Richest Western athlete


  • This year marks the PBR’s 20th year of competition.
  • In conjunction with the season-long celebration, the PBR announced the official list of the Top 20 Moments in PBR history. “Richest Western Athlete” is the latest in ongoing series of moments.
  • Justin McBride is the richest western athlete.
  • McBride shocked everyone but those closest to him when he announced his retirement in 2008. He had set the all-time career earnings mark with more than $5.1 million.
  • He also holds the all-time single-season earnings mark with more than $1.8 million in 2007.

In This Article

PUEBLO, Colo. ― The dream of 20 men, who founded the PBR in April 1992, was meant to provide the hope of a better future for all the professional bull riders who came after them.

And little more than a decade later, that hope was all Justin McBride took with him to a bank when he asked for a multi-million dollar loan to purchase his Oklahoma ranch.

"I had won my first (World Championship)," he explained, "but I was still a long way from having what I needed to buy that place. I needed to win that other one."

Having won the 2005 title, the Nebraska-native laid claim to the $1 million bonus paid to World Champions in $100,000 installments over 10 years.

Marketed as the face of the organization and revered as one of the best riders to have nodded his head in the PBR, McBride could only dream there was at least one more title in his future.

"Knowing what the PBR had to offer," he recalled, "and just trusting that I could go do that is pretty much how (the bank) did that."

Putting his faith in accomplishing what only two men ― Adriano Moraes and Chris Shivers ― before him had done, which is to win two World Championships, McBride bet his long-term future on the success of the remainder of his riding career.

He was honest with the bankers in telling them, "I have at least $100,000 every year I can give you. I said, 'That's really the only promise I can make you.'

"But they knew exactly what you were able to win and everything like that and so they said, 'When do you want to sign the papers?' I didn't even put any down. It wasn't like they said, 'You need to come up with 10 percent, 15 percent of it.'

"I signed my name on the dotted line," he continued, "and then went and got busy."

McBride went on to win his second world title in 2007 and called it a career following the 2008 season.

"When I came around I thought Moses finally got to see the Promised Land, but it was really just starting to grow."

His name is at the top of nearly every statistical category in the PBR record books, but, when it came to that bank note, the most telling stat of his career is that he had earned more than $5 million.

"Yeah," said McBride, with a sense of relief, "that was a good, good feeling when I won that second one.

"It is, ah, it's pretty scary to sign your name for several million and you know it's there, but it's not like you have a 9-to-5 job where you can go make that. You have to go try and win it and hope you don't get hurt. It was a little scary, so when it did happen it was a great feeling.

"When I knew that I could retire," he concluded, "and not lose my place was a great, great feeling."

Throughout its 20th anniversary season, the PBR will profile the Top 20 Moments in PBR History. "Richest Western Athlete" is the latest in an ongoing series of moments.

McBride surpassed $5 million in career earnings ― not including sponsorships ― and retired at the conclusion of the 2008 season as the richest Western athlete and is still No. 1 on the list of all-time PBR money winners.

In 2005, the two-time World Champion won his first world title, and set the single-season earnings record with $1,479,231. In 2007, he won his second World Championship, set the single-season record for Built Ford Tough Series event wins with eight and broke his own single-season earnings mark with more than $1.8 million.

When McBride made his startling announcement only a week before the World Finals, he spoke highly of his appreciation for the 20 founders of the PBR and what their sacrifices meant for him and every rider since.

"Justin's a guy, that when he came around, he had a level of respect for the guys who came before him," said nine-time World Champion Ty Murray, who along with Cody Lambert, were two of the most influential PBR founders, "as I feel most greats in anything do. If you're talking about a great musician ― and I mean a great musician ― you can pretty much guarantee they have a respect for the greats who came before them."

Lambert added, "He has the ability to stay focused on what he's doing, but see the entire picture. He understands what this sport is and he understands what the PBR is and the PBR's role in the sport and a bull riders role in the PBR.

"A bull rider's role is to ride all they can and to earn all they can, but it's also to present the sport to as many more people as you can and allow those people to enjoy our sport."

Because of the money available ― $1 million bonuses for the world champ and next month the winner of the Iron Cowboy IV can leave Arlington, Texas, with as much as $250,000 for one regular-season event ― McBride referred to himself and everyone else as "spoiled little brats."

"We looked at Justin McBride as our first poster-child for what our dreams were," Murray said.

McBride had a 10-year career that took place only within the PBR. He dominated the competition and when he decided to retire in the prime of his career ― some will argue that he walked about from one or two more world titles ― Murray said, "He had something to show for it."

"That's what makes us so proud," Lambert said. "That was the plan, to make it where guys would have something when they retire."

For all intents and purposes, that was the payoff ― literally and figuratively ― of the dream.

The founders' initial idea was to make the sport better for the fans, and as a result, the payoff afforded a rider like McBride to out-earn every professional bull rider who had come before him. To date, 26 riders have earned in excess of a $1 million in career earnings and two or three ― including Brendon Clark ― could reach that milestone later this year.

More importantly, as a sign of the PBR's continued growth and overall strength, McBride's all-time mark is not only likely to be surpassed, but shattered within the next couple seasons.

Guilherme Marchi is less than $1 million from McBride's all-time mark of $5,124,418.42.

Two-time defending World Champion Silvano Alves came to the U.S. three years ago this coming April and has already earned $3,370,412.16 for an average well in excess of $1 million per season. With the amount of money not only available on the BFTS, but also internationally ― namely PBR Brazil ― it's not inconceivable to think he could earn in upwards of $10 million by the end of his career.

"You want somebody to break the annual earnings record and career earnings record every year," Lambert said, "and we hope that happens soon. The opportunity is there, but they're going to have to ride as well as Justin to do it in the near future."

"Money records should get broken all the time," Murray agreed. "That's something that ought to continuously get broken and if it's not, then the PBR is not doing its job."

Lambert added, "Eventually somebody's going to do it because the events are going to continue to pay more and more, but that won't cheapen or diminish anything Justin has been able to accomplish."

By comparison, Wacey Cathey, who was inducted into the PBR Ring of Honor in 2001, was a 14-time qualifier for the National Finals Rodeo and yet the legendary rider earned only a few hundred thousand dollars throughout his notable career.

"He rode against the best," McBride said, "I mean the very best, and he went to the NFR 14 times."

Upon the starting the PBR a few of the founders were cash-strapped.

Jerome Davis famously wrote a check for $500 and paid the remaining half of his initial investment at a later date, while Michael Gaffney has talked about having told his wife about his investment only to find out then that he didn't have $1,000 in his checking account.

Even in the early days of the PBR many of the riders still found themselves having to compete not only at PBR events, but also the rodeo circuit.

In 1999, when McBride made his PBR debut in Bakersfield, Calif., he admitted, "I don't think I understood it all.

"All I knew was that all the very best bull riders were going to these bull ridings and that's all I really knew about the PBR. I didn't know the back story to it or the 20 guys putting their money up or anything. I didn't know anything about it. I just knew all the cool guys were there," he added, "and you could make some money."

McBride said he'll never forget the rider meeting, in early 2003, when then CEO Randy Bernard walked in and told the riders that the World Champion was going to get a $1 million bonus.

"I thought, 'Well, that's really cool,' but I don't think it set in until after (Chris) Shivers actually won it. … I knew it was going to happen, but it never really sunk in until they handed him that check that year.

"When I came around I thought Moses finally got to see the Promised Land," he joked, "but it was really just starting to grow."

Follow Keith Ryan Cartwright on Twitter @PBR_KRC

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