Bullfighters hope to avoid getting “caught” at Steamboat’s Bulls and Bands
July 10, 2017
Sometimes, professional bull fighter Wacey Munsell said, you "get caught."
Munsell passes along that wisdom like someone might when they observe that sometimes it rains — an unavoidable part of the day that's not even all that interesting.
"It's not as bad as a lot of people think it looks," he said Monday.
He got caught three times last week, for instance. He was working a rodeo in Greeley. Twice, a bull got into him while he was helping a cowboy.
"Unavoidable," he said.
The third time it was Munsell's turn to perform in a bullfighting event. That time, he admits, was avoidable.
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"My fault," he said. "That bull's been around awhile. He just cut me off and ran me over."
Don't worry. He said he's fine.
"They thought I might have a small concussion, and I aggravated a shoulder injury from February," he said.
It certainly wasn't enough to keep Munsell out of Steamboat Springs this week, where he'll take part in the inaugural Bulls and Bands bullfighting event at Romick Rodeo Arena in downtown Steamboat Springs.
The event starts 7:30 p.m. Wednesday. Tickets cost $20 online at BullsAndBands.com or $25 at the gate.
It will be the first of a three-event summer season for Bulls and Bands. The event returns July 19 and July 26.
Season passes, to all three events scheduled this summer at the downtown arena, cost $60 for covered seating and $40 for non-covered seats.
What fans will get for that money is quite a bit different than what they get every Friday and Saturday night at regular performances of the Steamboat Springs Pro Rodeo series.
There, the bullfighters are tasked with keeping bull riders safe by distracting a bull when the cowboy is bucked off and in danger. The bullfighters are usually only a notable part of the show for the average fan if something goes wrong. The riders are the stars and earn the prize money.
A bullfighting competition, on the other hand, tests and awards those who are usually tasked with keeping riders safe.
The game has only one thing in common with the famous matadors of Spain. They use the same kind of bulls, bred through centuries in Spain and Mexico for their fighting ability.
"There's nothing a person has to do to make these bulls have a bad attitude," Munsell said.
Unlike the Spanish bullfighting, the bulls in American bullfighting aren't hurt. If anyone's likely to be hurt, it's the fighter, if he gets "caught."
The rest of the sport is similar to American roughstock rodeo events. The fighter and the bull are each scored, then those scores are added together. The fighter with the highest points takes the bulk of the night's money.
"We always say bull riding is the most dangerous sport in the world," said Brent Romick, co-organizer for the event. "That's still true, but the bull riders only fight one bull at rodeo. These guys fight every bull at the rodeo. This is also as dangerous or extreme as any sport in the world."
There will be nine bullfighters competing Wednesday night, split into three groups. Each will fight one bull, then the winner will advance to a short round where each will fight one more time for a total of 12 matches throughout the evening.
The "bands" part of the Bulls and Bands event is cut in there, as well. Each week will have a country western performer.
First up is Chancey Williams. Logan Mize will play July 12 and Waterloo Revival July 26.
"It's going to be great," Romick said. "It'll darn sure be exciting and people shouldn't plan on sleeping that night. This is an extreme sport and it will stick with them."
Munsell said there are keys to not getting "caught."
Ideally, he can run beside the bull as much as in front of it, taking advantage of the beast's less-than-tight turning radius. To score well, he must demonstrate control of the bull.
Each match is 60 seconds, and a fighter must go at least 40 before pulling out.
Ideally, the last 20 seconds is reserved for something special — a move or two that will wow the judges.
Some jump over the bulls. Munsell said he wasn't born with the height or the vertical to safely manage that.
Others get down on their knees and dodge a bull from there. That approach has its limits, too.
"I don't like being on an eye-to-eye level with a bull, especially when something could go wrong," Munsell said.
The sweet spot, he said is in courting danger, but sidestepping it, in close calls and quick moves that for years he's used to keep himself and the riders he's protecting safe.
Now, he can use those moves to earn some money.
It won't always be pretty. Bullfighting's a big like the weather, after all.
Sometimes it rains. Sometimes you get caught. But that hasn’t stopped him yet.
"It takes a lot of dedication," he said. "I really put in a lot of time watching film of other people and watching film of myself and critiquing what I can do."