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KIRBY: ‘Fearless’ hits the bulls-eye

Netflix documentary series takes viewer behind the chutes of Professional Bull Riding

Published on January 13, 2018 12:01AM

Photo courtesy of Netflix

The Pumping Iron of PBR.

Part “The American Experience” and part “Wide World of Sports,” the six-part documentary series “Fearless” released in August 2016 on Netflix follows professional bull riders from Brazil to the Las Vegas championships.

With commentating from the best in the business — J.B. Mauney calls bull riding the “worst drug in the world” — the series features action-packed photography equally appealing to fans of the sport and those new to it.

Called by Sports Illustrated “the most dangerous sport,” bull riding’s dangers include a 140-pound man being hit by the horns of a 1,900-pound bull, getting stomped on by the hooves, tossed like a rag doll, and all of the above.

According to Sean Gleason, PBR’s CEO, the riders aren’t necessarily insane. “They just grew up with that desire to conquer that animal for eight seconds.”

A fascinating document of both the sport and the culture of bull riding, “Fearless” lets us get to know and become emotionally invested in the riders as we see them advance through (and get cut from) the circuit.

Because for the past several years the world’s best bull riders have come from Brazil, much of the show contains subtitles for viewers unacquainted with the Portuguese language. In the words of three-time champion Adriano Moraes, the first Brazilian to dominate the sport, “It’s not a fight, it’s a ballet.”

He’s talking about the ability to anticipate the bull’s moves. Yet in other ways, bull riding isn’t like ballet at all. Dr. Tandy Freeman, the medical director of PBR, assures viewers that bull riding, with its frequently incumbent concussions and spinal damages, often results in “the same sorts of injuries you see in motor vehicle trauma.”

For PBR champ Renato Nunes, the high risks hit home: In 1995 his brother was head-butted by a bull and went into a coma for 17 days. When he woke up, he couldn’t remember who anyone was for two years, and never fully regained walking ability.

Half of the 100 judged points possible in a ride are based on how well the bull jumps and spins, so because the bull can be every bit as important as the rider, cowboys want bulls that fit their style. Either way, on the circuit they ride the best bulls every weekend.

In some sports — boxing, notably — former champs still itch to return. Not legendary cowboy Ty Murray, though. The PBR co-founder flatly states he hasn’t wanted to do it at any moment since retiring. To him, the young guys “look like candles in the wind.”

The documentary is available on Netflix, and the Banner Bank PBR Classic is Sept. 10-11 at the Happy Canyon Arena in Pendleton.


Stewart Kirby is a writer and critic who lives in La Grande. Contact him at stewartkirby66@gmail.com.


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