PUEBLO, Colo. - Earlier this year, veteran bullfighter Joe Baumgartner said, "It's time." After 23 years, retirement beckoned.
The Top 40 professional bull riders in the world weren't quite through with him, though. Earlier this month, they voted him one of the four top bullfighters in the world.
Baumgartner, who will officially retire following the 2011 PBR Built Ford Tough World Finals, will work the premiere bull riding event on the planet for the 18th year in a row.
When Baumgartner, who also worked 14 National Finals Rodeos, walks out of the Thomas & Mack Center for the final time on Sunday, Oct. 30, he will have fought more than 6,000 bulls in Las Vegas alone.
'That's just amazing, to work at this level, for that long.'
"That's just amazing," said Shorty Gorham, a close friend and fellow Dickies Durabullfighter, "to work at this level, for that long.
"I know J.W. (Hart) is the Iron Man, and Luke Snyder, but if there's an Iron Man of bullfighters, I would have to say that Joe would be the man."
Hart rode in 197 consecutive Built Ford Tough Series events and held the record until Snyder broke it with the current record of 275 events in a row.
Baumgartner has faced tens of thousands of bulls throughout his career.
According to Gorham, what set Baumgartner apart from others was his style of bullfighting - doing his job with minimal risk. He avoided injuries in the earlier part of his career because he's a taller man with long arms, and according to Gorham, was able to reach out and get his hands on a bull's head quickly.
"When he got to be an old fart he sustained a few injuries," said Gorham, "but they were old-fart injuries, and he was able to outlast a lot of guys."
Among his PBR friends, Joe Baumgartner is affectionately known as Joe Bum-a-Car - in his entire career, he's only rented a vehicle twice.
Baumgartner also read bulls as well as anyone.
In contemporary bullfighting, Gorham said, bullfighters stay back until the last possible second. Because of Baumgartner's long stride, he's able to get his hand on a bull within three steps.
He was known for positioning himself next to a bull rather than between a bull and a rider, in an effort to lead the bull away.
'I was like a stray dog. He fed me once and I never would leave him, so he finally felt sorry for me and started helping me.'
Gorham learned that lesson early on when he teamed with Baumgartner at an event in Santa Maria, Calif., in the late 90s. A rider was hung up on a bull by the name of Spittin' Image, and an overly excited Gorham went in to help on the wrong side.
He managed to get the rider's hand out of the rope, but when the bull turned back around, Gorham said they all ended up in a pile on the ground.
"Joe made it work out, being the hand that he was, and led the bull away from all of us," Gorham recalled.
Afterward he spoke with Baumgartner about the mistake. From then on, Baumgartner realized Gorham was dedicated and determined, so he started helping him develop into the bullfighter he is today.
"I was like a stray dog," Gorham said. "He fed me once and I never would leave him, so he finally felt sorry for me and started helping me."
The sport has changed so much over the years that Gorham said it's tough to compare bullfighters from one era to another.
However, he did liken one aspect of Baumgartner's style to that of the legendary Miles Hare. Both understood bulls and used finesse to protect riders, instead of relying on pure toughness.
"He's been hero of mine," Gorham said, "and helped me throughout my whole career."
NEWS & NOTES
SO LONG, GENTLEMEN: The 2011 season is also the end of a career for Ross Coleman, who announced his retirement in September. Four top-ranked bucking bulls - Bones, Voodoo Child, Major Payne and Spit Fire - are also retiring during a celebration on Saturday, Oct. 29, during the World Finals.
HEROES AND LEGENDS: Baumgartner and Coleman will join dozens of the biggest names in PBR history this October at the Legends Reunion at the Built Ford Tough World Finals.
RETRO WEDNESDAY: Riders, fans and staff are encouraged to wear their best retro-western apparel to the opening round of the World Finals, Wednesday, Oct. 26, as the attendees of the Legends Reunion are saluted in the arena.
-by Keith Ryan Cartwright
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