By: Justin Felisko
September 22, 2016
PUEBLO, Colo. – Robson Palermo was being loaded into an ambulance outside the Thomas & Mack Center last October when the Netflix cameras zoomed in on him. Eventually the doors of the ambulance close shut, the sirens began to wail and the red and blue lights flashed rapidly as Palermo’s safety chariot disappeared into the distance.
Palermo was being rushed to University Hospital Trauma Center to be evaluated for a broken neck.
It was the second consecutive World Finals in which Palermo had to leave the event because of an injury, and it fit one of the narratives of the Netflix docuseries, “Fearless” – bull riding is not just a sport of 8 seconds. It is a sport where one’s life could be changed instantly.
Fortunately, Palermo did not sustain a broken neck and was released from the hospital later that night.
Palermo became the poster boy for how dangerous the sport of professional bull riding can be during “Fearless” as the series chronicled his struggles with injuries.
The three-time World Finals event winner was a prime example of how one day a rider can be one of the sport’s best and the next he can be laying helpless in the arena.
It was an image Palermo understood the directors and producers needed to bring the life vs. death factor to the forefront on the screen, but he also wasn’t too proud of it.
“Oh, not really” Palermo said with a laugh about his injuries becoming front and center. “I like the way they did it. I watch everything those guys did. I looked like a strong guy and a family guy. My wife helped me. I didn’t like watching and seeing me hurt all the time.”
The six-part series juxtaposed Palermo with what he used to be – a perennial world title contender and the only rider to have won the World Finals three times – with the modern Palermo, who had to fight and claw his way to the Finals last year after being cut mid-season as he dealt with a series of concussions and knee injuries.
“I see when I won the Finals in 2008, 2009 and 2011,” Palermo said. “They showed that, but the rest is me hurt with a concussion, the knee, this, that.”
Palermo has since had a major bounce back season since the Netflix cameras stopped filming in Chicago.
The 33-year-old is 17th in the world standings and is 2,745.33 points behind world leader Kaique Pacheco.
Outside of his bout with some minor injuries, Palermo is having his best season since 2012.
2012 was his last healthy season before Palermo went from perennial world title contender to a bull rider that should be wrapped in bubble wrap. He finished seventh in the world that year and has since never finished higher than 31st in the world.
Palermo’s 17 qualified rides are his most since 2012 and he is on pace for his first finish inside the Top 30 of the world standings since 2012.
In 2013, Palermo underwent multiple shoulder surgeries and bicep surgeries and missed the majority of the season. He returned in 2014 only to have to get left shoulder surgery again before rallying during the final three months of the season to qualify for the Finals.
Palermo (broken left ankle/neck injury) has been unable to finish the last two World Finals.
“I don’t want to have that vision of me,” he said. “If they have another (documentary), I want to be on it with my turnaround and in a different spot.”
This year hasn’t been perfect for Palermo. He has missed three events and has been riding through various minor injuries, including a lower back strain, sprained ankle, left hand injury, concussion, right MCL sprain and a chest wall injury.
Palermo recently returned to competition in Charlotte after missing the Springfield, Missouri, event because of a sprained knee and chest wall contusion.
Regardless, all of those injuries are menial compared to the bicep and shoulder problems that used to plague him, he says.
“I was talking about that the other day, me and my wife,” Palermo said. “I say, ‘Well, this year is awesome. It is much better for me. Last year I fight to be Top 35 and now I am in the Top 20. I was not 100 percent there riding my bulls, but I made the short go and made money.”
Palermo has yet to win a BFTS event since his 2013 shoulder surgeries.
He will try to end a streak of 53 events without a victory when he heads to Colorado Springs for the Rumble in the Rockies on Saturday and Sunday.
Palermo has drawn Hard Ball for Round 1. Palermo has some history in Colorado, where he won the 2011 BFTS event in Pueblo, and Brazilian-born riders have won seven of the last eight BFTS events held in southern Colorado.
Fans can catch all of Round 1 exclusively on PBR LIVE beginning at 8:30 p.m. ET.
A win in Colorado Springs would push Palermo closer to qualifying for the World Finals.
“I look forward to it,” he said. “If you watch Netflix, you see I want to be four-time World Finals winner. I want to make that true. I want to go there and to win.”
Follow Justin Felisko on Twitter @jfelisko
Fearless is available to stream now for Netflix subscribers.
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