Fans in Las Vegas for the Wrangler National Finals Rodeo weren’t restricted to seeing great rodeo action at the Thomas & Mack Center this year.
Thanks to the inaugural Exclusive Genetics Million Dollar Bucking Bull & Rider Tournament, visitors to Cowboy FanFest at the Las Vegas Convention Center were treated to high-level competition in the 1,300-seat Wrangler Rodeo Arena. Sixteen talented bull riders squared off against 24 rank bulls in a bracket-style, double-elimination tournament with big paychecks on the line.
The tournament ran Dec. 5-7 and from 9-13, with Texas bull riders Aaron Pass and Neil Holmes squaring off in the championship finale on Friday. Pass matched wits with Rajin JT, the 2010 ABBI World Champion futurity bull owned by Brad and Jamie Bays of Colorado, and they combined for a score of 95.28.
That was just enough to edge Holmes’ 94-point ride aboard a bull named Biohazard from the Nunes Livestock string. Pass, the Championship Bull Riders’ current 2014 standings leader, pocketed $16,000, while Holmes, also a CBR regular, took home $12,000.
Pass, who won the 2011 PRCA Xtreme Bulls Tour event in Laughlin, Nev., was thrilled to earn the victory despite being under the weather.
“I didn’t get to ride my best, because I’ve been battling the flu and have been bad sick,” said Pass, of Dallas. “I felt weak and haven’t really eaten much all week. I’ve been really healthy this year, haven taken better care of myself, and feel it’s been proven.”
Holmes, who hails from Houston, was also a happy camper after his five-figure pay day.
“I feel like I rode well, and overall, I’m pretty satisfied,” Holmes said. “It came down to me and Aaron, and I figured whoever got that Razin JT bull would win it. Sure enough, that’s how it happened.”
The competition featured top riders like 2012 CBR World Champion Josh Barentine and Scottie Knapp, who won the PRCA Xtreme Bulls Tour event in Winnie, Texas, this year and finished 19th in the PRCA world standings. Both finalists agreed the bull riding should gain momentum and be even bigger next year.
“It’s a pretty cool event,” Pass said. “The new format is pretty exciting, and I think it will grow over the years.”
Jeff Bressler, one of the event’s announcers, agreed.
“We’ve played to packed houses here at Cowboy FanFest, and the stands have been full for all eight performances,” Bressler said. “We really wanted to put both the cowboys and the bulls – in terms of being athletes – on an even bar, and it proved to work really well. You can’t ask for much more.”
The format pleased Holmes.
“I love the idea of it, and it gives the sport of bull riding a whole new concept,” Holmes said. “It gives the riders something to look forward too and the bull riding fans and bull owners. It’s a great deal, and I don’t see it doing anything but getting better.”
Vonnie Nunes, whose bull Biohazard took home top honors among the buckers, thoroughly enjoyed this year’s competition.
“I think it’s a great event,” said Nunes, who earned $25,000 for having the top bull at the event. “You can bring the bulls to go up against the riders, and the whole bracket style really puts a whole different twist on a regular event such as a rodeo or a bull riding. Biohazard, he’s a really good bull, but is rider-friendly, so we knew it was the perfect setup for him.
“It was very cool.”
Like their peers, Pass and Holmes want to be in Las Vegas riding bulls in the Thomas & Mack Center.
“It’s the Super Bowl of our sport,” Pass, who plans to enter most of the PRCA’s big winter rodeos, said of the Wrangler NFR. “There’s the PBR and CBR Finals, but none of them match up to being at the NFR.”
The success of the bull riding event was evident, and the impact it had on Cowboy FanFest was apparent. Thumbs up to year No. 1, and it should only get better from here.