By: Justin Felisko
PUEBLO, Colo. – Ezekiel Mitchell could not stop smiling and laughing as countless fans inside the iconic Cowtown Coliseum kept running up to him with their cell phones opened and begging for a photo or a quick autograph.
Mitchell politely did his best to balance the Sharpies, cowboy hats, and arms thrown in his direction last Friday night.
The 24-year-old was more than happy to try his best for 10 or 15 minutes following his victory at the Stockyards Showcase this past weekend to interact with a dedicated fan base that erupted when he won the Touring Pro Division event with an 87.75-point ride on RLC-604.
It had been almost two years since Mitchell last won a PBR event at any level of competition. His last win came on August 1, 2019, at the Brighton, Colorado, TPD event.
“It was really fun tonight,” Mitchell said in Fort Worth. “I finally am feeling dialed in, feeling like myself. I am feeling better than myself, actually. I never really felt to be in this headspace that I am in. I am just looking to try to win the world. That’s it. That is my number one focus when I show up to the event. It is not even winning events anymore.”
Mitchell then let out a laugh.
“Apparently, winning doesn’t work out so good for me,” he joked. “So, I am focusing on winning the world, and maybe that will work out better than trying to win an event.”
Off in the background, a group of fans still in the grandstands yelled over to Mitchell.
“Zeke! Zeke! Great job tonight!”
Mitchell smiled. “Thank you!”
The two-time PBR World Finals qualifier would have stayed even longer to sign autographs and pose for photos if not for a pre-event Bulls After Dark meeting he had to attend.
Mitchell has evolved into one of the PBR’s biggest fan favorites since earning a full-time spot on the league’s top Unleash The Beast Tour in 2019. His outgoing, fun-loving and genuine personality has won over thousands of fans who have come to discover him through the PBR’s media reach and power.
Riding, as well as celebratory dancing, in front of a national television audience on CBS and CBS Sports Network weekly, engaging continuously with fans on his social media accounts (Mitchell has 83,000 followers on Instagram and 302,000 followers on TikTok), being a subject on the Snapchat docuseries “Life By The Horns,” and being interactive during the PBR’s OTT broadcasts on RidePass are just some of the reasons he has captured the hearts of many during his three-year career.
The Rockdale, Texas, native knows part of his stardom translates to being a bull rider in the PBR. He is hopeful that future up-and-coming Black cowboys – and other dedicated Black cowboys of various ages and backgrounds – will be able to benefit from the partnership between the nation’s leading all-Black touring rodeo – the Bill Pickett Invitational Rodeo – and the PBR.
PBR will co-produce its first Bill Pickett event Sunday in Las Vegas at the MGM Grand Garden Arena. CBS will also air a one-hour special featuring highlights and event storylines Saturday, June 19 at 1 p.m. ET, while RidePass will carry some of the action from Vegas this Sunday.
“It is a good opportunity, with everything going on right now in the world, to bring light to rodeo and a different culture,” Mitchell, who will be competing at the Bill Pickett Invitational, said. “It will be culture shock for a lot of people. I know a lot of people don’t know there are Black cowboys out there. It will be really cool to be out there and actually perform, and do well, on national television.”
The Juneteenth television special will be the first time an all-Black rodeo has been broadcast on network television. Juneteenth is the date honoring the end of slavery in the United States and a celebration of the oldest African American holiday.
“For it to actually air on that day, a lot of people will be at home watching,” Mitchell said. “It is going to be a very cool opportunity for everybody. One of the biggest things that is going to come from it is just showing people they have a chance to be something greater than themselves and be more successful. A lot of people never thought they could have the opportunity to be on TV. If somebody can see that and want to be a part of it, then I think it is going to drive more people into our sport.”
Mitchell nearly won his first premier series event on May 22 as he went into the championship round of the PBR Bad Boy Mowers Invitational, presented by Union Home Mortgage, in the event lead. However, 2019 ABBI Classic Champion Chiseled had an unconventional trip and bucked him off in four seconds.
The fifth-place finish in Jacksonville still helped push Mitchell back into the Top 30 of the world standings. Mitchell, ranked No. 26, has struggled this season (8-for-28) and was nearly cut from the PBR’s top tour after missing a month because of a right groin injury.
Mitchell was sitting No. 34 in the world standings when he returned to action on May 14 in Billings, Montana, and he called it “very eye-opening” knowing he was on the cusp of losing his full-time draw spot.
“I’ve just been struggling all year between a few little, small injuries and just not showing up every weekend like I am supposed to,” Mitchell said. “Stuff done here and there. I haven’t been competing to my full ability. Sitting at home with that groin injury gave light to why I love riding bulls and that I need to push a little harder. I don’t want to be a flash in the pan, and I don’t want to be gone. That was a scary concept that I was getting in as an alternate. I didn’t like that at all.”
Mitchell has drawn Cali’s Dream for Round 1 on Friday night (10 p.m. ET on CBS Sports Network & RidePass) at the Las Vegas Invitational.
“Now it is time to get back on the tracks to try and win a world title,” Mitchell concluded. “That is why I entered this Touring Pro (in Fort Worth). People are sitting at home. I am going to try and keep getting these points and moving forward. It was just finding a groove and feeling like I am supposed to feel again. Once I found that, that’s when I got hurt. It was just small things. I ain’t worried about it, really. I am just worried about winning now.”
Follow Justin Felisko on Twitter @jfelisko
Photo courtesy of Andy Watson/Bull Stock Media
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