When you think of some pretty intense sports, what comes to mind? It’s probably 20 of the best bull riders named to PBR’s ‘Ring Of Honor’.
How about riding a bull. Sure, you may have tried for fun. But that was a fake bull operated mechanically where there was inflatable cushions to break your fall.
We’re talking about getting on the back of a real live bull on real dirt who’s readily willing to knock you right off. All while attempting to balance and stay on the bull with only one hand on the bull with another in the air to keep your balance.
The PBR (not not the cerveja), the Professional Bull Riders have seen some talented professionals over the years, with a select few being named each year to some prestigious awards. One of them being the “Ring of Honor” (per PBR).
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What is bull riding’s “Ring of Honor” you may ask?
Well, glad you asked. According to the PBR, it’s an award “given annually to individuals who have made a significant and lasting contribution to the sport of bull riding. The Ring of Honor is the highest honor a professional bull rider can receive. The honor is based on the core beliefs of the organization-Only the Best, Authentic, Toughness, Team Work, and Professional.”
Yeah, I’d say that’s good criteria to make this list as the best to do it in your sport. In this case, we’ll look at 20 of the best bull riders in this century so far. Who’s listed here is all based off the PBR Heroes & Legends list of who was named to the “Ring of Honor” over the years.
20 Of The Best Bull Riders In ‘Ring Of Honor’ (Just Over The Past 2 Decades)
Note: In parenthesis is the year the bull rider was inducted into the PBR’s Ring of Honor, (per PBR).
Along with each bull rider, you’ll find either a quote from them or a family member, or a fun fact about them featured either on PBR’s Ring of Honor list or another site that will be listed with each quote or snip-bit. Hopefully one or two encourage you in wherever you’re at in life. Whether that’s riding bulls or simply trying to face adversity where it feels like you’re riding a bull in life!
20 – Owen Washburn (2016)
“Most guys that ride bulls need money, just like everybody does,” Washburn said according to the PBR. “That is what I did for a living and I loved getting on rank bulls. That is whenever it seemed like I did my very best, especially the older I got. Whenever I got on a bull like that, and there was that much money, you don’t have to convince yourself to get your motor running. You are just there.”
Starting off the list is Owen Washburn. Washburn got inducted into the PBR ‘Ring of Honor’ in 2016. And just as you read about what he said, all you had to do for Washburn was (cue the Jerry Maguire clip), show him the money!
19 – Ross Coleman (2012)
“It’s the best thing that’s ever happened to me, for sure,” Coleman said ‘about his family’ per the PBR.
Family. That’s what it’s all about. And Coleman recognized that, just as the other bull riders on this list evidently did, as well. Riding bulls and taking care of your family. Not a bad way to put that bread on the table.
18 – Gary Leffew (2018)
“I always tell my kids in my schools, my teacher used to snap her fingers and say, ‘Stop daydreaming!’” Leffew said per PBR. “I would snap my fingers and say, ‘Daydream!’ Because daydreaming is your rehearsing being someplace, being somebody and doing something. Being in the moment. And that is the best thing in the world for you, because it programs your mind. The next thing you know, you wake up and you’re there, and you feel at home.”
Leffew doesn’t leave his students hanging as is made evident by his Instagram posts, helping students learn the craft he excelled in. And I’m sure also encourages them to think positively which, per the PBR, was transformative in his mindset, helping him to get much better in his bull riding career.
17 – Troy Dunn (2005)
Per the PBR (as PBR mentions the source is Troy Dunn World), “Dunn is the only Australian to ever win the PBR World Champions and was a two-time PBR World Finals event winner, a record that was not broken until Robson Palermo won his third World Finals event title. Dunn served on the PBR’s board and was instrumental in the eventual formation of PBR Australia.”
To be the first Aussie to win it, that’s what I’m talking about, mate!
16 – Mike White (2012)
Per the PBR, “In 1999, the same year he won a PRCA world title, Mike White transitioned to the PBR and was named the Rookie of the Year. A fan favorite throughout his entire career, White has earned more than $1.4 million riding in the PBR and in 223 BFTS events he recorded 67 Top 10 finishes — 43 of which were in the Top 5 — and 12 event titles.”
