By Justin Felisko
He’s already gone topless for ESPN The Magazine’s Body Issue. Could Sport’s Illustrated’s Swimsuit Edition be next for the PBR’s most famous athlete? The New York Times did once describe Bushwacker as more “ballerina than bovine,” and it wasn’t the first time he was described as good-looking. So what will look better: a bikini, or a one-piece swimsuit on the two-time World Champion Bull?
“The ESPN Body Issue was pretty neat,” laughed his owner Julio Moreno. “That was pretty neat. That’s almost as top as the Sport’s Illustrated Swimsuit Edition. He could have been in that. We’ll put something on him somehow, a bikini.”
It is safe to say you just never knew what was next when it came to the legendary bovine during his six-year Built Ford Tough Series career, which will come to an end following the 2014 Built Ford Tough World Finals when Bushwacker will be retired.
Bushwacker is right up there with the best in the sports industry when it comes to the glitz and glamour of popularity. He has been called the Muhammad Ali of bull riding by PBR Livestock Director Cody Lambert, and has drawn comparisons to Michael Jordan for what he has done for the sport.
When he sees his champion bull enter the arena, Moreno has flashbacks to the 1970s when he watched Ali fight Smokin’ Joe Fraser.
“He is like Muhammad Ali,” Moreno agreed. “He knew he was the greatest and he would strut his way through there and get ready for his event. When Bushwacker goes to compete, he is just real calm. He just walks in there, like struts in there, just like a guy walking in for a game – putting his pads on for a football game.”
Bushwacker’s record Built Ford Tough Series buckoff streak will go down as one of the most famous streaks in sports history, and during Bushwacker’s run of 42 consecutive BFTS buckoffs, and 56 overall, he was the king of the publicity castle. The Wall Street Journal, USA Today, “CBS This Morning” and other media outlets all came calling. T-shirts, stuffed animals and other merchandise flew off the shelves to a rabid fan base.
“The publicity is a great thing,” says Lambert. “It brings attention to the sport and shows people that the animals are athletes, and the guys that try to ride them are athletes, too,” Lambert added. “It is all real, because it’s not a show. It’s a very entertaining sport.”
PBR Chairman and CEO Jim Haworth said that Bushwacker has been an important figure for the sport from both a competitive and public-relations standpoint. “When ESPN The Magazine says he has the baddest body in sports, and they compare his vertical leap to LeBron James, he’s getting us exposure with people who have maybe not been to a live event or watched up on TV,” Haworth said. “Now they’re all of a sudden wondering and asking, ‘Who is this? Who is Bushwacker?’
“When you have that kind of an athlete, it’s great for us to try and get him some exposure, but what’s been good for us is the exposure has been coming to us.”
When J.B. Mauney conquered Bushwacker, ending his record buckoff streak in Tulsa, Oklahoma, last year, nearly a quarter of a million people watched the video online within the first 48 hours of Mauney doing the unthinkable. Bushwacker has done for the PBR nationally what fellow animal athletes Seabiscuit, Secretariat and Smarty Jones did for horse racing.
“That kind of stuff happens when you promote great animals,” Lambert said. “Some of them become very popular and the greatest are supposed to.”
Bushwacker has even gone on to surpass Bodacious as arguably the most famous bull of all time. “Bodacious got a lot of attention,” Lambert said. “He was dangerous and dreaded by cowboys and got a lot of attention, but he also got a lot of attention for being the champ too.
“He was never as solid as Bushwacker,” he continued. “There were days when he bucked as hard as Bushwacker, but Bushwacker does it every time.”
Bushwacker first entered the limelight in 2010 when he was the ABBI Classic Bull Champion, and then became a mainstream attraction when he won his first World Champion Bull title in 2011.
It was simply in his blood to be the best; Bushwacker came from a pedigree of success. His father was Reindeer Dippin’, an ornery bull who was only ridden four times in 48 outs. Diamond Ghost had sired Bushwacker’s mother, Lady Luck.
Bushwacker doesn’t need any kind of luck though. He is pure talent and brute strength.
It’s why it came as no surprise when Bushwacker was able to rebound from a potentially career-threatening injury in late 2011 when the World Champion bull underwent two surgeries to have bones spurs and chips removed from both back hocks.
Bushwacker has the heart of the champion, and has garnered the rightful fame that comes along with it. He is Jordan. He is Ali. He is Ray Lewis. He is LeBron James. He is Tiger Woods.
“Shoot, he is all of them,” says Moreno. “I’ve always said Bushwacker was like a Michael Jordan, Ray Lewis,” Moreno said. “But now I am thinking he is everything. He is a Michael Jordan, Tiger Woods, Lebron, whoever. Being in ESPN The Magazine and the Body Issue really put that bull on the map.”
And just like all of those athletes, Bushwacker will forever be remembered as one of the all-time greats.
“He has earned it,” Lambert concluded. “He is that great. He is that uncommonly great. I don’t think – I am sure he is the best I’ve ever seen.”