BALTIMORE – Throughout Friday night, Cody Webster could be found running, spinning and agilely twisting his way all over the dirt in Round 1 of the Baltimore Invitational, teasing the opposing bulls and protecting the PBR’s top bull riders with skillful ease.
Webster, who is the alternate bullfighter for the Built Ford Tough Series this season, is filling in for veteran Dickies Bullfighter Shorty Gorham this weekend. His reflexes and quickness have helped him earn strong reviews from his mentor Frank Newsom and the other bullfighters on the BFTS, following Webster’s debut at last year’s Built Ford Tough World Finals.
Many of the twists and turns that Webster uses inside the arena came not only from the tutelage of Newsom, but also his hands-on experience from competing in various freestyle bullfighting championships as a teenager.
In 2009, Webster won the prestigious Rex Dunn Freestyle Bullfighting World Championship when he was just 17 years old.
Fellow bullfighter Jesse Byrne says you can see Webster has a little freestyle flare in his bullfighting style inside the PBR arena.
“Cody has come up through the freestyle ranks, as well as the cowboy protection side of things, so he’s just got an amazing amount of talent to just outmaneuver a bull,” Byrne explained. “Once he’s got that bull’s attention, there is really no doubt in my mind that he can do what it takes to get away from that bull if he wants to. A lot of times, he is going to keep having fun and keep playing with the bull.”
Prior to last year’s World Finals, Byrne had only fought alongside Webster at a Touring Pro Division event in Pueblo, Colorado. However, Byrne called the transition seamless in Las Vegas and expects much of the same in 2015.
“From day one, it just fell in like he was just another one of us,” Byrne said. “That is what made it so good. The system and the things we had in place that fits with what Cody does. When we are in that arena and the gate is flying open, it is back to the basics. Those basics are what Frank has instilled in him. It just flows. It is a great fit.”
Byrne was also 22 years old when he made his BFTS debut in 2008.
During the National Finals Rodeo in December, there was a slight fear that Webster may have torn his left MCL when he made a save in the seventh round and got crossed up by a bull. According to Webster, an MRI later revealed there was no significant damage to his knee, and he was left with significant swelling and bruising in the back portion of his knee.
Regardless of the injury, Webster competed in the final three rounds of the NFR and took some time off before coming to Baltimore healthy and ready.
He also had sustained a concussion three days earlier.
Despite being only 22 years old, Webster has already been faced with the harsh realities of protecting bull riders in one of the world’s most dangerous sports. He knows that his job is to protect the riders first and foremost, and that responsibility may result in his body being the one taking the brunt of a hit in certain scenarios.
“Shoot, we go all year,” Webster said. “You break your ribs; you break all kinds of stuff all throughout the year. You never sit out. If you are injured, that is when you want to stay out, but if you are just hurt, sore, broke ribs, broke toes, broke foot or something like that, you are fine. If you have something, say a ligament is torn in your knee, (or you have) a fracture in your femur that could cause real, real bad injury, then yeah, you would sit out.”
Ironically, Webster says his worst injury came just one day after he won that 2009 freestyle championship.
“It is a kind of wild story,” Webster said. “It is some of the rankest fighting bulls there is in America. To go through that event and win that event and come out pretty clean and healthy is something that doesn’t happen very often. I won it Saturday night and the next day in my Grandpa’s practice pen, I broke my leg and blew my ankle out.”
Webster had to undergo reconstructive surgery on his ankle because of the injury.
Byrne said that even if Webster’s MCL had been significantly damaged last month in Las Vegas, he believes Webster more than likely would have still competed in Baltimore.
“He wasn’t missing this one,” Byrne said. “That is just part of our culture. You are going to take some shots. It is just no way around it. It doesn’t matter how good you are. You are going to get into a position where it is them (a rider) or you, and it has to be you.”
Webster admitted that even though he competed at the Finals in October, there still was a special feeling about making his first BFTS regular-season appearance on Friday.
He added that he had chills getting in the truck with Newsom on Thursday to drive to the airport and fly to Baltimore and had to take a step back when he picked up his bullfighting jersey Friday afternoon and saw his name listed on the back.
“Man, we are pretty excited – even Frank,” Webster said. “We got the ants in our pants and we are ready to get rolling. It is time to get started. I kind of feel like I am in my own and ready to take care of business. I definitely feel more seasoned after Finals.”
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