Not to be confused with Mike White, head coach of the Florida men’s basketball team, Mike White the bull rider, as you read is one of the best to jump on a bull and ride it, including even when he was a rookie.
15 – Chris Shivers (2013)
Per Keith Ryan Cartwright via the PBR: “He may not have had the size of other professional athletes, but by the time he retired at the conclusion of the 2012 season he had made an undeniable impact in the PBR and established himself as a giant in the sport of professional bull riding.”
That just goes to show that no matter what the critics say, no matter what your size is, go get your dreams. Period. Be the dude to defy odds, to choose the unconventional route in chasing your dreams.
14 – Bubba Dunn (2013)
“I definitely didn’t like the idea of being gone a month at a time,” Dunn said per Keith Ryan Cartwright via the PBR. “You’d go to one and you wouldn’t come home. You’d hang out at so-and-so’s house ― a buddy’s house, wherever you were working events ― hang out there for a week and then go work two or three and then come home. Man that crap didn’t set well with me.”
Per Cartwright, “Dunn simply didn’t want to be that far away from the ranch he grew up on and the ranch he eventually took over.”
Even if Bubba just gets on this list solely for his name, I’d be okay with that.
13 – Brent Thurman (2010)
According to Cartwright, “(i)n April of 1992, he was one of 20 riders who gathered in a Scottsdale, Ariz., motel room and gave his unconditional support to founding the PBR. He managed to put together $1,000 for his share of the initial investment.”
“I’m so thankful for the PBR giving Brent a dream,” Kay (Brent’s mother) said per Cartwright. “The main thing about Brent is his generosity and his love of people. … He was going to make you like him one way or another…He had a gift. He truly did”.
There’s a foundation named in his honor that aims to, “(f)ulfilling Brent’s dream we raise funds to serve the special needs community in and around Austin.”
May God bless Brent Thurman’s family, friends, and loved ones continuously. If you’d like to help out their foundation, you can do so here.
12 – Ricky Bolin (2017)
According to the PBR, “Bolin seemed destined to ride growing up in Texas. His childhood memories were built around the weekly rodeos in Mesquite, Texas, and it wasn’t long before he started competing. In fact, Bolin received his Professional Rodeo Cowboys Association card at the age of 16. With the help of some legends, Bolin was cleared to compete before the required age of 18.”
Those aviators with that cowboy hat says it all: a bull riding cowboy champ.
11 – Gilbert Carrillo (2014)
When there’s twins on this list, you gotta’ place them back-to-back.
Per the PBR: “Gilbert Carrillo collected eight event wins throughout his 12-year PBR career, as well as 29 Top-10 finishes and 14 Top-5 finishes. He competed at the World Finals 10 times (1994-2003). He is one of six PBR bull riders to earn 96 points or higher during a ride and he accomplished this feat twice.”
10 – Adam Carrillo (2014)
Now on to Gilbert’s twin brother, Adam.
Per the PBR: “The Carrillo twins retired from the PBR in 2006, competing at the Built Ford Tough World Finals from 1994-2004 and earning more than $1 million between them. Adam Carrillo picked up four event wins during his career, including back-to-back victories in 1999 at Louisville, Kentucky, and Tunica, Mississippi. He also qualified for the World Finals nine times (1994-2001, 2004).”
9 – Bobby Berger (2014)
According to The Bull Riding Hall of Fame, “Bobby Berger is a rodeo legend and one of only four men that have qualified for the National Finals Rodeo in all three riding events.”
On the Hall of Fame’s site, you can (as mentioned on Berger’s page) “(l)isten to Bobby as he talks about how his book ‘Basic Bullriding’ came about after an injury. He also talks about how his mindset played a big role in his becoming a champion.”
It’s safe to say Berger is an OG of the sport, before everyone was getting paid what they do now. So, we have to include Berger near the top of this list.
