale and just relax following a star-studded career like none other.
“He is the greatest bull there has ever been,” Lambert said in Las Vegas. “He didn’t get lucky. “He just earned it again. He came through like the champ he is. (It) is the perfect ending to the perfect career.”
Follow Justin Felisko on Twitter @jfelisko.
Portions of this story ran in the 2014 Built Ford Tough World Finals Souvenir Program, which can be purchased here.
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