PBR World Finals come to Vegas

By Jamie Helmick

It’s like something out of a movie – a pool of the top 40 bull riders on the planet, 12 of them statistically in reach of the world title, all gearing up for a showdown in Las Vegas.

But this is not a movie, this is the reality of the 2009 Professional Bull Riders Built Ford Tough World Finals (or PBR for short).

The event, which takes place Oct. 30 – Nov. 1 and Nov. 5 – 8 at the Thomas & Mack Center on the University of Nevada, Las Vegas campus, is sure to be full of all kinds of motion picture drama and more than a few action sequences.

Randy Bernard, CEO of the PBR, said, realistically, five riders, “Have a phenomenal chance of winning the world title,” and with standings so close, “Every round is going to get more and more exciting.”

And just what does a rider have to do win his round and eventually the title? Stay on a bucking and jumping bull, with one hand in the air, for eight seconds.
It’s more than just hanging on as tight as you can though – riders go up against a panel of four judges, to be scored somewhere between one and 100 on how tough the bull was to ride, how easy the rider made it look to stay on and, yes, whether or not they stayed on.

Regardless of the rider, there’s always a variable that’s uncontrollable – that bull. The bulls, which Bernard said have become celebrities in their own right among PBR fans and whose owners include Larry the Cable Guy and Tommy Lasorda, among others, are selected by riders the night before a round in competition. Riders with a higher standing, get an earlier pick.

Because, as Bernard put it, 50 percent of the ride is the bull and 50 percent is the rider, bull selection makes a difference. Riders want a bull that is, “Very athletic, [that will] jump high and spin fast,” Bernard said. And some of the best bulls are the mean ones. “Uncle Buck is one of the best bulls in the world, and he’s mean and over the top,” Bernard said.

To clear up any questions about why the bulls buck, Bernard explains, “You can’t make a bull buck. It either wants to or it doesn’t. It’s got to be in their genetics, they’re bred to buck. Their moms and daddies bucked.”
Whichever bull a rider ends up with, the competition is essentially a 160- to 170-pound man up against an 1,800-pound bull.

But the riders, “Aren’t just a bunch of crazy guys that decided they wanted to become bull riders,” Bernard said. They’re athletic, with a high pain tolerance, he said. “It will blow your mind what these guys can do,” Bernard said.

It’s not all just for the sport though, this year’s riders will compete for more than $2.7 million in prize money – a sum that makes the World Finals all the more alluring as Bernard said a typical event pays out around $100,000 to $150,000. 

Plus, it’s Vegas. “People come to the World Finals because they want to have fun,” Bernard said. “What’s a better city in the world to come to for fun other than Las Vegas? We love Vegas and hopefully Vegas loves us.”

Although the finals are held on UNLV’s campus, Mandalay Bay plays host to a lot of the other PBR events, including a festival for fans, dinners and a Western marketplace. Tie those elements to the drama of the sport and it’s not hard to see why Bernard seems sure that, “This will be the best World Finals ever.”

Best places to party like a cowboy in Vegas

Whether you’re a professional cowboy or just want to dress, eat and party like one, Las Vegas rolls out the hay-strewn red carpet for you. Read on for a look at the hottest spots this side of the rodeo.


Photo by Brian Brown Photography. Rockhouse Bar & Nightclub will host a series of PBR events, including drink specials and parties.

Complete with a mechanical bull where you can get a little taste of just what your favorite bull rider goes through, Stoney’s Rockin’ Country (9151 S. Las Vegas Blvd.; (702) 435-2855) is pretty much the last word in Western fun in Sin City. There are line-dancing classes, beer specials and plenty of opportunities to show off your ten-gallon hat. And for PBR-specific events, don’t miss the Rockhouse Bar & Nightclub (3535 S. Las Vegas Blvd.; (702) 731-9683). From Oct. 28 to Nov. 8, the Rockhouse will  host a series of PBR events, including drink specials and parties.

Vegas has it covered when it comes to the nutritional needs of bull riders, people watching bull riders and people who just want some good barbeque or steak. There’s RUB BBQ (inside the Rio, 3700 W. Flamingo Rd.; (702) 777-7777) and BRAND Steakhouse (inside the Monte Carlo, 3770 S. Las Vegas Blvd.; (702) 730-6700) on the Strip and Lucille’s Smokehouse Bar-B-Que (in The District in Henderson; (702) 257-7427) if you venture a little further out.

Whether you’re looking to blend in with the PBR crowd or looking for some serious gear, between The Boot Barn (7265 S. Las Vegas Blvd.; (702) 260-1888), Cowtown Boots (1080 E. Flamingo Rd.; (702) 737-8469) and Sheplers (inside Sam’s Town, 5111 Boulder Highway; (702) 454-5266), there’s no reason for you to be without Wranglers ever again.

You can’t throw a lasso in Sin City without hitting a place to whet your whistle, but for watering holes with a little more yee-haw, try Toby Keith’s I Love This Bar & Grill (inside Harrah’s, 3475 S. Las Vegas Blvd.; (702) 369-5000) or the several Roadrunner Saloons scattered about town.  Cadillac Ranch, located at Town Square (6605 Las Vegas Blvd. South; (702) 269-5001) is an all-American themed bar and restaurant complete with mechanical bull.