Bull Riding Champ Describes Life on the Circuit

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Three-time Professional Bull Riders World Champion Adriano Moraes explains the nature of the sport.

NEAL CONAN, host:

Right now, it's one of the nation's fastest-growing sports, which now draws crowds at Madison Square Garden in New York. Professional bull riding is a wild brawl between man and bull. When a man wins, he does it by clinging to the back of an enraged animal for eight seconds and then hopping off to the roar of a crowd. The bull, of course, wins by tossing the rider to the ground, sometimes breaking bones and spilling blood in the process.

Points are awarded for control, for posture, and of course for the difficulty of the beast. Adriano Moraes is a Brazilian bull-riding legend, three-time professional bull riding champion. He's been called the greatest bull rider ever, and he joins us today from his home in Tyler, Texas. And it's great to have you on the program. Nice to meet you.

Mr. ADRIANO MORAES (Bull Rider): Oh, it's my pleasure.

CONAN: What on Earth is it like to cling to an animal that sometimes weighs close to a ton and is trying its very best to spin you into the dirt?

Mr. MORAES: You know, it's kind of weird that I chose that profession, and if I had to describe how it feels and why I get on, I mean, born and raised at the ranch and being around livestock my entire life - and one day I realized that what I was doing for fun, some guys were doing for money at the rodeos and bull-ridings, and I decided to try, and it has been 18 years professionally already.

CONAN: Well, that ranch where you grew up was of course in Brazil. Is there a professional bull-riding circuit there as well?

Mr. MORAES: Yes, there is. It's not as big, it doesn't pay as much, but it's very, very hard competition also. Our bulls are extremely good, and our riders are extremely good, and so that's why us Brazilians ride so well, because when we are in the process of learning, we compete against very rank animals.

CONAN: Rank animals, rank meaning not in a good mood.

Mr. MORAES: Well, that has nothing to do with being happy or upset or meanness, and it's nothing to do with bucking ability. You know, these animals are born to buck. They are bred to buck just like horses are bred to race or jump, you know, and these animals, they are not wild bulls anymore, there are born to buck, bucking bulls, you know.

CONAN: And are they injured in this process?

Mr. MORAES: Not at all, not at all. I don't know if any bull ever got an injury, you know, because they are so massive. Their muscle structure is so intense, so strong, that it doesn't matter how hard they jump, you know, how high they jump. They always, you know, stay in a good physical condition.

CONAN: Of course, those lack of injuries, that same thing cannot be said about the bull riders. I know you yourself have had more than a few...

Mr. MORAES: Oh yeah. I wish the bull riders were as safe as the bulls are, you know, because in my 20-year career I never saw any bull getting hurt, but I've seen, you know, two of my friends getting killed and saw others, too, getting paralyzed, and I saw many broken bones and torn ligaments and a lot of blood.

CONAN: We're talking with Adriano Moraes, three-time professional bull riding champion. You're listening to TALK OF THE NATION from NPR News.

And I know that you started out, as you said, for the excitement, for the thrill, for the money, of course. You're now an old man by bull-riding standards, and I know you - has your attitude changed over the years?

Mr. MORAES: I don't think it changed. I mean, I always loved to get on bulls, and that's all I do for fun. And I get paid by having fun, and right now I think I'm in a position where I don't have to worry about money. Of course, I still need money, but I'm pretty set financially, and now I ride for the pleasure, for my own pleasure, and for the first time of my life I can just enjoy and have fun and don't worry about anything.

CONAN: I know you have kids, and I know that sometimes they watch you in the professional bull-riding circuit. A) this is not necessarily a life that is conducive to the family life, but B) what do you tell them when they see you or other people being injured?

Mr. MORAES: Well, you know, I show them the reality of bull riding. Most parents, they - when they want their kids to get on bulls and, you know, become bull riders, because we talk to these kids all the time, and parents approach us, oh, he's going to be the next PBR world champ or whatever. But all of those, they are not real professionals. They never get on bulls for a living.

So I try to tell my boys the reality of bull riding, you know, the pain, the blood, the tears, the frustration, and also I show them the success. But most of the time, it's failure, and a few times it's success. So I just try to discourage them. They never think about bull riding.

CONAN: We've got a caller on the line. This is Nancy. Nancy's with us from Cement City in Michigan.

Mr. MORAES: All right.

NANCY (Caller): Adriano, it is such an honor to speak with you.

Mr. MORAES: Hi, Nancy. Thank you.

NANCY: I might be one of your oldest and only fans - one of your many fans in Michigan, certainly.

Mr. MORAES: Thank you, thank you.

NANCY: And when you won for the third time this year, I was jumping around and yelling and screaming like a teenage cheerleader.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. MORAES: Thank you, thank you. I wasn't jumping around because the bull had jumped with me a lot. So I just (unintelligible) I was sure happy.

NANCY: I believe you rode all but one bull over those two weekends. Is that correct?

Mr. MORAES: No, I come off two bulls.

NANCY: You came off two bulls.

Mr. MORAES: Yeah, yeah, I come off...

NANCY: And staying on...

Mr. MORAES: I had a little back thing, a little back injury. But you know, I was able to finish Sunday, so it was good.

CONAN: Nancy, thanks very much for the call. Appreciate it.

NANCY: Well, I did have a quick question.

CONAN: Oh, go ahead then.

NANCY: That is about the second belt, the second cinch-belt on the bull. Is that there to annoy them, to aggravate them, to get them to buck harder?

Mr. MORAES: What did you say, ma'am? I could not...

CONAN: She's asking about the second cinch belt on the bull. Is it there to annoy the bull and make it buck harder?

Mr. MORAES: Oh no, no, no. The belt is kind of a cultural thing. It's just - when they first started getting on bulls, they didn't want their bull ropes to go with the bull, so they tied something under the bull in the rope. So every time the ride is over, that belt is just a dead weight that would pull the rope down so we can retrieve our bull rope. That's the only reason.

NANCY: Well...

CONAN: Thanks very much for the call, Nancy. I did want to ask you. In this country, you know, baseball hitters will study videotape of pitchers to analyze every pitch that they throw. Do you study bulls that way?

Mr. MORAES: Well yeah, yeah. We actually do. But we watch videos all the time, and we just go over all the bulls. We don't study one particular animal because we see them almost every week, you know, because all the - like the PBR always promised the best bull riders in the world and the best bulls in the country, so we see these great bulls at least 15, 20 times a year. And we're pretty familiar with them.

CONAN: So where's your next stop?

Mr. MORAES: Well, my next stop's tomorrow in Worcester, Massachusetts.

CONAN: Worcester, Massachusetts, the heart of rodeo.

Mr. MORAES: Well, it will be tomorrow.

CONAN: Adriano...

Mr. MORAES: Of bull riding. We're not called rodeos anymore because our events have bulls only. Our events doesn't have horses or calves or...

CONAN: Well, let me just restate it then. Worcester, Massachusetts, the home of professional bull riding.

Mr. MORAES: Oh yes.

CONAN: Adriano Moraes, thank you very much, and good luck to you.

Mr. MORAES: Well, thank you, sir.

CONAN: Adriano Moraes, three-time professional bull-riding champion, and he joined us today from his ranch in Tyler, Texas. This is TALK OF THE NATION from NPR News. Ira Flatow will be here tomorrow. We'll see you Monday. I'm Neal Conan in Washington.

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