ARLINGTON, Texas ― Because of the unique format, the Iron Cowboy event in Cowboys Stadium presents a unique challenge for PBR Livestock Director Cody Lambert when it comes to selecting bulls.
At a normal Built Ford Tough Series event, the best bulls ― the ones with the highest point potential ― appear in the Built Ford Tough Championship Round, and the rest of the bulls appear in one or more of the long rounds. Here at Iron Cowboy IV, each bull must be paired with another bull that is similar in multiple ways.
"He's right in his prime, and he's better than anything I've ever seen."
"At this event, I need to match them up not only by score, but by degree of difficulty," Lambert said. "They also need to be matched up by delivery. Because of the way the arena is laid out, with bucking chutes in four locations, bulls in a single match need to be able to go out of the same set of chutes. I don't try to match them by bucking style so much, but I do pair bulls with a similar degree of difficulty. Bulls can have different styles and be equally difficult."
This pairing goes right up to the top of the brackets, where someone on Bushwacker will square off against another rider on Asteroid. The two best bulls in bull riding today will appear for the first time this season at the same event.
"As great as Asteroid has been ― he's the reigning World Champion ― I think Bushwacker is the bull to beat right now," Lambert said. "He's right in his prime, and he's better than anything I've ever seen."
For bulls and riders, Iron Cowboy IV is the most exclusive bull riding event held anywhere in the world. Only 24 riders qualify for this event, and only 47 bulls will buck here. The smaller field of competitors on both sides allows Lambert to assemble a powerful pen of bulls, and over the past three years the Iron Cowboy has been held, it has hosted the rankest pens of bulls from top to bottom ever seen in the sport.
"My problem is that everyone who has good bulls wants to bring them to Dallas, and I can't take them all," Lambert said. "It's tougher for a bull to qualify for the Iron Cowboy than for any other event. We have around 145 bulls that qualify for the World Finals, but only 47 get to buck here. It's fitting that the Iron Cowboy is held in Texas, too. There is bull riding somewhere in Texas every single day, and Saturday will be the only day in 2013 that the state of Texas will see the best bull riders go up against the best bulls in the sport."
The head-to-head format that allows riders to advance on time tends to generate a lot of discussion about bull riding, some of it heated. Among people who have been around the sport a long time, there are many who don't like the idea of winning without making a qualified ride.
"We're not trying to change the sport of bull riding," Lambert said. "This is a once-a-year event. It's a fun format to watch because the head-to-head aspect of it is exciting. It may not be considered old school, but no one who considers himself old school ever had to get on five bulls of this caliber in one week, much less one day. They just didn't exist in the past, or at least not so many of them at one event. What did happen in the past was that bulls would be too easy or unevenly matched at rodeos, and that regularly kept the best riders from winning. There's really no weakness in the set of bulls we have here. This won't be a cakewalk ― it's an extremely tough event to win."
This year's Iron Cowboy will receive $50,000 and the opportunity to double his money by riding Monster Energy Money Bull Shepherd Hills Tested in the bonus round.
Follow Slade Long on Twitter @ProBullStats
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