SALINAS, Calif. – Ask any freestyle bullfighter that’s ever been to this beautiful California city, they will tell you what a special place it is.
For more than a century, California Rodeo Salinas has been a staple in this community of 155,000 people. For decades, bullfighting has been a key fixture to the traditional showcase, and tens of thousands of fans show up every year for all the excitement.
“Salinas has kept freestyle bullfighting alive,” said Nathan Harp of Tuttle, Okla., pointing out that major tours for the sport had been dormant for 16 years; still California Rodeo Salinas continue to conduct the events. “That crowd is hard to beat, and that place is so cool.
“After the bull riding, everything shuts down and everybody goes to the grandstands. They have fireworks, and then they have the bullfight. It’s a big deal. It’s really great to be part of the bullfights in Salinas. It’s definitely one I want to win.”
He and five other men will get that chance when the Bullfighters Only produces this year’s championship event, part of its inaugural tour.
“California Rodeo Salinas is happy to work with BFO in our 2016 show,” said Henry Dill, the rodeo’s track director. “California is very proud of our freestyle bullfighting event – considered one of the premier freestyle bullfighting event in the rodeo industry – and in working with BFO.
“We hope to grow the sport and fan base of freestyle bullfighting.”
So is Bullfighters Only, which features the best bullfighters in the world in man-vs.-beast bouts.
With scores based on a 100-point scale, men can earn up to 50 points per fight based on their ability to exhibit control and style while maneuvering around or over an animal; a bull can earn up to 50 points based on its quickness, aggression and willingness to stay with the bullfighter.
Bullfighters Only has created public demand for the sport. The bullfighters utilize their tremendous athleticism to try to outwit and outmaneuver equally athletic bulls, which are bred specifically for this type of fight.
In west-central California, the folks in Salinas have a better understanding than most what a great showcase freestyle bullfighting is.
“There are a lot of Portuguese people out there, and bullfighting has a huge following because of that,” said Ross Hill of Muscle Schoals, Ala., now in his 10th year competing in Salinas. “Salinas set their stone a long time ago. There’s an atmosphere there around the bullfights.
“They can fit 24,000 people in their stands. It’s huge and crazy.”
There are many reasons why freestyle bullfighting has been so popular in Salinas, but the main ingredients are athleticism mixed with a splash of suspense and danger. It’s better than an evening at the movies.
“That place is just full of world champions that have camped there, like Evan Allard, Cody Webster and Rob Smets,” Harp said. “It’s the place where champions go.”