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WCC provides glimpse of rodeo's future

COLORADO SPRINGS, Colo. – Bareback rider J.R. Vezain is thrilled to be part of the PRCA’s newest creation – the Wrangler Champions Challenge.

“I love the title they picked for it,” said Vezain, who is ranked No. 1 in the world standings. “This is the new wave of rodeo, I think.”

The Wrangler Champions Challenge series pits 10 top competitors in each event along with the best livestock, in a made-for-TV event to be aired on Great American Country (GAC). The inaugural Champions Challenge is May 18 in Redding, Calif.

It will air live (9:45 p.m. ET) as a webcast on www.prorodeolive.com, with Steve Kenyon doing the announcing, and the expanded 90-minute television coverage on GAC will debut at 5 p.m. (ET) on June 2. 

Bennett Gooch, the Redding Rodeo Committee chairman for 12 years, said his group is honored to host the first Wrangler Champions Challenge, a day after the Redding Rodeo concludes.

“It’s been a long journey, but it’s all coming together,” he said. “From a marketing standpoint, this has been great. This gives you the opportunity to have every reigning world champion at your event and that’s not something that happens very often.”

Gooch said representatives from “10 to 15” rodeo committees from around the country are expected to attend the Wrangler Champions Challenge in Redding, with the idea of hosting their own event in the series in 2014.

“If the right rodeos get behind it, and there’s a constant level of excitement, this could be a great thing,” Brazile said. “It has great potential.”

“We’ve had a lot of conversations with a lot of committees around the country,” Gooch said. “The interest is out there.”

Trevor Brazile, the biggest name in rodeo and a 17-time world champion, said he’s encouraged by the amount of interest and the format itself.

Brazile said he’s glad this type of event has been created.

“You’ve got to put the best guys in front of the fans,” he said. “I like to play golf but I don’t get to play on TV with Tiger Woods; he plays with the best golfers and I think we need to do that, too.”

Vezain figures the format – there are three more in the Wrangler Champions Challenge series, from Sept. 18 to Oct. 31 – will attract more rodeo fans.

“People will be able to follow it easier, and know who’s competing from week to week,” he said. “Fans will learn who we are and get to know their favorites easier.”

Vezain, who won three rodeos in two April weekends to climb to the top of the world standings, is fast becoming one of those favorites. He appeared on rodeo’s biggest stage at the 2012 Wrangler National Finals Rodeo, where he followed up his 2011 PRCA Resistol Rookie of the Year campaign by finishing fourth in the world standings.

While the Wrangler NFR is every cowboy’s dream, Vezain said the Wrangler Champions Challenge one-day format will be exciting.

“These one-headers are a blast,” he said. “You get the top guys and the top bucking horses together and it’ll be awesome. It’s kind of a preview for the Finals. Whichever dog has the best day will be the winner. I can’t wait to be there.”

The Wrangler Champions Challenge has received commitments from six reigning PRCA World Champions: All-Around Cowboy Brazile, Bareback Rider Kaycee Feild, Steer Wrestler Luke Branquinho, Team Roper (Heeler) Jade Corkill, Saddle Bronc Rider Jesse Wright and Tie-down Roper Tuf Cooper. Team Roper (Header) Chad Masters and Bull Rider Cody Teel had signed to compete, but are injured.

The Wrangler Champions Challenge is comprised of the top seven from last year’s world standings in each event and the host rodeo’s defending champion, as well as the leaders of the 2013 world standings and the 2013 Wrangler Million Dollar Tour standings as they appear 30 days before the event.

Gooch has created a VIP area at the Redding Rodeo Grounds for visiting rodeo committees, so those representatives “can mingle with each other and watch the action.”

A public draw will be conducted at Crown Motors Redding – the local Ram dealership – at high noon on May 18, accompanied by an autograph session with all 80 cowboys. That follows a 10 a.m. parade down Main Street. Fans are invited to the draw to see which of the top bulls and bucking horses are paired with which cowboys.

“We’ll have the rodeo announcers there and stock contractors to talk about their stock,” Gooch said. “It’s a unique opportunity for the public to see the cowboys get their back numbers and witness the draw. It’ll be a cool thing.”

 
 
 
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