LEAGUE OF NATIONS
By: Zachary Allen-Palenske Monday, April 4, 2016 @ 4:11 PM
SIOUX FALLS, S.D. – Jorge Valdiviezo wasn’t just trying to hang on to his bull rope for an 8-second score in Round 1 of the First PREMIER Bank/PREMIER Bankcard Invitational.
Valdiviezo was trying to make the 8-second mark for his wife, Natalie, his 2-year-old daughter, Mia, and the entire country of Mexico.
The 26-year-old’s pursuit of a qualified ride on Friday night may have come up just short, he lasted only 4.4 seconds on Lieutenant Dan, but Valdiviezo’s attempt still carried with it some historical importance.
The Baja California, Mexico, bull rider was the sixth country represented during Round 1 of the Built Ford Tough Series event. It was the first time in PBR history that six countries – United States (15 riders), Brazil (13), Australia (4), Canada (1), New Zealand (1) and Mexico (1) – were represented at a BFTS event.
“To represent my country, I am very proud,” Valdiviezo said. “I am very proud of my family. I am very proud of my hometown. I am very proud to be a Mexican cowboy here.”
Valdiviezo grew up in La Mision – a mountainous village in Baja California, Mexico, which is close to the United States border near San Diego. The village has a population of roughly 1,000 people, but Valdiviezo became acquainted with the rodeo culture through his father, who competed as a bareback rider in local rodeos.
After riding his first bull at 10 years old, Jorge eventually went on to win four national championships in Mexico.
Valdiviezo then moved to San Antonio two years ago to try and compete full time in the United States and provide his family with a better life and opportunity.
“Mexico is too hard to stay good there and (make a living) through the bull riding,” Valdiviezo said. “That is why I come here. To make better opportunity for my family and my country.”
Valdiviezo used an 11-for-21 performance in the PBR’s Touring Pro Division to rise to 37th in the world standings and earn the last alternate spot for this weekend’s event.
He nearly qualified for the 2015 Built Ford Tough World Finals last year as an international invite, but lost out on the international exemption at the BlueDEF Tour Finals to Australian Justin Paton, who is also competing in Sioux Falls this weekend.
Paton is one of four Australians competing in South Dakota. In fact, it was less than a month ago when four Australian bull riders all recorded a qualified ride in Round 1 of the Duluth Invitational.
Ben Jones has been competing in the United States for 18 years since leaving Australia at 18 years old. Jones has spent 12 of those years competing on the BFTS and is currently 15th in the world standings.
He is slated to compete not only in Round 2 on Saturday, but in the 15/15 Bucking Battle as well, which airs Sunday at 2:30 p.m. ET Sunday on CBS national television.
“This is one of the biggest things,” Jones said about having six countries represented. “Australia and Brazil were sort of the founding countries, so I think there are four or five Australians on tour, and we are letting the world know how good we are.”
The PBR founded international tours in Brazil, Canada, Mexico and Australia in 2005, but it has been no secret that the PBR, especially the Built Ford Tough Series, has been dominated by riders from the United States and Brazil.
1998 World Champion Troy Dunn (Sarina, Australia) is the only World Champion in PBR history not born in the United States (12 championships) or Brazil (9).
Dunn has also been instrumental in the growth of PBR Australia as the organization’s president.
Coincidentally, Fraser Babbington – the first New Zealand bull rider to compete on the BFTS – watched video of Dunn’s riding style when he began to ride bulls at 17 years old after accepting a dare from some coworkers in Australia.
“They follow me obviously,” Babbington said of his friends and family back home. “They watch it on TV and on PBR LIVE. I always get messages about how I am doing. It is real special. Me being the only New Zealander and Jorge being a guy from Mexico here.
“I need to hold my flag high and hopefully do well this weekend.”
2004 World Champion Mike Lee said it was pretty neat to see a guy like Babbington make it all the way to the BFTS from New Zealand.
“That New Zealand guy, that is pretty new,” Lee said, before adding with a laugh, “There have always been Brazilians trying to take over the world like Pinky in the Brain. The Brazilians are a really cool people. They come over here and can make good money. They are setting themselves up for a good life.”
Brazil has always been known as a bull riding powerhouse, but the opportunity that the PBR gives them is unlike any other back home, says 36-year-old Valdiron de Oliveira.
Oliveira made his BFTS debut in 2007 and is the oldest Brazilian rider on the BFTS.
“Yes, Brazil has a lot of bull ridings, but you come over here to be the best,” Oliveira said. “This is very good for us and the PBR. The sport is growing. This is very special for the whole group of Brazil, Australia, Canada, New Zealand, the United States and Mexico. It is awesome. It shows the sport is growing every year.”
Aaron Roy is this weekend’s lone Canadian representative with Tanner Byrne out because of injury, and Roy made the decision to head south of the border when he turned professional in 2007.
“It says the sport is growing,” Roy said. “This is the first time we ever had this many countries represented, and hopefully it gets bigger from here. There has always been a pile of bull riders in Canada that are good enough to come down here, but it is just if they have the drive or not to come down here. I was fed up with rodeo and didn’t want to rodeo anymore. This is where I wanted to be and this is where you make all of your money.”
When 20 cowboys met in a Scottsdale, Arizona, motel room in 1992, their goal was to help provide a greater opportunity for future generations of bull riders.
PBR Director of Livestock Cody Lambert was one of those 20 founders that invested $1,000.
That goal certainly became a reality.
The PBR has turned into a global phenomenon that has seen more than $150 million in prize money awarded since that original investment.
In 2016, the PBR will hold over 300 events globally and pay out $10 million in prize money.
The lion’s share of which, will be available on the illustrious Built Ford Tough Series.
This weekend, and potentially at future BFTS events, riders from six different countries will have an opportunity to win some of that cash.
“I thought that was really cool,” Lambert said. “It really is a neat milestone. We have always been about the best bull riders in the world and we don’t care where you come from and bull riders know that. Every bull rider in the world knows that if he wants to be on the biggest stage, he has to be on the Built Ford Tough Series.”