Bullheaded

Adriano Moraes and his Brazilian buddies make a buck the hard way

All of the Brazilians live in the Dallas-Fort Worth area, and all receive the riding wisdom of Adriano. This, perhaps more than his own achievements, could be Adriano Moraes' legacy: the lessons he's taught the others. Because they're all elite riders.

In 2002 Caminhas had enough points to claim the PBR championship before the finals started. In 2004 the Moraes brothers became the first trio to qualify for the PBR finals. Crimber was one of two cowboys to ride his first five bulls there last year--before breaking his riding hand. Two months later, with the hand still injured, he won the bull-riding competition at the PRCA's National Finals Rodeo.

"Oh, I know there's a lot more dissension toward [the Brazilians]," says Lee Aiken, a black cowboy on the PBR Tour. "But I think it has more to do with jealousy. I think the fact that when they've come over in the past, they've kind of dominated--I think it has more to do with that than that they're actually Brazilian. I think some of the guys are intimidated by their hunger. They come over here, you know, intent on winning every time...For a while, it was getting to some of the [Anglos]. They didn't like it."

Brazilian Rogerio Ferreira aboard Mossy Oak Mudslinger in the championship round of the Express PBR Classic in Oklahoma City
Andy Watson / PBR
Brazilian Rogerio Ferreira aboard Mossy Oak Mudslinger in the championship round of the Express PBR Classic in Oklahoma City
Youngest Moraes brother Allan rides like Adriano often does: with a long-sleeve shirt pulled up to his biceps.
Andy Watson / PBR
Youngest Moraes brother Allan rides like Adriano often does: with a long-sleeve shirt pulled up to his biceps.

They'd better get used to it. There are 18 Brazilians currently found throughout bull riding's professional ranks, Caminhas says, some in the sport's minor leagues. To see these 18 in action is to see the influence of Adriano Moraes and, maybe, the future of professional bull riding.


It's a dangerous sport, growing more dangerous with each passing year. On the Built Ford Tough Series, the elite series of the PBR, one out of every 15 rides now ends in injury, says Dr. Tandy Freeman, director of medical services for the league. This despite the bulletproof vest bull riders wear and the face masks and helmets an increasing number favor. One out of every 15 rides. That's three injuries for each day of competition. (The BFTS consists of 45 bull riders, who some argue are the best in the world.) At a PBR rodeo in Oklahoma City last month, six cowboys didn't compete. The worst off was Corey Melton, a 22-year-old from Keithville, Louisiana. He suffered a collapsed lung at the National Finals Rodeo in December. He hopes to ride again in May.

Any injury report, though, however gruesome it may be, doesn't tell the whole truth: that a lot of guys ride through their injuries. Justin McBride rode last year with a broken ankle. Adriano has ridden two years with a torn ACL. Crimber rides with a right hand so swollen, he offers his left when greeting visitors. Big money's out there--the PBR world champ gets a $1 million bonus--but it's available only to those who ride. If you can manage the pain for eight seconds a day, the thinking goes, you can ignore surgery.

"My job really isn't to recommend anything but to educate a guy about what's wrong and what the risks are," Freeman says. The choice, after that, is each bull rider's. Still, "It never ceases to amaze me what these guys are able to do," he says. Freeman's served as the trainer for the Dallas Mavericks and the Dallas Freeze, a minor league hockey team. "Bull riders are the toughest professional athletes out there," he says. "They do things I couldn't imagine doing."

The PBR openly markets the attrition of its stars. A video montage of the worst rib-breaking, concussion-causing spills plays on the Jumbotron before each BFTS event. And the PBR is sure to include in every promo it airs on NBC--NBC carrying eight BFTS Tour stops this year--a few shots of cowboys crashing hard into the dirt.

"People get hooked on the action they see," says Sean Gleason, chief operation officer for the PBR. "The drama. The danger. They like the crashes...But television doesn't really do it justice."

He's right. It's almost pornographic, the violence one sees in person at a PBR event. How very raw it all is. How unfiltered by camera frames or soothing commentators. How small these men look, from ground level, on the backs of the frothing, kicking beast. How easily they're tossed once they lose their grip. And tossed without discrimination. In Oklahoma City, bulls threw two cowboys head first into the gates enclosing the arena. They each hit with a sick slap that sucked the breath out of the crowd. Both men, somehow, walked away.

"Bulls have the advantage today," says Cody Lambert, the vice president of PBR and the man who chooses which bulls to run at which event. "The riders aren't that different from 30 years ago. But the bulls are."

Bulls today are bred to buck, much as Thoroughbred horses are bred to race. The rise of the bred bucking bull coincides with the rise of the PBR.

In 1992, Lambert, Ty Murray and 18 other cowboys decided to break from the Professional Rodeo Cowboys Association and form their own league, a league whose sole event would be bull riding. (Bull riding had long been the top draw at rodeos, and Murray and company thought it time for proper compensation.) The league they formed, the Professional Bull Riders Inc., promised the best bull riders on the best bulls. To get the riders, the 20 cowboys sought out sponsorships that would drive up tournament winnings. To get the bulls, they found the few stock contractors that had bred former world champions. (Most bulls, even 10 years ago, were pulled from ranches and, if they could buck worth a damn, included in rodeos.) As prize money went up, so did the sport's notoriety, which drew more attention to the bulls it featured, which got more people involved with breeding bulls for the exclusive purpose of bucking off riders.

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