First thing’s first: The bulls aren’t killed.
Bullfighters Only is setting up shop for some man-versus-beast entertainment beginning Friday, June 28, at the Chicopee Woods Agricultural Center in Gainesville. General admission is $20, and it’s the first event of its kind at the Chicopee center.
But while it carries the “bullfighters” moniker, think less about matadors wielding swords and more WWE-meets-UFC-meets-rodeo clown doing his best to get as close to the bull as possible — and put on a good show at the same time — while not getting gored, trampled, tossed or otherwise maimed.
“You can’t compare it to any rodeo or any kind of Western event that you’ve ever seen. It’s the rawest form of entertainment. It’s man-versus-beast,” said organizer Luke Kauffman, “and I can’t stress enough it’s often the guy that’s always in harm’s way.
“People don’t want to see anyone get hurt bad, but they want to see someone be dangerously close to mortal peril — and you see that every fight.”
The event grew out of the rodeo circuit about 40 years ago, Kauffman said on Wednesday, and has developed into a showman-led spectator sport attracting conventional rodeo fans as well as NASCAR and motocross crowds.
There’s an acrobatic element to the sport as well, with athletes doing backflips over the bulls and leaping away from charging horns. Athletes are scored based on their style, how close they can get to the animal and on the ferocity of the bull they’re facing. A more experienced, angrier animal will be worth more points for a fighter.
“There are some bulls that trot out there and do their deal, but there are some bulls that are screaming rockets that come out there and, once they get a hold of the guys, just wreck them out,” Kauffman said.
In the two days of competition at Chicopee, $40,000 in prize money will be given out, including a $15,000 payout for the top competitor.
“For 60 seconds of work, it’s not too bad,” he said. “We call it one man, one bull, one minute.”
A total 25 men will compete in the Bullfighters Only Southern Classic, beginning with a bracket of 15 competitors on Friday. Five of those will advance to Saturday’s competition against the top-10 bullfighters in the country.
In the past, the group has held events at the Atlanta Motor Speedway near Braselton and the Infinite Energy Center in Duluth.
“This being the biggest event we’ve done on the East Coast, we’ve got tickets sold from Tennessee, from Florida, Ohio,” Kauffman said.
The competitors are even more varied, coming to Gainesville from Canada, Mexico, California, Oklahoma, Texas, Georgia, Florida and North Carolina.
“They’re from all over the place, so they have their fans and such,” he said.
Gainesville’s event is the largest bullfighting event organized east of the Mississippi.