Photo by Tom Donoghue
By: Justin Felisko
LAS VEGAS – The red curtains inside the Showroom at the South Point Hotel Casino and Spa were drawn back and the capacity crowd in attendance of Tuesday night’s PBR Heroes & Legends Ceremony let out a gasp.
Three-time World Champion Bull Bushwacker was staring back at them, basking in all of his glory as the 2016 Brand of Honor recipient.
Even two-time World Champion J.B. Mauney couldn’t help but smile as his arch nemesis gave a nod of approval to Mauney’s introductory speech.
“I hung on to him long enough for them to say I made the whistle, but in my eyes he is the greatest bucking bull there will ever be,” Mauney said. “People will raise bulls their entire life and they will never have a bull like Bushwacker. It couldn’t have happened to any better gentleman that I know than Julio Moreno.
“Bushwacker is the best bull I ever seen in my life.”
Bushwacker is the 2016 recipient of the Brand of Honor, which is awarded to a bull for his exemplary performance throughout his career, and he also stole the show in Las Vegas one more time with a surprise appearance on stage.
Quite frankly, it shouldn’t have been too much of a surprise.
What hasn’t Bushwacker done?
Let’s not forget he filmed a TV commercial inside the MGM Grand next to Leo the Lion a few years ago.
Still, a large part of Bushwacker’s legend was accomplished in tandem with Mauney.
The two met 13 times at all levels of competition. Bushwacker won all but one of those encounters.
Mauney opened his speech by saying, “Julio asked me to speak about Bushwacker here and I told him, ‘Yeah,’ because he is a good friend of mine. Once after I told him yeah, I kind of started thinking to myself, “Why am I going to talk about a bull that kicked my ass so many times?’
Following a laugh from the crowd, Mauney continued, “Everybody always asked me when he retired, ‘Are you sad?’ And I said, ‘No, I don’t have to get on him anymore. It was kind of a pride deal.”
The always superstitious Moreno said, “I thank J.B. J.B. was on him 13 times and Bushwacker’s number is 13. It kind of worked out good like that.”
Bushwacker set a PBR record with 42 consecutive Built Ford Tough Series buckoffs until Mauney’s historic 95.25-point ride in Tulsa, Oklahoma, in August 2013.
“Cody Lambert said it the best when I did ride him that night,” Mauney said. “I got lucky that night and I did because it could have been 8.1 seconds and I wouldn’t have rode him.”
Mauney called the ride the “most memorable” of his career. He then went on to tell the audience the tale of when Bushwacker kicked the lights out at J.W. Hart’s annual bull riding in Decatur, Texas, in May 2011.
“The scariest time I ever had was on him,” Mauney said. “He put a lot of stitches in my face, he knocked me out a few times, but the worst one I ever had was at J.W. Hart’s bull riding. The way my luck ran, I was the first pick in the short round, I drew a chip out of the hat and I had Bushwacker. Last guy to go that night, so they are jamming the place up. They have it cranked up. First jump up out the chute, the breaker blows and the lights go out and I am tied to him.
“Someone said, ‘Did it bother you?’ I said, ‘Yeah, it bothered me really bad because I have been on him many times in lit-up buildings and I couldn’t ride him, and I was tied up to him in the dark.’”
Mauney and Moreno both paid homage to former Bushwacker handler Kent Cox, who passed away in 2014.
“The only other man in this world that knows more about him than me and Julio put together (is Kent Cox), and he isn’t with us anymore, but that was our joke,” Mauney said. “Whenever I saw him he would say, ‘Do you remember when he kicked the lights out?’”
Moreno added, “I also want to thank Kent Cox, who is not with us now. He was part of this. Also, Dr. (Gary) Warner. After his first World Championship, Bushwacker got (injured) and Kent called me and told me he couldn’t walk. He swelled up. We sent him to Dr. Warner and he saved him for us. He went on to two win World Championships.”
Bushwacker is the sixth bull to be honored with the Brand of Honor. Little Yellow Jacket (2011), Dillinger (2012), Red Wolf (2013), Bones (2014) and Chicken on a Chain (2015) are previous winners.
There may be no greater animal athlete than Bushwacker, and there is arguably no better bucking bull to have competed in the PBR.
Bushwacker’s six-year Built Ford Tough Series speaks for itself.
He bucked off 64 of his 66 BFTS opponents and dumped 84 of his 87 foes since his first out in 2009. He won World Championships in 2011, 2013 and 2014 to join Little Yellow Jacket as the only three time World Champion Bulls.
“I have been on a lot of great bulls, a lot of them do the same things over and over,” Mauney said. “Thirteen times he never had the same trip twice. That was because he was smart. When they run him into the bucking chute there was no tricks.
“He stood and you moved him around where you wanted to and it scared the shit out of me. He just acted like it was another day in the office. ‘Just nod your head because I am ready to slam you.’”
Bushwacker’s rivalry with Mauney added to the bovine athlete’s legendary status and the two shared the stage one final time on Tuesday.
“Thank you Bushwacker and J.B. and the PBR for making him what he is today,” Moreno concluded.