In a Crowded Rookie Class, Bunch is First to Strike with Event Win

By: Darci Miller

PUEBLO, Colo. – Coming into the 2024 Unleash The Beast season, there were a few names on everyone’s lips as the top rookies to watch.

Cassio Dias, who lit up the 2023 PBR Camping World Team Series with the Kansas City Outlaws, very nearly winning the regular-season MVP race.

John Crimber, an 18-year-old phenom with 10 Challenger Series and PBR Canada wins already under his belt in just a few short months.

And, of course, Sage Kimzey, the seven-time PRCA bull riding world champion who made the leap to the PBR during the Teams season and is giving the UTB his full attention for the first time.

But the rookie to make the most noise at the UTB season-opener in Tucson, Arizona, was none of them.

It was Caden Bunch.

The 20-year-old didn’t have the flashiest stats from the 2023 PBR Teams season, as he competed in just five regular-season events before the PBR Camping World Teams Championship in Las Vegas. And his Oklahoma Freedom went a lackluster 14-14 to finish fourth in the regular season before placing a disappointing sixth at the Teams Championship.

But he went 11-for-17 (64%) as Oklahoma’s closer, including a 2-for-3 showing in Las Vegas.

He came into Tucson with three premier series events already under his belt, though still on a quest for his first qualified ride.

And he got all that and then some.

Bunch went a perfect 3-for-3 to earn the first premier series win of his career – and shoot to the top of the early 2024 Unleash The Beast World Championship standings.

“I’ve been wanting one of these for a long time, and finally got one,” Bunch told CBS Sports Network’s Kate Harrison, holding his event champion buckle. “Now, time for the gold buckle.”

He began his weekend with 86 points on Ah Hell in Round 1 before placing second in Round 2 with 88.25 points on Mighty Mike.

“This guy’s the real deal, along with the rest of this rookie class,” 2016 World Champion Cooper Davis said on CBS Sports Network. “To me, this is the best rookie class that I’ve seen in the last 10 years, and this guy is going to be a big part of this rookie race.”

Bunch selected Concho with the first pick in the championship round draft – the first championship round of his premier-series career – and faced a stiff challenge.

Dias, Cody Jesus, three-time World Champion Jose Vitor Leme, Kimzey, and 2023 PBR Teams Championship MVP Joao Ricardo Vieira had all already gone 3-for-3.

Bunch did them all one better, riding Concho for just enough to win – 89.25 points – beating Vieira and Kimzey, who tied for second place, by half a point.

“I knew I picked a good bull,” Bunch said. “I just had to capitalize on it, and I did that. All them other guys, they’re real good. It feels good to come out on top.”

Bunch’s championship round ride had Davis extremely impressed.

“That’s what I’m talking about right here: stepping up in a big pressure situation,” Davis said. “As soon as the bull turned his head, he started lifting that leg and getting all the points he could out of it. That’s why he’s your champion today.”

Bunch, who’s ridden six of his last eight bulls, could be well on his way to more event champion buckles if he keeps this up. He’ll look to continue his momentum when the Unleash The Beast returns from a two-week break at the PBR St. Louis on Dec. 2-3. Action begins Dec. 2 at 7:45 p.m. ET on RidePass on Pluto TV.

His first victory is something he can be extra thankful for this year, and he’ll keep things simple as he chases Rookie of the Year honors and a coveted gold buckle.

“Just keep doing what I did this weekend,” Bunch said. “Riding my bulls, taking it one by one, and letting God do his job and guiding me in the right spot.”

Photo courtesy of Andy Watson/Bull Stock Media

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