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

By the new millennium, even the man who wrote Elton John's hits, Bernie Taupin, had invested in bucking bulls. "At our first finals [in 1994], we tried to find 100 bulls that you could score an 80 or better on," Lambert says. "Well, now, if you can't score 80 points on them, they're not good enough for our regular-season events." Last year, the PBR opened a registry called The American Bucking Bull Inc. to see how many beasts were out there. The PBR hoped to register 5,000 bulls. It instead registered 11,000.

"A bull today can be worth $100,000 or more," Lambert says. Taupin's bull, Little Yellow Jacket, a three-time world champion, is worth an estimated $250,000. A straw of bucking-bull semen can draw up to $1,000, and that's with no guarantee of fertilization.

Stock contractors, in short, are paid good money today to create bulls with a high disdain for anything that happens upon their backs.

Paulo Crimber, showing off the championship buckle he won last year
Mark Graham
Paulo Crimber, showing off the championship buckle he won last year

"We view the sport as having two athletes in every ride," Sean Gleason says.

To keep up, cowboys train more than in years past. They stretch more, do more abdominal workouts, find more martial arts regimens. But that doesn't shore up a cowboy's courage. He most often turns to God for that.

A deep faith has always run through this sport. And although a bull-riding locker room is filled with cuss words and empty beer bottles, out in the ring, God is on the lips of all who enter. The Brazilians are as religious as anyone. Ednei Caminhas is a regular at the PBR's Bible studies. Adriano, his brothers and Paulo Crimber attend Mass every day. Even on the road. Even on a gray Saturday afternoon in Oklahoma City, in the hotel room of a priest visiting from Boston. Eight Brazilians are here to worship. Adriano reads from the Bible in Portuguese and translates what the visiting priest says. Before concluding the service, the holy man asks God to grant every bull rider strength for tonight's event.

Never a bad thing to ask God for in this line of work.

Though soccer remains the sport of choice in Brazil, once you get outside the nation's metropolises, once the radio starts playing Alan Jackson and Garth Brooks, a rodeo is never far away. The biggest is in Barretos, an 11-day event more festival than rodeo--with the agriculture shows and nightly concerts, as many as 900,000 people attend. Adriano Moraes was born the second of five children, in Quintana, about four hours from Barretos. His father, Aparecido, managed a farm, and it was not long before Adriano, his brothers and one sister were in a field, picking tomatoes. They picked more for sustenance than profit.

Adriano rode a horse to school. Despite the cowboy culture everywhere Adriano looked, he was 16 before he took in a rodeo. One year later, a friend persuaded him to get on a bull. He loved the rush and by year's end was riding for money. At his third rodeo, he finished second and received nine times what he made as a tractor driver on his father's farm.

Soon after, he dropped out of school, against his parents' wishes, and made his way in Brazil's rodeo circuits.

He was 19 and at a competition in Mateo, Sao Paulo, when he saw a young woman in the stands with delicate features, sun-kissed skin and dark hair. After the event, she got in her car and made to leave, but Adriano cut her off. He asked her for a date. Three months later, Flavia and Adriano were married.

In 1992, one year after Charlie Sampson held his Brazilian bull-riding clinic, he invited Adriano and Flavia to Las Vegas and the PRCA's National Finals Rodeo. "This is a bull-riding son of a gun," Sampson kept saying to any cowboy who would listen.

"What did he say?" Adriano kept asking Flavia, who was translating for him.

"He was like a kid in a candy store," Sampson recalls.

Yes, it excited Adriano to meet the Americans he'd heard so much about, but he spent a lot of time in Vegas studying the bulls. He had to smile looking at them. They weren't any tougher than the ones back home.

He wanted to compete, but it took two years and two Brazilian championships before Adriano secured a sponsorship in 1994 to ride in the United States. Once here, he dominated. By the end of the year, Adriano had won the inaugural PBR world championship and the PRCA's National Finals Rodeo. The king of both pro circuits. Not bad, Ty Murray says, for a guy who ordered what Murray did at restaurants because he couldn't read the menu. (Not bad, either, for a guy who competed against Murray.)

Shortly thereafter, Adriano and Flavia moved back to the ranch he owned in Brazil. Adriano spent the rest of the '90s flying to events here and returning home the next day. "Adriano thinks nothing of commuting," says Bob Feist, a ringside announcer for the PBR. In the '90s, "He was just back and forth on 12-, 14-hour flights."

But it didn't affect his riding. He won the National Finals Rodeo again in 1996, but broke his leg in 1997. Then re-broke it in 1998.

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