Remembering Smooth Operator (2010-2022)

By: Justin Felisko

PUEBLO, Colo. – Reigning Stock Contractor of the Year Chad Berger has had a hard time this week pulling into the driveway to his ranch in Mandan, North Dakota, and glancing toward the new bullpen he and his team were in the process of installing.

Berger was closing in on putting the finishing touches on a brand-new pen featuring a custom branded sign to house two-time YETI World Champion Bull Smooth Operator so the bull could enjoy a peaceful life in retirement.

“It is heartbreaking as anything,” Berger told on Tuesday evening. “I drive by the pen now and think, ‘Son of a gun, he never got to spend a day in there.’”

Berger made the tough decision to put Smooth Operator to rest this weekend after the 12-year-old retired bovine superstar had taken a turn for the worse because of a bout with cancer.

“After the World Finals, I could tell something was going on with him,” Berger said. “We took him to Dr. (Gary) Warner, and he was diagnosed with cancer. He started eating again and seemed to be improving until recently. Once he started getting so thin, I didn’t want him to be suffering anymore.”

Smooth Operator’s late-career resurgence, which resulted in him becoming the oldest two-time PBR World Champion Bull (2019, 2020) at 9 and 10 years old, came when Berger was actually in one of the darker periods of his stock contracting career.

In April 2018, Berger stunningly lost the No. 1-ranked bull in the world when Pearl Harbor passed away unexpectedly. Pearl Harbor was 10-0 and had a commanding lead in the World Champion Bull race. It had appeared that Berger had a franchise bull to build his operation around, and then everything changed that spring evening.

Berger would sit on his porch drinking a cup of coffee in the days and weeks after Pearl Harbor’s passing, wondering how he could finally find a bull who could deliver him his first sole World Championship. He was at a loss.

Lo and behold, Berger had a World Champion in the wings on his ranch in Smooth Operator.

In the days following Pearl Harbor’s passing, Berger could not fathom that a 9-year-old bull on his ranch would fill the gap of losing Pearl Harbor and bring him a World Championship.

“I am a crazy believer, but when we lost Pearl Harbor, I think he sent a little bit of his talent down to Smooth Operator,” Berger said this week. “Pearl Harbor was on his way to winning several world titles, and gosh dang, he passed away, and all of a sudden here comes Smooth Operator.

Berger then paused.

“He covered up a lot of wounds,” Berger continued. “I was hurting. It was something I will never forget. Some of my greatest memories are Smooth Operator winning that world title the first and the second time. He was such a fierce competitor. The injuries and whatnot from earlier in his career, to even get a shot at a world title, and to do it at 9 and 10 years old, he was a true warrior.”



Smooth Operator was born on New Year’s Day in 2010, and he would eventually make his premier series debut four years later with a 2.16-second buckoff of Douglas Duncan in Oklahoma City.

The 4-year-old bull would go 7-0 in his first season against the PBR’s finest competition, but it was at the 2014 PBR World Finals that Berger truly came to believe that Smooth Operator may have elite potential. In Las Vegas, Smooth Operator posted his first 45-point bull scores with buckoffs against three-time PBR World Finals event winner Robson Palermo (3.28 seconds) and eight-time PBR World Finals qualifier Kasey Hayes (2.18 seconds).

Berger would later acquire Smooth Operator from Rockin Rafter P Bucking Bulls following the 2014 World Finals.

The Mandan native, though, is never 100% sure whenever he acquires a bull if he will develop into a star or even a consistent championship-round bucker. Berger knows sometimes it can be a roll of the dice, but it did not take long in 2015 for him to believe Smooth Operator had the potential to be a superstar.

The turning point came in Seattle, when Smooth Operator bucked off four-time PRCA champion J.W. Harris twice in less than 24 hours, doing so in a quick 3.33 seconds and 2.44 seconds for eye-popping bull scores of 46 and 46.5 points.

“I could just see he could be a great bull,” Berger recalled. “When I first got him, those first five or six trips, he was ranker than when he won the world title. He just bucked so hard.”