8 – Jim Sharp (2010)
Per The Pro Rodeo Hall of Fame, “(i)n 1988, (Sharp) rode his way into the history books by becoming the first bull rider to ride all 10 bulls at the National Finals Rodeo. The record-breaking performance earned Sharp his first of two PRCA world titles…Known as ‘The Razor’, Sharp has been quoted as saying, ‘(My favorite memory was) when I rode 10 bulls at the NFR and won the world championship.'”.
Now that’s what you call precise.
7 – Luke Snyder (2015)
Get this: according to the Missouri Sports Hall of Fame, “Luke Snyder exploded onto the Professional Bull Riders (PBR) scene in 2000 as an 18-year-old, winning the PBR Rookie of the Year and World Finals Champion awards. From Raymore, Missouri, ‘Cool Hand’ Luke has been in the Guinness Book of World Records twice – one for the most money won in the PBR as a rookie, and once for his incredible streak of 275 consecutive major PBR events.”
Now that’s what I call starting off strong, especially when your name was in the Guinness Book of World Records for that feat during your rookie year.
6 – Lyle Sankey (2017)
Per the PBR, “From 1976 to 1980, Sankey became one of only four men to qualify for the Wrangler National Finals Rodeo in bareback, saddle bronc riding and bull riding. He also won the bull riding average in 1978 and 1980, riding nine bulls each time. Since retiring from competition, Sankey has focused his attention toward building the next generation of rodeo stars through coaching and mentoring at Sankey Rodeo Schools. His namesake school was among the first full-time rodeo schools in the country holding clinics across the United States.”
Giving back to the next generation, teaching the craft which he excelled in goes a long way. Props to Sankey.
5 – Tater Porter (2011)
“I even wrote it on a kindergarten paper that I wanted to ride bulls…,” Porter said according to Florida Trend’s Art Levy. “…To succeed in bull riding, you need attitude and confidence. It’s 95% mental and 5% ability. I could win the biggest rodeo today and, tomorrow, go to a different one and get my guts stomped out and end up in the hospital. One day you’re the champ. One day you’re the chump. You’ve got to stay confident.”
Not only was Porter a bull rider, he (according to that Levy piece in 2016) was also an Osceola County Sheriff’s deputy. From riding bulls even while it’s not necessarily the safest sport to riding in (driving) sheriff vehicles keeping people safe, Porter said (per Levy), “I like the adrenaline. You never know what you’re going to get. You pull over a vehicle, it’s like opening the gate on a bucking chute.”
4 – Clint Branger (2000)
According to the PBR‘s bio of Branger on the Ring of Honor page, “Every morning, Clint Branger wakes up, looks out the window, and sees what he calls ‘a gift from God.’ He lives on the ranch where he was born and raised, at the base of the Beartooth Mountains just outside of Roscoe, Mont. The land has been in the Branger family since the late 1800s. Four generations of Branger men have sacrificed much through the years to keep it. It’s where Branger knows he belongs.”
“I worked my whole life riding bulls so that I could come back and be where I’m at,” Branger said (per the PBR at the time he was quoted). “Where I am right now is my gold buckle.”
When it came to Branger, he was no stranger to the sport of bull riding. And no stranger to his homeland, recognizing and appreciating how it was kept in the family and taking in God’s creation in the great state of Montana filled with lots of wonderful land, just ripe for bull riding.
3 – Wacey Cathey (2001)
Remember what I mentioned earlier about how you at home may or may not have ridden a mechanical bull in your day?
“They can be hyped up. But they can’t do one thing a real bull can do–which is to suddenly jump from here to that wall without warning. And to take off on you just when you think you’re settling in,” Wacey ‘reminds you’ per Murray according to the PBR.
2 – Adriano Moraes (2009)
According to the PBR, “Moraes was the PBR’s first World Champion, and the first man ever to earn three world titles until fellow Brazilian Silvano Alves joined him in 2014. …A man of deep faith and strong values, he continues to lend his talents to the PBR in both Brazil and the U.S.”
