Although he had a little trouble getting Blonde Bomber to cooperate in the bucking chute, Marco Eguchi was all business once he nodded his head. Eight seconds later, he took the lead in the overall average of the Built Ford Tough Invitational in Kansas City, Mo.
Eguchi watched Agnaldo Cardozo and L.J. Jenkins both come down early, as he claimed his first Built Ford Tough Series event win of 2013 and the second of his career. However, after suffering a terrible accident last November, he admitted the Kansas City win at Sprint Center meant even more to him than his first win last year in Sacramento, Calif.
"I think it was very, very important, because last year I was hurt serious," said Eguchi, who was hit by a bull's horn on the side of the face during the PBR Brahma Super Bull Finals in Brazil.
The injury left the entire right side of his face paralyzed and only now - three months later - is the 23-year-old getting the feeling and some movement back in his face.
"The face is not 100 percent yet," Eguchi said, "but I'm feeling better now."
Speaking entirely in English and only once using 2008 World Champion and fellow Brazilian rider Guilherme Marchi to help translate, an impassioned Eguchi recounted how he's been continuously reminded of the result of his November wreck.
"I think he's about as good as one can get."
Eguchi doesn't wear a protective helmet, and despite the ordeal, he has not switched to a helmet.
Instead, he still elects to wear his traditional cowboy hat.
He explained it's been a process not only to heal from the injuries, but to regain his confidence and compete without thinking about what happened.
"I needed more concentration," he explained.
He did just that this weekend.
Eguchi started out the two-day event with an 81-point effort in the opening round. It wasn't a big score, but Round 1 saw just 12 qualified rides. Only eight riders made the whistle in the second round, where Eguchi scored 84 on Cashin In. That pitted him in a battle with Cardozo and Jenkins going into the final round.
He took Blonde Bomber with the third pick in the bull draft.
By the time he climbed into the chute, he had slipped to sixth in average, but pushed Shane Proctor out of the lead with a combined 252.5 points on three bulls.
Afterward, Eguchi said he saw the bull last year and, while he knew all the bulls were hard, he was sure he'd record a "big score" if he made the whistle - with a chance to win.
Proctor's second place finish separated him from Silvano Alves by 702.46 points, while Eguchi moved to within 926.37 points of the world lead.
Alves, who became the first person win back-to-back world titles in PBR history, is trying to win a third title, while Proctor nearly earned his third win the past six BFTS events, as he continued to hold off the top two Brazilian contenders.
BUSHWACKED: How impressive was the 48 points Bushwacker put up Saturday night during the 15/15 Bucking Battle? It's only the fourth time in the past nine years a bull has been marked 48 points or higher.
And Bushwacker has two of those marks in the past three seasons. He was marked 48.5 points en route to winning the World Champion Bull title in 2011 when he bucked off Cord McCoy at the World Finals in Las Vegas.
"I don't know if you can ask one to be much better, really," said Kent Cox, who hauls Bushwacker for Julio Moreno. "I think he's about as good as one can get. You never know. I'm certainly not going to ask him to give us much more than he's been."
Bushwacker was marked 46 points in Oklahoma City and then bucked last week in St. Louis, Mo., where he posted a score of 47 points. The Kansas City outing was the second of three consecutive events. He'll go head-to-head with reigning World Champion Bull Asteroid on Saturday at the Dickies Iron Cowboy IV.
"He just keeps getting better and better, and that was kind of the plan from the get-go," said Cox, who believes Bushwacker is at his all-time best. Cox added he thinks the seven year old "is in his prime."
SHOW ME STATE: Missouri native Luke Snyder had 90 friends and family members in the stands on Saturday night, including his parents. In fact, his father Mike was sitting in the front row for the 15/15 Bucking Battle when his son rode King Lopez for 91.5 points.
"I've never been able to do anything really big," Snyder said of his previous trips to Kansas City, "so to be able to jump out there and… to be able to give them a thrill like that, it was a spectacular feeling."
It's only the fifth 90-plu-point score in 2013, and the first one in the past five BFTS events.
The 30-year-old Snyder, who is ranked sixth in the world standings, said the $21,000 payday "felt awesome, especially after letting one slip away from me in the first round."
INJURY UPDATES: Douglas Duncan, who scored 86.5 points in Round 2, did not compete in the championship round after aggravating a chronic right hip injury, which opened a place for Kody Lostroh. However, the 2009 World Champion also did not compete in the final round after aggravating his thumb injury. Harve Stewart was then the 10th rider in the draw for the championship round.
Saturday night, Billy Robinson was unable to compete in the 15/15 Bucking Battle after hanging up to his first round bull and aggravating pre-existing rib and riding hand injuries. He also did not compete in Round 2 on Sunday afternoon.
Alfonso Orozco and Lachlan Richardson were listed as questionable for Sunday after being injured Saturday night. Both did compete in Round 2, but neither advanced to Round 3. Orozco sustained a concussion and a laceration of his right ear when he was thrown hard to the ground by his Round 1 bull in Kansas City. Richardson sustained a concussion when he was thrown hard to the ground during the first round.
FIRST TIME FOR EVERYTHING: A pair of newcomers - Stetson Lawrence, 24, and Orozco, 23 - made their respective BFTS debuts in Kansas City over the weekend.
Lawrence scored 86 points on Train Robber to split fourth, fifth and sixth in the opening-round average. On his way back to the locker room, he said, "I was a little excited and I just had to calm myself down and get back to basics."
He added that prior to his out, which was a little more than midway through the round, he was able to collect his composure.
"What I do is close my eyes and kind of meditate - take long deep breaths and just try to slow my heart rate down," Lawrence explained. "Just stay focused, or else you get in a bind."
He called the BFTS "just another bull riding" and that he's confident in his skills and ability. He nearly put a second score on the board in Round 2, but after further review it was ruled a no score. The official buckoff time was 7.9 seconds.
Orozco, who hails from a small town outside of Mexico City, was 0-for-2 and as mentioned earlier, was roughed up in Round 1. However, he did finish the event.
Prior to the event, Orozco said he's been competing at Touring Pro Division events in the U.S. for the past month and has been competing professionally for the past five years. He earned a spot in the Kansas City draw after winning a TPD event in Jacksonville, Fla.
"I've waited for this opportunity and it's here," said Orozco, who is following in his father's footsteps as a bull rider. "Now I'm going to try and do the best I can to stay here."
As a youngster, Orozco was a onetime member of the Mexican team for the 2008 World Cup in Chihuahua, Mexico. His skills have advanced since then and he said he's one of many young Mexican riders capable of competing in the U.S.
However, he said some of his fellow Mexican riders are content with being close to family and friends.
Orozco, who has always wanted to be a bull rider, said he's willing to make that sacrifice to compete at the highest level.
"This is a dream for me," he said. "I want to go after my dream."
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