Smooth Operator would buck off future World Champion Kaique Pacheco in his next out, giving him 17 consecutive buckoffs to begin his career. 2008 World Champion Guilherme Marchi became the first rider to reach the 8-second mark on Smooth Operator when he rode him for 83.5 points in Billings, Montana.

The 5-year-old bull would not be ridden again for the rest of the season but would post two subpar outs at the World Finals, finishing second to last in the 2015 World Championship race after being named a finalist.

Berger left Las Vegas wondering if there was something wrong.


Smooth Operator was eventually diagnosed with a career-threatening back injury following the 2015 season. He then sustained a broken kneecap in 2016 that led to Berger placing him on the sidelines for six months. All talk of a world title was on hold as Berger stressed not bucking Smooth Operator ever again unless he was given a vote of confidence from his veterinarians and a clean bill of health.

Smooth Operator began his career with a sparkling 23-1 record on the premier series. Still, Berger was unsure if his stout bovine could return to competition and be in the title conversation.

Smooth Operator would go a respectable 7-1 on the premier series in the second half with an average bull score of 43.78 points, but he was far from a world title contender. Regardless, Smooth Operator would qualify for a third PBR World Finals and teamed up with Marchi to tie for the Round 2 victory with 89.5 points.

Berger was extremely proud of Smooth Operator’s comeback.

“I didn’t know if he would ever be able to come back and be as good as he was,” Berger said. “It took him a while. He didn’t give it his all for a while because he was being cautious with his body. He finally started to turn it on.”



Smooth Operator may not have truly been in contention for the world title in 2017 or 2018, but he did return to being one of the most difficult bulls in the PBR to ride.

In the next two seasons, only two riders were able to successfully convert against Smooth Operator in 34 outs at all levels of competition.

The late Mason Lowe would ride Smooth Operator for the $26,000 high-marked ride award at the 2017 Iron Cowboy inside AT&T Stadium on February 19, 2017.

Then Smooth Operator would give Berger a reason to smile five months after Pearl Harbor’s passing when he teamed up with 2016 World Champion Cooper Davis for one of the greatest rides in PBR history.

Davis rode Smooth Operator for 93.75 points on September 16, 2018, in Atlantic City, New Jersey. While the ride score may not rank among the all-time best, many in the industry believe Davis’s ride belongs in the conversation as one of the rankest bull rides of all time.

“I still think one of the best rides in PBR history was Cooper Davis on him in Atlantic City, New Jersey,” Berger said. “Play that tape, and it is hard to find that many bull rides better than that.”

Davis told on Wednesday, “Smooth Operator probably had more heart than any bull I’ve seen go up and down the road. That night in Atlantic City, I can just remember how strong he was and every round feeling different than the last. He was a special animal.”



Berger could not sleep on Championship Sunday of the 2019 PBR World Finals.

It was 3 a.m. when Berger woke up at the South Point Hotel & Casino. He grabbed his lucky pair of socks and boots that he had worn a few nights earlier when Smooth Operator erupted for a 46.25-point bull score for bucking off Dylan Smith in Round 2.

Berger, who had made an astute decision to switch Smooth Operator to a right-handed delivery late in his career, knew he was oh so close to finally achieving his own World Champion Bull title.

Sure enough, Smooth Operator put an end to SweetPro’s Bruiser’s streak of World Champion dominance when he erupted for a career-high 47 points a few hours later at the 2019 World Finals, becoming the oldest World Champion Bull in PBR history (9 years old).

Smooth Operator capped his YETI World Championship season by bucking off Chase Outlaw in 4.11 seconds, allowing him to conclude the season with a World Champion Bull average of 46 points. The 9-year-old bull defeated No. 2 Smooth Wreck (45.63), No. 3 Heartbreak Kid (45.55), No. 4 Fearless (45.45) and No. 5 Lil 2 Train (44.95).

Smooth Operator went 14-3 in 2019 with an average bull score of 45.51 points, marked 46 points or higher in seven of his 17 outs.

