“Woo, Pig.”

 

Chase Outlaw’s mouth crimps up into a smile at The Natural State greeting. Arkansas’ most-recognized native bull rider, he’s reached the upper echelon of the sport and stayed there for more than a decade. Videos of him abound on social media, he’s dominated bulls in professional competitions around the U.S. and internationally, and sponsor patches jostle for space on his competitive gear.

 

But at his heart, he’s still just a country boy from Hamburg, trying to make a living doing what he loves most, eight seconds at a time.

 

“Arkansas has always supported me and had my back,” he said. “I mean, Arkansas is a different kind of state. We stick to our own. So, it’s a blessing to do what I do in front of my home state.”

 

Outlaw will get just such an opportunity when the PBR U.S. Border Patrol Invitational comes roaring into Simmons Bank Arena in North Little Rock, March 3 and 4. Just talking about the possibility of a hometown win puts a little extra kick in his long, smooth drawl.

 

“That event right there means the world,” he said. “To get the win there would be even sweeter.”

 

Outlaw has been sticking himself to the backs of bucking animals since he was 5 and despite a dalliance with high school football, the passion for rodeo and specifically bull riding, has never dimmed.

 

chase outlaw

Photo courtesy of PBR

 

“I’d say I was pretty much a natural. Don’t really like to brag but yeah, it came to me pretty good,” he said. “I really didn’t realize how good I was because it just come so easy, you know.”

 

Outlaw hit the PBR circuit in 2012 and posted a rookie season that showed the sport he’d be one to be reckoned with for years to come. That season, he posted 55 rides out of 108 outs for a 51% ride average. He won six times, placed in the Top Five 19 times and Top 10 25 times, ultimately ranking 21st in the world.

 

He ranked inside the top 20 in the world three of his next four years, before putting together a breakout season in 2017. It was a season built on grit; his ride percentage was one of the lowest of any of his full seasons, and he posted less than half the wins of the previous year. But he placed top 10 or better 46 times and ended the year ranked sixth in the world. The bull riding community, both fans and fellow riders, sat up and took notice of the young Arkansan, even as he relished being part of the tribe.

 

“It’s an awesome brotherhood. Some of my best friends in the world are those who I met through rodeo,” he said. “I got more best friends in rodeo than I do in my hometown where I grew up. You know what I’m sayin’?

 

“We’re all a different breed, and we all know that. Everybody comes from different walks of life, but we all got the same rhythm of heartbeat if you know what I’m saying.”

 

Outlaw enters the Little Rock event ranked 39th and looking to move up in the standings in this, the 11th year the event has played North Little Rock. The competition comes at a time of exploding popularity in bull riding, grown from a very simple strategy.

 

Sean Gleason, PBR CEO
Photo courtesy of PBR

 

Sean Gleason, CEO said, “For 30 years, PBR has used a model and was founded on the belief that bull riding is an exciting sport that can appeal to mainstream America, as well as communities that either lost a rodeo or had literally no opportunity to engage with any type of Western sport. I always say we hook them with the spectacle and then we win their hearts and minds with the sport.”

 

Bull riding has been around as long as there have been cowboys brave enough or crazy enough to do it. Like most rodeo events, it grew out of the cattle-punching culture on ranches in Old Mexico and the American West. But unlike roping, barrel racing and bronc riding, which grew out of practical chore skills, bull riding developed for one reason and one reason only – machismo.

 

By the mid 1800s, a Mexican form of bull riding called jaripeo was rapidly growing in popularity, and by the 1930s, sanctioning bodies began to form to standardize rules for the event. One of these, Rodeo Cowboy’s Association, formed in 1945 and changed its name to the Professional Rodeo Cowboy’s Association (PRCA) in the 1970s, per American Cowboy.com.

 

In 1992, bull riders broke away from the PRCA to create their own organization and governing rules under the name Professional Bull Riders (PBR). Growth in the popularity of bull riding since has been astonishing. More than 500 PBR bull riders from around the world compete in more than 200 bull riding events each year on the nationally televised Unleash The Beast and PBR Team Series, Pendleton Whisky Velocity Tour and Touring Pro Division, in addition to those held by international divisions in Australia, Brazil and Canada.

 

Little Rock falls on the back half of the Unleash the Beast competitive season, making it an important stop for cowboys looking to qualify for May’s World Finals in Fort Worth, Texas.

 

chase outlaw

Photo courtesy of PBR

 

“Little Rock has been one of my favorite events on tour for a number of years,” Gleason said. “It’s cowboy country. It’s a very diverse fanbase. They’re not all coming from the rural areas of Arkansas. We’ve got a lot of fans that live in the heart of Little Rock. It’s also a very important event for riders who are trying to maneuver in the world standings going into the World Finals.”

 

Since its founding, PBR has awarded $300 million in prize money, donated millions to charity and invested untold resources in the quality of the product. Each of these elements is what makes the PBR the elite of the rodeo world.

 

“One of the reasons that PBR has been as successful as it is, is because we contemporize Western sports,” Gleason said. “We brought a contemporary production to Western sports, and it’s a world-class production that entertains and informs our audiences. It’s not just slapping some guys on bulls; it’s literally one of the most complex and high-end touring shows that’s on the road.”

