Sage Kimzey is going to need new business cards.
The 20-year-old from Strong City, Okla., will have to change his title from “Rookie bull rider” to “World Champion Bull Rider.” He can add Wrangler National Finals Rodeo average winner as well after claiming the round win in the ninth performance on Friday night, and the average title is a first for a rookie bull rider.
Kimzey joined 1963 World Champion Bull Rider Bill Kornell as the only bull riding rookies to earn gold buckles and is the first rookie to win a world championship since ProRodeo Hall of Famer Joe Beaver won the tie-down roping title in his first year as a pro in 1985. Those are pretty amazing accolades for the affable and poised cowboy, who led the world standings for most of the season and didn’t fold under the pressure of having a bull’s eye on his back down the stretch.
He liked the ring “World Champion Sage Kimzey” had on Thursday night after clinching the title.
“It sounds pretty good,” said Kimzey, who has a rookie record $269,899 in earnings heading into Round 10. “It’s something I’ve been dreaming of and working for my whole life, so to get to this point is pretty crazy. It hasn’t sunk in at this point, because we’ve got two rounds left and my focus is on them. It is a dream come true, it really is.”
Kimzey earned his fourth go-round win of this year’s Finals in Round 9 and has ridden eight bulls in a row in Las Vegas.
“There are very few times you can actually get in a zone like this,” he said after Round 8. “Baseball players always refer to it as a beach ball coming toward you and you know exactly where it’s going, and that’s how I feel with my riding right now. Everything I’ve been on, I’ve felt in rhythm with them, and like there’s nothing that can throw me off.”
Kimzey envisioned a magical season like this, but is at a loss to actually see it come to fruition so perfectly.
“Envisioned it, yes, but it was somewhat of an untouchable dream,” he said. “It was something I’ve always wanted to do, but to reach the pinnacle of professional rodeo in my first year is pretty special. It’s unlike anything I’ve ever experienced, definitely.”
Kimzey comes from a strong rodeo family, and his father, Ted, was the NFR’s barrel man in 1987 and served as an alternate in 1986. He was one proud papa after I gave him the official news on Thursday night that Sage had clinched the gold buckle.
“I worked hard in the rodeo business, accomplished a hell of a lot in my life and had a lot of honors bestowed upon me, but undoubtedly this is the greatest moment of my rodeo career,” Ted said. “It doesn’t get any better for a dad. I can’t even put it into words, and this is just the best thing that’s ever happened to me in my life, with the exception of my children being born.
“There’s never been a dad that’s walked the face of the earth that’s ever been more proud than I am of what he’s done in one year.”
Kimzey also clinched the Ram Top Gun Award, which goes to the contestant with the most earnings in a single event, thanks to his victory in Round 9. He will take home a 3500 Ram Heavy Duty Longhorn Laramie truck, a special Montana Silversmiths custom buckle and a Ram Truck Top Gun-branded gun from Commemorative Firearms in addition to his gold buckle, a pile of cash and a Wrangler NFR average saddle.
If that wasn’t enough, Kimzey’s four round victories tie a bull riding record held by six other men, so he has a chance to set a new record for his event with another first-place finish on Saturday night.
ProRodeo Hall of Fame Bull Rider Don Gay has been impressed by Kimzey and said he believes the youngster has a chance to tie or break his event record of eight gold buckles.
“If he doesn’t, he may be leaving something on the table, because he’s winning his first world title at 20 and that’s how old I was,” Gay said. “Everything is set up perfectly for him, but there’s a lot of things out there that were not available in my day.”
A battered and bruised J.W. Harris, who has four gold buckles of his own, feels Kimzey will make a fine world champion.
“I think he’ll be a good one, as long as he keeps carrying the torch,” Harris said. “It’s good for the PRCA that we’ve got a really good set of young guys who’ve come in to the NFR this year, and it does a lot for the sport.”
He’s quickly become the story of the Finals, and having Kimzey as the sport’s reigning world champion in 2015 should be a great thing for the sport.