Bulls made a visit to the Chicopee Woods Agricultural Center in Gainesville Saturday, June 29, and they weren’t there to be ridden. They were there to fight.
Bullfighters Only made its way to town with 15 bullfighters from around the country to see who could last the longest and rack up the most points in a minute against an angry bull.
“This is a full-blown action sport,” said Luke Kaufmann, organizer for the event. “And this is the largest freestyle bullfighting event that’s been done east of the Mississippi as far as money and number of contestants.”
Bullfighters stand in the middle of the ring as a bull is released and charges toward them. The bullfighter has to stay engaged with the bull by dodging it in whatever way he can.
One of those contestants was Weston Rutkowski of Haskell, Texas. He’s a three-time world champion bullfighter and was ready to take on whatever bull showed up to challenge him. He’s been at it for about eight years and seemed destined to be in the sport.
He grew up in a rodeo family, and got his first taste of bullfighting after playing football in college didn’t pan out.
“I fought a bull one day and the rest is history,” Rutkowski said. “I’m a competitor at heart. I like to know if I won or lost. And fighting a bull, you know immediately. You either handled him and won your match or you got handled. It’s an instant satisfaction or an instant regret.”
He said it’s a humbling sport — yes, it’s considered a sport and the fighters are considered athletes — where one second he can “be on top of the world and the next second be underneath it.”
“I train like a football running back,” Rutkowski said. “Footwork drills, conditioning, cone drills. I need to be explosive, fast and turn on a dime all in the same 60 seconds. I need to be fast enough to get away but quick enough to stop, turn and go back toward (the bull).”
Rutkowski loves the sport and the community he’s found in it, but there is one part he doesn’t like: the waiting. The anticipation as fight day approaches gets to him every time.
“You know you’ve got to fight a bull that night, but you’ve got to wait until 7:30 at night,” Rutkowski said.
Bullfighting in GainesvilleDekevis Jordan competes in a Bullfighters Only competition in Gainesville Saturday, June 29.
For Andy Burelle, he spends each bullfighting round waiting. He’s used to it because he’s the one who jumps out in a barrel to distract the bull when the athlete needs to get away for a moment.
That means Burelle can go from hiding inside a barrell to having his ear ripped in half and needing 13 stitches, which is what happened Friday night, in a matter of seconds.
He used to fight bulls himself, but as he’s gotten older, he’s turned to protecting the fighters.
“It’s like any other action sport,” Burelle said. “There's this adrenaline high and I love it.”
He said most people come out to watch so they can get a taste of that adrenaline.
“I think that’s the biggest thing is the danger factor,” Burelle said. “It’s good to go watch football or hockey or baseball or whatever because it’s athletics. But when you add athletics and danger, now you’ve got something to see.”
The Sanders family from Homer was there in the stands getting its fill of bullfighting for the first time.
“We thought it would be great for the little girl to come out and enjoy and so far she’s having a blast,” Eli Sanders said.
His wife, Savannah, was watching next to him and had to laugh as she was describing what she thought of it all.
“Very interesting,” Savannah Sanders said. “It’s definitely something I couldn’t do and definitely something he’s not doing either.”
Even if their family won’t be bullfighting any time soon, their daughter, Autumn, was enjoying every second of it. When asked what her favorite part was, she only had one word.
“Everything,” she said.