“That’s what the founding fathers of the PBR wanted,” Moraes said per the PBR. “They wanted to give the opportunity to anybody in the world who could ride bulls to be able to make a living and retire after the sport of bull riding. They don’t have to spend 20 years of their youth riding bulls and then go be a flag man on a construction job…At the time, the PBR started out small but we knew that it would grow. It was not a dream, it was a project. A dream is something you just dream about. A project – you’re working on it. It was small, but it was very well-organized.”
Per Inland Valley Daily Bulletin, “Moraes conveys a clear spiritual attitude that doesn’t involve any fast-food philosophy: Since no onehas the superhuman powers to live on Earth forever, life’s a temporary stop that must be embraced. The devout evangelical Catholic pulls a brazilwood rosary from his pocket and explains that whatever power he derives from his convictions, it allows him to continue a very successful living at something most in their right minds wouldn’t – and shouldn’t – ever attempt.”
Faith over fear. What a powerful way to overcome any obstacle in life, including hopping on a bull as it tries to throw you off madly (as the Inland Valley Daily Bulletin put it: “Off a bull that’s been bullied, never (has fear)”).
1 – Charlie Sampson (2004)
Last but certainly not least, coming in at the top spot on this list is a man who broke barriers in the sport. It’s only fitting to include Charlie (great name) Sampson (another great name) as the best bull rider to have been inducted into the PBR’s Ring of Honor over the past two decades.
Per the PBR via CharlieSampson.com, “Sampson was the first African-American ever to win the PRCA World Champion bull rider title. He qualified for the NFR in 1981 and won the gold buckle in 1982, 18 years after his mentor, Myrtis Dightman, competed at the NFR for the first time.”
In the logo on his website, it lists the Bible verse Psalm 28:7, which reads: “The Lord is my strength and my shield; my heart trusts in him, and he helps me. My heart leaps for joy, and with my song I praise him.”
I’m sure this encouraged Sampson whenever he’d hop on that bull as it was trying to buck him off, knowing where his ultimate sources of strength and protection comes from.
There you have it! That’s the list.
That’s a wrap.
Hope you enjoyed it and learned something new, even if you hadn’t been aware of the sport previously (hand raised over here). It’s cool to research and see a new sport and how passionate each bull rider and its fan base is. To learn something new. And hope you also learned something new today, just as these bull riders wanted to learn the sport and eventually became one of the best at it, you can also accomplish your dreams when you truly set your mind to it.
Charlie Lapastora is a sports/news multimedia journalist who’s reported, written, produced, anchored, shot video/edited on different NBC, ABC, and FOX shows in multiple TV markets, along with digital & new media companies. Charlie has traveled the country telling national sports, news, feature, and original stories on a cable news network, airing on top 10 TV markets, satellite radio, and digital platforms. He is passionate about his faith, family—being a husband to whom he calls the G.O.A.T. of women—about reppin’ his home state of Michigan and Detroit teams (yes, including the Lions), good coffee, and loves how sports brings people together. He’s traveled the world leading and coaching sports camps and has also worked at the Detroit Pistons and LA Clippers’ NBA teams.
- 1 20 Of The Best Bull Riders In ‘Ring Of Honor’ (Just Over The Past 2 Decades)
- 2 20 – Owen Washburn (2016)
- 3 19 – Ross Coleman (2012)
- 4 18 – Gary Leffew (2018)
- 5 17 – Troy Dunn (2005)
- 6 16 – Mike White (2012)
- 7 15 – Chris Shivers (2013)
- 8 14 – Bubba Dunn (2013)
- 9 13 – Brent Thurman (2010)
- 10 12 – Ricky Bolin (2017)
- 11 11 – Gilbert Carrillo (2014)
- 12 10 – Adam Carrillo (2014)
- 13 9 – Bobby Berger (2014)
- 14 8 – Jim Sharp (2010)
- 15 7 – Luke Snyder (2015)
- 16 6 – Lyle Sankey (2017)
- 17 5 – Tater Porter (2011)
- 18 4 – Clint Branger (2000)
- 19 3 – Wacey Cathey (2001)
- 20 2 – Adriano Moraes (2009)
- 21 1 – Charlie Sampson (2004)
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