One of those buckoffs came in April in Billings, Montana, when Smooth Operator sent Alisson de Souza over the top-end like a helicopter a few weeks shy of the first anniversary of Pearl Harbor’s passing.

Berger said this week that may be one of the best buckoffs of Smooth Operator’s career.

“He sent that son of a buck flying,” Berger recalled with a laugh. “And Alisson was trying to ride him. Smooth Operator was once again bucking so hard.”

There was no better bull than Smooth Operator in 2019, and he swept all the marquee awards for a bovine athlete. Smooth Operator earned $150,000 by winning the YETI World Championship ($100,000), Bull of the Finals title ($25,000) and regular-season top bull honors ($25,000).

“I will tell you what. I don’t know if that bull knew today was the day, but he left every ounce he had right here on that dirt,” Berger said at the time. “I never seen a bull try that hard. He is 9 years old, and to come out and do what he did was amazing.”

Berger had considered retiring Smooth Operator following the 2019 PBR World Finals, but instead, Smooth Operator went on to make further history in 2020.

The only difference this time was that Berger was unable to be there to flank his bull to World Champion success.

Berger tested positive for COVID-19 days before the 2020 World Finals in Arlington, Texas. He had to watch anxiously from his home office to see if Delbert Nuse could help lead Smooth Operator a second consecutive world title amidst a fierce competition against 2019 ABBI Classic champion Chiseled.

Smooth Operator would not disappoint his owner. His 2.65-second buckoff of Ryan Dirteater during the championship round was enough to hold off Chiseled for the 2020 YETI World Championship and $100,00 in a race that came down to the final outs of the season.

The 10-year-old bovine beast was scored 46.25 points to cap off a historic season as he became the oldest back-to-back YETI World Champion Bull in PBR history.

Smooth Operator concluded the 2020 season with a 46.13-point World Champion Bull average to edge No. 2 Chiseled (46.03). In 2020, he went 15-2 on the premier series with a 45.50 average bull score. Reigning two-time World Champion Jose Vitor Leme also rode Smooth Operator for 94.25 points – the highest score ever recorded on the bull – on September 12, 2020, in Billings, Montana.

“That bull has won two world titles just with the heart,” Berger said from his office on that November afternoon. “It’s all heart. That bull has got the biggest heart to keep doing what he does. He just reminds me of an old campaigner that knew what he had to do to win. He came there, knew just what he had to do. He never got excited, never got nervous. He just came and did his job. That’s the best way to explain it. That old bull just knew what he was there for.”



Smooth Operator ended his career with one final buckoff – the 91st time he dumped one of the PBR’s top bull riders on the premier series – when he bucked off Derek Kolbaba in 5.52 seconds during Round 2 of the 2021 PBR World Finals.

Smooth Operator is the only bull in PBR history to qualify for the PBR World Finals eight times.

Smooth Operator went 91-13 in 104 outs on the premier series after making his debut in 2014. The feisty bovine was an outstanding 116-13 at all levels of competition.

He is one of only five back-to-back PBR World Champion Bulls. He, SweetPro’s Bruiser (2016-2018), Bushwacker (2013-2014), Little Yellow Jacket (2002-2004) and Dillinger (2000-2001) are the only bulls to pull off the monumental accomplishment. Smooth Operator is also one of six World Champion bulls with multiple world titles. (Bones is the only other bull not mentioned above to have won two or more world titles).

“A lot of his legacy is he is a two-time World Champ, and he is the only bull in PBR history to go to the World Finals eight times,” Berger said. “I am not going to say he is one of the greatest, but he is sure one of the best ever. He has a lot of Bushwacker, Little Yellow Jacket, Bones, Asteroid in him. They were probably ranker, but he still has two world titles.

“Everyone in the family loved him. He was our World Champion. Our family had a lot of fun with that bull, and we owe him a lot. We are going to miss him.”

Follow Justin Felisko on Twitter @jfelisko

Photo courtesy of Andy Watson/Bull Stock Media

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