PUEBLO, Colo. – Sage Kimzey didn’t know what to expect on Tuesday evening when he received a phone call from reigning PBR Stock Contractor of the Year Chad Berger.
The last thing the defending three-time PRCA champion bull rider expected was for Berger to call with an offer he couldn’t refuse.
Kimzey was already committed to riding at the Mandan Rodeo Days Xtreme Bulls PRCA event on Saturday night, as well as the rodeo on Sunday in Berger’s hometown of Mandan, North Dakota.
Therefore, what on earth did Berger want?
Well, how about offering Kimzey the opportunity to square off against Pearl Harbor – the current world No. 1 bull in the PBR World Champion Bull race – for a chance at winning $20,000?
“Well, of course I am going to say yes, Chad,” recalled a still somewhat shocked Kimzey telling Berger only an hour-and-a-half earlier in the evening.
This is the first Xtreme Bulls event that Berger has put on in Mandan as part of the historic Mandan Rodeos Days Celebration – the largest rodeo in North Dakota.
Berger knew he needed a hook to get fans excited.
He wants Saturday night to be a marque event during a jam-packed Cowboy Christmas rodeo run over the course of the Fourth of July weekend.
Berger sure enough got it.
“I hate bucking 40 bulls and just saying, ‘Goodnight. See ya,’” Berger explained. “So I figured I needed something to sell the show. I figured, ‘Hell, let’s do this.’ This will give us a finale and something for everyone to talk about all week and sell tickets.”
“If this wasn’t my hometown, and I didn’t want to make it a big success in its first year we wouldn’t even be talking about this.”
Now, here we are.
The Kimzey vs. Pearl Harbor matchup, which is being presented by the Dakota Community Bank & Trust, will take place following the Xtreme Bulls event, which Kimzey is tentatively slated to compete in as well.
“It is definitely a test of valor,” Kimzey said. “It is one athlete against another. It is 'mano y mano.' Every stat category Pearl Harbor beats me in. That is what is so glorious and natural and pure about bull riding to me.
“It is man vs. beast in its purest forms.”
Calling Pearl Harbor a beast probably doesn’t do justice to the 6-year-old bovine athlete who has been ridden only four times in 43 outs at all levels of competition in the last four years.
“Well, if you ain’t been on Pearl Harbor, you haven’t been on a bull of that caliber,” Berger said. “There is no one like him.”
It is the second marquee matchup involving Pearl Harbor that Berger has organized this summer.
Pearl Harbor bucked off two-time World Champion J.B. Mauney in 4.91 seconds two weeks ago during the $50,000 Cooper Tires Battle in Bismarck showdown.
Kimzey said he watched the video of Mauney’s failed attempt and thought the PBR legend gave Pearl Harbor a test in Bismarck.
“J.B. just couldn’t get him right in the chute,” Kimzey said, referencing Pearl Harbor nearly flipping Mauney over inside the chute. “There was nothing he could do. J.B. left the bucking chute a little behind. When one bucks that hard, the margin of error is very, very slim. I do think he is a lot nicer to ride when he goes up there and around to the right, but the margin of error is very small.”
Pearl Harbor is 10-1 this season against PBR riders and is averaging 46.14 points per out in nine BFTS outs.
The only blemish on his record is 2016 Wrangler National Finals Rodeo event winner Shane Proctor’s 93.5-point ride during the Tacoma, Washington, 15/15 Bucking Battle, which Kimzey has yet to watch.
Berger said having seen his bull turn it up a notch against Mauney only gives him added confidence in bucking his prized possession during another summer exhibition.
“It does,” Berger agreed. “It showed me that he can step up his game. When he seen J.B. was on him, he came into another gear.”
Seeing as the matchup is not being held at a Built Ford Tough Series event, Pearl Harbor’s bull score will not count toward the World Champion Bull race.
Berger was not shy in calling Pearl Harbor the favorite for Saturday night.
“Pearl Harbor is the favorite with anybody,” Berger said.