 

With that has come a sophisticated publicity and market research machine that analyzes the current and potential audience in every way imaginable, to better give the public what it wants. Gleason said the data mining process is so refined, it’s yielded remarkable consumer information, such as differences in preferences by gender. For example, men tend to root for the rider, he said, while more women, proportionately speaking, root for the bull.

 

chase outlaw

Bull riding fans Bobby and Margie Martin and their bucking stock. Photo courtesy courtesy of Bobby Martin.

 

That’s where people like Bobby Martin of Rogers comes in. A former WalMart executive and current chairman of the Arkansas Game and Fish Commission, Martin owns and raises bovine athletes whose job it is to push cowboys to their limits. It’s an expensive pastime, one rooted in the Martin family’s status as longtime PBR fans.

 

“We would go to Las Vegas for the World Finals, and I remember one year my wife and daughter looked at each other and said, ‘This would be a lot more fun if we owned a bull,’” Martin said. “Before we left Las Vegas, we’d bought two.”

 

Photo courtesy courtesy of Bobby Martin

 

Martin, whose bucking stock will be featured at the North Little Rock event, has owned as many as 42 animals at once, but currently has only five that buck in events the caliber of PBR, the formidable-sounding Baptism by Fire and Black Ice being two of them.

 

“This is not a hobby for a novice,” he said. “The guys who are really, really good, who own the top, top bulls, go through a lot of bulls. They usually breed and raise them. They follow the genetics and all that stuff. But you don’t really train them, they are born. This type of bull is born to buck, just like a thoroughbred is born to run.”

 

In the PBR world, a rank bull is every bit the celebrity a tough cowboy is, with stats and tendencies tracked down to the smallest detail. Riders don’t live in fear of a particularly formidable bull, quite the opposite. The tougher the bull is to ride for eight seconds, the higher the cowboy scores.

 

“The score is developed where it’s 50 potential points for the rider and 50 potential points for the bull,” Martin said. “If a bull doesn’t do well, doesn’t come out very intense, doesn’t really kick the back high or doesn’t turn back, the bull will only maybe get like a 40, and the rider’s score might be 83 or 84. That’s not great. The big-time scorers get into the 90’s and that’s when the roof comes off the stadium. That’s where the bull is really ranke, really intense, very showy, very dangerous, and the rider also shows their skill.”

 

Outlaw is well-versed in the value of a rank bull in competition, even though riding one comes with inherently more unpredictability and danger. The sport has seen riders die of injuries, and most riders stop counting broken bones, lacerations and even internal injuries after just a few years. It’s the ultimate test of man and beast, where a cowboy has to think as hard as he holds on if he’s going survive.

 

Chase Outlaw

Hamburg’s Chase Outlaw will look to finish in the money before the North Little Rock home crowd March 3-4.
Photo courtesy of PBR.

 

“You just got this last thought; does it feel good?” said Outlaw to describe the heartbeat between let er go and all hell breaking loose out of the chute. “Really, you don’t have no thought cause it takes at least a second to react to the thought process, and by the time you react to the thought process, you’re already in the midst of chaos, and you don’t know how to get out.

 

“It’s all instinct. It’s all instinct, man, when you’re in that zone. The fact is, cowboys aren’t competing against each other, we’re competing against the bull. If somebody beats the other that means they had a better bull than you.”

 

That doesn’t mean man and beast are necessarily dance partners in the whole thing. In fact, the bull knows only one thing: to expel the rider with extreme prejudice. If he can’t, the score is high; if he can, the cost can be too.

 

In 2018, Outlaw entered the season as one of the favorites, and he lived up to the hype, albeit going through hell in the process. Having missed a good chunk of the front half of the year due to reconstructive shoulder surgery, he was eager to start piling up rides and qualify for his seventh straight World Finals.

 

In late July, he appeared at the Calgary Stampede aboard War Cloud. The 2,000-pound bull jumped twice out of the chute, before turning left and launching skyward, catching the rider full in the face with the top of its head.

 

Outlaw, all 5’6” and 150 pounds of him, landed heavy in the dirt, nearly every bone in his face shattered. Photos of him after the collision, drenched in his own blood, made papers everywhere and videos of the 1.5 second ride were watched again and again on social media. In a sport where serious injuries are as common as chaps, Outlaw’s wreck caught even the most grizzled rider’s attention.

 

Within 48 hours, he’d undergo a 12-hour surgery (a second seven-hour one came later) to put back together the 15 facial fractures per side, using up 68 screws, 11 plates, four pieces of surgical mesh and at least two of his apparent nine lives in the process. Most amazing of all, he was back in the arena 75 days later, gutting out the waning competitions of the year to qualify for his seventh straight World Finals.

 

He’d top that the following year with his best year-end finish – third in the world – but his legend was already cemented. Even today, when asked if he’d at any time thought of hanging it up due to his injuries, the mere thought of quitting hits him harder than War Cloud ever did.

 

“Did I ever think, hey, this isn’t worth it?  No, not really,” he said. “To be the best bull rider, you got to ride em all. The big ones, the small ones, the ones that go left, right, straight and some of the ones that go backwards. That’s what wins you the world title. Besides, I ain’t anything but 30 years old. My timer hasn’t run out yet.”

 

PBR U.S. Border Patrol Invitational

Simmons Bank Arena, North Little Rock

March 3-4, 2023

Simmonsbankarena.com

pbr.com

 

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