SAN JOSE, Calif. – A keenly focused SweetPro’s Bruiser stared through the gray steel bucking chutes on Saturday night as Tanner Byrne prepared to warm his bull rope on top of the bull during the 15/15 Bucking Battle.
Bruiser’s right ear twitched a few times and his dark black eyes blinked every so often, but he otherwise didn’t even glance toward the dirt outside in the arena at the SAP Center.
He just kept staring ahead in the waning moments of Byrne’s chute procedure.
The 5-year-old’s poise inside the bucking chute was eerily similar to the look that three-time World Champion Bull Bushwacker used to have during his reign of dominance in the PBR.
Can the 5-year-old bull one day join Bushwacker in the record books as a World Champion and become the 16th different bull to win the title?
That will be decided in two weeks during the 2016 Built Ford Tough World Finals, but Bruiser – the No. 1 bull in the latest World Champion Bull standings – concluded his 2016 regular season with a third consecutive 45-point or higher bull score this weekend at the San Jose Invitational, presented by Ariat.
It wasn’t Bruiser’s best out, but the PBR’s bovine version of Mr. Consistency bucked off Byrne in 2.93 seconds for a 45.25-point bull score.
“I thought he was good,” Dillon Page said. “I liked him better than the judges did, but I am a proud stock contractor. I thought he bucked really good.”
Bruiser exploded out of the bucking chutes so fast that his body left quicker than his head, leaving Byrne scrambling to readjust on the back of Bruiser, who then began to drift toward the center of the arena once his head caught up with his body.
“He bucks,” Byrne said. “I was leaving and he was leaving harder than his head and it kind of stuck. It just rocked me back on my butt and it felt like he hit his backend and hipped himself and just totally blew me out of there. My hand come out and everything went to heck from there. I should have just rode through it.”
Page agreed that Bruiser wasn’t as good as he was a week earlier in Nampa, Idaho, where Bruiser was marked a career-best 46.75 points for his 2.56 seconds of work against Mason Lowe.
He believes Bruiser, who has been known in the past to drift from the bucking chutes with his fast spinning motion, will have a better chance at the Finals if he hangs close to the chutes and gets an opportunity to showcase his high-kicking ability like Bruiser demonstrated in Nampa.
“He looks better and will get a score like he did in Nampa,” Page said. “He was off a touch. When he bucks like he did (in San Jose) he is a little easier to ride. When he drifts, he can’t really get up in the air and break over. That first jump was real, real good and that first round. Then he drifted. When he drifts, he has a little bit of a sweet spot that they can get in. When he don’t drift, he don’t have a sweet spot.”
Bruiser had the second-highest bull score of the weekend behind Stone Sober’s 45.5-point score on Sunday afternoon.
He is now headed home to Ardmore, Oklahoma, where he will rest in his 100 x 100 pen before being hauled to Las Vegas.
The 2015 ABBI Classic Champion nearly won the 2015 World Championship if not for his brother SweetPro’s Long John, who is continuing to receive treatment for his lower-body injury.
“He is a bull that gives it every day and he has never been hurt,” Page said. “Just like us, if we have never been hurt or had a problem with injuries, we can just be better. Long John has never had that go his way.”
Bruiser leads the PBR with four bull scores of 46 points or higher, and he has been marked 45 points or higher in nine of his 13 Built Ford Tough Series outs, making him a serious contender at the World Finals.
“He is definitely in there for sure,” Byrne said. “He would be the pick to get on for a guy the way he rides. He bucks, but he doesn’t have that difficulty factor to him. He is really showy and in that bull race, the way the system works, he is full-fledged on all the different aspects of it.”
World Champion Bull contenders get two outs at the Finals to try and win the World Champion Bull title. The eligible bull with the highest combined two scores is the champion.
Knowing he and H.D. Page’s bull is so consistent doesn’t erase any jitters at the Finals though.
“It is just natural,” Dillon said. “That is part of it. They are animals and you don’t know how they feel. You don’t know if it is a great day or if it is not a great day. I don’t know if nervous is the word, but maybe it is anxious. You want them to be the best they can be.”
Jared Allen’s Air Time will be arriving fresh and well-rested in Las Vegas since last competing on Sept. 17 in Charlotte. Pearl Harbor has also been resting since Sept. 11.
Many, including Byrne, believe Air Time is the favorite based on Air Time’s at times otherworldly athletic ability.
Air Time and Byrne are members of Jared Allen’s Pro Bull Team.
“I think Air Time is by far the best bucking bull going, but the way their system works, and the points, Bruiser is always going to have a good score,” Byrne said. “If Air Time does his job at the Finals it is his.”
That doesn’t mean Byrne wouldn’t like a rematch with Bruiser at the Finals, though.
“I had a bad go at him,” Byrne said. “That is bucking bulls. They buck and you have to ride through it and ride them. I didn’t do my job today. Now I have a feel for him and maybe at the World Finals we will do it again.”
Page concluded, “The deal at the Finals is a big deal. It is not like here. I think we all knew last year Bruiser was probably the bull. We will see this year.”
Follow Justin Felisko on Twitter @jfelisko
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