Rookie Marco Rizzo Soaking it All in Amidst Career-Best UTB Finish

By: James Youness

LOS ANGELES – In a season where we may be officially seeing the veterans collectively pass the torch to this year’s standout rookie class, it was yet again another first-year who took home the event-winning honors Saturday night inside Arena.

That man is the top-ranked bull rider in the world in No. 1 Cassio Dias.

And after popping off for an epic 94.75-point score en route to besting the most talented animal athlete in the world (Man Hater, who held up his end of the deal with a flashy 46-point bull score), he’s now captured one-third of this year’s showdowns, with Saturday night’s victory representing his fourth win in 12 appearances.

While Dias 100% deserves his flowers (and he will get those), it was another rookie rider who showed up in a big way.

Not only in proclaiming himself another skilled member of the 2024 rookie class, but perhaps more importantly for his qualification status.

His name? Marco Rizzo.

Entering the weekend ranked No. 52 overall with a 1-for-6 start to his premier series career, the 19-year-old knew it was about time to get something brewing.

Originally tasked with going head-to-head against Shot in the Dark, Rizzo was awarded a re-ride in the opening round.

A second chance that he wouldn’t let slip. But one that both requires, and takes, a toll.

Later going the distance aboard Ah Hell for a quality 86 points, he was on the board and having fun!

And when the youngster exited his Round 1 matchup with his second-ever qualified ride on the Unleash The Beast tour, he quelled any potential worries while letting his riding do the talking.

“Oh man, it feels good. I was struggling there a little bit. I got one rode in Houston and after that for the past three weeks, I’ve been getting close to the whistle but wasn’t getting there and it was kind of bugging me,” Rizzo shared.

“So, I went home and practiced and dedicated myself because I wasn’t about to get cut right there on that bubble, you know? So it feels really good just to know I was able to pick up a couple of points, settle in right and now I’m feeling comfortable in the environment.”

Returning to the arena on championship Saturday already with two outs under his belt, albeit only one counting due to the re-ride issued, he may not have gotten points for both of the rides, but his body sure felt more than one attempt.

Initially drawing a matchup against HomeBru in Round 2 … yep, you guessed it … Rizzo was awarded yet another re-ride attempt, which would mark his fourth bull in 25 hours or so, give or take.

Thankfully for the youth-ridden athlete, he stays prepared for these types of situations via his training.

“It kind of beats you up a little bit physically. Especially when you have a hard out like HomeBru, you know? You kind of get in a bit of a discombobulated situation. Kinda get hung up and beat up a bit,” he shared.

“So, physically it’s kind of bad, but I’ve been used to it from getting on practice bulls. I usually get on three or four practice bulls at the practice pen just to prepare my body for these types of situations, so I come ready for it. Re-rides really don’t bug me.”

Proving exactly that, he went the distance aboard Bubba G for 84.5 points en route to improving his ride streak to two and forcing the crowd into an uproar.

Going down to the dirt on one knee following the dismount, he raised a hand to the sky in thanks after improving to a perfect 2-for-2 on the weekend.

“At first I was doubting myself. I was kind of worried like I didn’t belong here,” he admitted.

“Then, after that first one on Friday night, I felt really good. Tonight just kept boosting my confidence and it felt really good.”

While Dias went on to steal the show and earn another big win, the podium still featured three rookies in total, with Dias, No. 3 John Crimber picking up another runner-up finish and Rizzo himself standing tallest among the pack.

Which says a lot about the future of our sport.

“I think this rookie class means something to me because I’ve seen a lot of the guys I’m riding with like Kaiden Loud, John Crimber, Clay Guiton, I’ve watched Cort (McFadden) a bunch … and a lot of those young guys that are here with me, they pump me up because we grew up riding together,” he detailed.

“All of those junior and high school rodeos, we all were there together, so seeing them do it was awesome, because it made me feel like I could do it too. I’ve always been around really good friends, but it’s awesome to be here and be a part of it. Just to know we all worked really hard to get where we are, and getting the attention now, it’s just a blessing from God. This is what we dreamed of.”

Content with leaving it up to the man upstairs and remaining thankful for the opportunity of doing what he loves with some of his closest companions, he’s been soaking in the limelight while staying determined.

And after jumping up the standings by 15 ranks after taking home a welcomed 65 UTB points Saturday, we’d say the strategy is worth another shot next weekend in Jacksonville, Florida, at that rate.

“I always tell people we aren’t competing against the riders, we’re competing against the bulls and may the best man win. If your bull bucks a little harder than your buddy’s, oh well,” he said.

“It was God’s plan, so I’m not really worried about who wins, I’m just worried about staying on bulls.”

Photo courtesy of Andy Watson/Bull Stock Media

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