PUEBLO, Colo. – Frank Newsom opened the door of his Paoli, Oklahoma, home roughly 11 years ago to see a “malnutritioned little fart” standing in front of him on the front porch.
No way did this little kid really want to be a bullfighter.
Cody Webster, who was almost 11 years old at the time, stared back at the bullfighting icon that he spent his entire life idolizing, holding a pair of cleats and shorts.
“I didn’t know what to expect,” recalled Newsom. “I was like, ‘Alright, let’s get out here in the yard and I have a bullfighting dummy.’”
The young bullfighter hopped onto the front lawn and took every hit from the bullfighting dummy that Newsom could throw at him. Down went Webster with every trick up Newsom’s sleeve, and every time up popped, Webster looking for more. The young kid even accidentally cut open his leg on a piece of metal that had come loose on the dummy.
Surely, the kid had enough, right?
“I was like what do you think about that?” Newsom remembers. “Are you done? You still want to do this?”
Webster replied, “Yes, sir.”
It was only the beginning for Webster and Newsom.
What began as a favor from Newsom’s wife, Dea, who was babysat by Webster’s mom and family friend, Janice, as a kid evolved into a loving, father-son like relationship between the aspiring bullfighter and the bullfighting legend.
Janice had seen Dea at a local rodeo in Pauls Valley and the two were talking about Cody when the idea of connecting him with Newsom was born, says Webster.
Ever since that afternoon on Newsom’s ranch, Webster, who lived a couple miles up the road in Wayne, would drag his cleats, shorts and gear over to his idol’s place and practice daily from middle school, through his teenage years and all the way into his professional career.
He helped Newsom build fences, heard cattle and take care of things around the house when Newsom was traveling to Built Ford Tough Series events. Newsom, in turn, not only took Webster under his wing in the arena, but, with the help of Dea, began to mentor and mold Webster into a man under his watchful eye. He was also the first person that Webster would call if he was in a pinch at school, and you can bet Newsom would be there in a heartbeat.
Later this month, the 22-year-old will be making his PBR Built Ford Tough World Finals at the same age Newsom made his, and he will get to live out his dream of fighting alongside his mentor at the PBR’s highest level.
Webster was named the fourth bullfighter by PBR riders earlier this week to work this year’s Finals alongside BFTS bullfighting mainstays Newsom, Shorty Gorham and Jesse Byrne.
“It is very emotional getting to work with the man I look to as a father figure,” Webster said. “Man, I never expected to get that call. It is very overwhelming and it is a blessing.
“It’s something that I have dreamed of my whole life. I grew up as a baby watching the NFR and the PBR and getting to watch Frank day in and day out.”
By the time he hung up the phone with Senior Vice President of Competition Jay Daugherty, Webster was dialing up Newsom on Tuesday afternoon. He wouldn’t want to tell anyone else first.
“I am proud as heck for him, but that doesn’t even describe what I feel like,” Newsom said. “He called me and it took the rest of the evening for it to sink in. I knew it was going to happen, but I didn’t know it was going to be this soon in his career. Too be honest, in the back of my mind I hoped one of these days he would fill in for me. I just didn’t think it would happen this quick.”
Instead of Newsom’s prodigy eventually inheriting his position on the BFTS, Webster will now be able to work alongside Newsom like he has at TPD events in McAlester, Oklahoma, and Pueblo, Colorado.
Still, nothing compares to the PBR World Finals. In less than three weeks, Webster will be able to cross off another one of his career goals that began to take shape as he kept getting tossed onto the hard ground by a Newsom-led bullfighting dummy.
It will be a culmination of the long hours spent with Newsom and the endless trips spent on the rodeo trail as he worked his way up the junior, high school, amateur and professional ranks. Webster made his National Finals Rodeo debut last year in Las Vegas.
There was never that “Oh, I want to be a bullfighter moment,” says Webster. Instead, it was something that was always embedded in his natural makeup.
Before he was even able to talk he had his eye on rodeo clowns and bullfighters.
Once he was able to run around the house as a young boy, he was no match for the imaginary 2,000-pound bulls’ chasing after him as he dove into piles of dirty clothes to avoid danger.
“My mom had to make me a pair of baggies and I would be up and down the hall jumping and running around out into the yard,” Webster recalled.
Both sides of Webster’s family are rich in rodeo tradition. Janice was a barrel racer, as was his aunt Peggy.
Cody even set up a tire swing in a tree at Peggy’s place that he would push into motion and then duck and dash around for training.
“I would go out there and push that tire and fight that tire swing like a bull for hours upon hours,” he said. “A day doesn’t go by without me thinking about fighting bulls.”
Cody’s dad, grandpa, uncle and other members of the family also were involved in parts of the Western lifestyle. Webster still remembers fighting bulls in his grandpa’s practice pen.
Yet it all goes back to that first encounter with Newsom.
“That was the start of it,” Webster said. “His advice was to be true to who you are and just let your work in arena speak for itself.”
Newsom said, “He looked like he was going to break every bone in his body, but he always had that aura about him with that toughness and determination.”
The lessons and training have continued for Webster. He calls Newsom on a near-daily basis and the two worked out together in Oklahoma on Wednesday.
However, the youngster has certainly caught up to him in the gym nowadays, says Newsom.
“I remember he used to be trying to keep up with me, but today he calls me up and I meet him up at the gym for the first time in a couple weeks and he was pushing me,” the veteran bullfighter said. “It is kind of like the tables have turned.”
Webster is still trying to process what will be running through his mind when he digs his heels into the dirt at the Thomas & Mack Center on Oct. 22 and sees Newsom standing there right beside him.
“He has been my idol, my role model for my whole career,” Webster said. “Getting to meet him when I was 10 or 11 years old and he took me in the way he did. This is something I am never going to forget and something I am very, very thankful for.”
The man who has been fighting bulls for more than 22 years says that this year’s World Finals just got that much more meaningful.
“It is going to be the highlight of my career,” Newsom said. “I didn’t know this could happen. I always kind of hoped it would in my mind. We both wanted to do things together and fight together, but to get to work the Finals with him is just awesome.
“I don’t even really have the words for it. It is going to be a special moment.”
Follow Justin Felisko on Twitter @jfelisko.
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