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Dangerous Sport, and That's No Bull

March 22, 1992|SUSAN PATERNO

When Shaw P. Sullivan dies, he wants to come back as a bull.

Not a cowboy, said the founder of the new league of professional bull riders that will hold its national championships at the Long Beach Arena on Saturday.

A bull.

"In many cases, I have a higher regard for the animal than the human," said Sullivan, 30, himself a cowboy "but not a very good one."

"I love bulls. They're the ultimate macho guy, and they're never accused of being a chauvinist."

Sullivan started Bull Riders Only last year, the "most dangerous sporting event in America" including the "30 best bull riders in America" and "the baddest bulls in captivity," the organization claims.

Bull Riders Only invites the top-ranked bull riders from the Professional Rodeo Cowboys Assn. and matches them against 64 of the world's toughest ("rank" in cowboy parlance) bulls. "We got scouts out there," Sullivan explained. "That's how we find 'em. Bull scouts. And cowboy scouts."

Cowboys are judged on their ability to withstand the bull's bucking and on the bull's athletic ability. In other words, "if a guy gets on a dud that your grandmother could ride, he ain't gonna win," Sullivan said. " 'Cuz some really good guys are gonna stay on a rank bull."

The competition is set up "like a NCAA tournament," he said. "The best guys don't risk elimination until the third round." The cowboys in the tournament have competed in previous months in a 10-city tour, Sullivan said, with cowboy Wacey Cathey, 39, from Big Spring, Tex., the favorite to take home $12,500.

Bull riding is the most popular rodeo event, Sullivan said, and he has wanted to make it a separate sport ever since he was a child riding bulls in Cheyenne, Wyo.

"There are 750 rodeos every year with seven events, and bull riding is the most popular; 70% of the audiences only go to see bull riding," he said. "It also has the least amount of pressure from animal rights activists. 'Cuz you never seen a bull hurt by a cowboy. They're pretty mismatched."

The tournament begins at 7:30 p.m. Saturday when riders ranked 11 to 30 compete for eight qualifying places.

In the second round, riders ranked 6 through 10 compete with the qualifiers from the first round for 13 places. In the third round, riders ranked 1 through 5 compete with qualifiers from the second round for 18 places.

In the final round, all qualifiers from the third round compete. The top scorer wins the world championship, $12,500 and a gold buckle. The next highest four scores split $12,500.

Besides Cathey, the competitors to watch include Clint Branger from Roscoe, Mont.; Michael (G-Man) Gaffney from Lubbock, Tex.; Ty Murray from Stephenville, Tex., and Marty Staneart from Sanger, Calif.

Tickets cost $19, $24 and $28, and are available through Ticketmaster. To charge by phone, call (714) 740-2000 or (213) 480-3232. The Long Beach Arena is at 300 E. Ocean Blvd., Long Beach. Call (310) 436-3661.

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