The North Dakota stock contractor then paused.
“Well, other than against J.B.,” Berger said with a chuckle. “I think Pearl Harbor is the favorite going in anywhere.”
Kimzey, 22, is currently third in the PRCA bull riding standings and trying to win a fourth consecutive PRCA championship this season.
The Strong City, Oklahoma, bull rider is confident he can ride Pearl Harbor, but he is certainly aware that he will have his hands full against a bull that will challenge him unlike any other one he has been on this year.
“I really like the bull,” Kimzey said. “I always liked the style he bucks in. He is a big, strong bull. He is pretty smart and doesn’t do the same thing more than once usually. The trick is getting out of the bucking chute on him. He has a lot of action right out of there. If you can get out of there clean and in a good spot, then I really like my chances to ride him.”
Berger explained Kimzey has to be in “perfect position to have a chance.”
“He has to be there when he turns back,” Berger continued. “If he is off into his hand or away from his hand a little bit, it is over. He has to be in perfect shape when he makes that corner. There is no doubt in my mind that he can ride him. There are a lot of guys that can ride him, but everything has to be perfect.”
Some would say Pearl Harbor is possibly more difficult than any bull Kimzey has faced so far in his brief career.
“Depending on the trip he has, yeah, (Pearl Harbor) is probably one of the rankest I will have been on this year,” Kimzey said. “He is one of the top two bulls in the world, and I have never been on Bruiser.”
It is one of the reasons why Kimzey didn’t hesitate when Berger called.
“He is one of the top animal athletes that the bucking bull industry has to offer,” Kimzey said. “It is not very often you get to get on a bull of that caliber. I am really looking forward to the matchup. That is kind of what we look for as bull riders. The biggest, rankest bulls and the biggest payouts. That is what kind of gets our motors running.
“It will be running pretty hot at Mandan.”
DOES KIMZEY HAVE ANY PBR PLANS?
Also competing in Mandan on Saturday night are PBR bull riders Derek Kolbaba, Proctor and Brennon Eldred.
With Kimzey excited for the opportunity to challenge the “biggest, rankest bulls” is it time to expect to see him at future PBR events?
In his first comments to PBR.com since winning RFD-TV’s THE AMERICAN, Kimzey didn’t shy away from the topic.
Kimzey said he still won’t rule out a full-time run in the PBR in the near future, possibly as early as 2018, but that if he does decide to make the commitment to ride in the PBR he wants to make sure he hits the ground running at the beginning of the season.
“As far as coming over full time, I think I would definitely come over at the start of a season,” Kimzey said. “There might be some things that change that, but I would like to be able to give it a good go to try and win Rookie of the Year and the world.”
Kimzey won the PRCA Rookie of the Year award in 2014, as well as the PRCA bull riding title, and he has thought about trying to become the first PBR rider to also accomplish the feat.
“I just want to give myself a fair shake at being able to win Rookie of the Year and the world in the same year, especially because I did it in rodeo,” he concluded.
Berger has tried to broach the subject with Kimzey and believes the rodeo superstar could contend in the PBR.
“He could be right there in the Top 5 or 10,” Berger said. “Just like Jess Lockwood, and everyone else that comes up, they have a little bit of a learning curve. They have to get used to getting on those caliber of bulls day in and day out. They have to learn how to ride them rank bulls too.
“Sage has made a lot of money where he is at. If you want to be a world champ, you still need to be in the PBR. You have to ride against the best guys in the world. You have to be here. I think once he got comfortable, he is going to be right there with those guys.”
For now, though, Kimzey is focused simply on his Cowboy Christmas run, which includes a pit stop at the Cody Stampede Xtreme Bulls event on Friday night in Wyoming before he heads to Mandan for his monster showdown against Pearl Harbor.
“All I am worried about right now is this Fourth of July run,” Kimzey said. “It is our Cowboy Christmas in rodeo. I am looking forward to the Calgary Stampede too, which is a PBR event.”
Follow Justin Felisko on Twitter @jfelisko
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