KISSIMMEE, Fla. (Oct. 3, 2006) As the Xtreme Bulls tour nears the end this week in Kissimmee, Fla., let's just get the obvious favorites out of the way.
Matt Austin remains a threat to win. He's won one this year (San Antonio/Feb. 13), and while leading both the Xtreme Bulls and ProRodeo Cowboys World Standings, he's always a favorite.
The next two guys we shouldn't be surprised to see hoisting the buckle when the dust settles are Sonny Murphy, who just won the ProRodeo Summer Tour Finale in Omaha, Neb., and Wesley Silcox who just keeps threatening.
Now that the obvious are out of the way, let's look at the some dark horses.
First, we have to consider the contractors. Silver Spurs Rodeo Club, Five Star Rodeo Company, Robertson, Wilson and Southwick and 4 L Rodeo Company.
The last time the Xtreme Bulls Tour stopped in Kissimmee, the cowboys were caught off guard. They had hardly seen the bulls in the Southeast part of the country. So much of a bull rider's success is based on the knowledge he carries with him about the bull he's drawn. In 2003 that just wasn't there for the guys and it showed. This year, there will be some of the same problems. However, with Robertson, Wilson and Southwick's bulls, which the guys see regularly, coming, it won't be quite as surprising. But even if they know what's coming, riding those bulls will be no walk in the park.
Mike Moore came out on top the last time Xtreme Bulls was in Kissimmee and he's got to be among the favorites again. Somehow, during September and October, this guy shines. He shines even more on big stages. In 2003, he rode the wave of a win in Kissimmee to get to the Wrangler National Finals Rodeo.
Cooper Kanngiesser keeps knocking on the door. He won the Puyallup (Wash.) Fair and Rodeo and might be ready for the big time.
D.J. Domangue is another bull rider who has been riding really strong. Don't be surprised if he makes a splash. His name keeps popping up. He made the short round at the New Mexico State Fair and Rodeo in Albuquerque a couple weeks ago and fared well in Omaha. When someone keeps hovering around the top in bull riding, it's only a matter of time until they reach the pinnacle.
Jesse Bail's return to the Xtreme Bulls Ride Hard Tour is also worth keeping an eye on. Bail hasn't entered one since he broke his leg at the 2005 Guthrie (Okla.) event. He returned to saddle bronc riding last year, but bull riding fans will love to see him putting his hand back in the bull rope.
Rounding out the list of cowboys to watch in Kissimmee are Zeb Lanham, who showed promise early in the season and is just now hitting his stride and Ryan Brown, who has struggled with injuries until now. Finally, there's Dustin Elliott. Bull riding fans have been expecting him to rise to the occasion at an Xtreme Bulls event all year, but he hasn't delivered. At the rodeos, he's as strong as always. But for some reason, he hasn't found his groove on the Ride Hard Tour. He's struggled so much that his wife, Cynthia, jokingly told him not to bother entering them anymore.
Thankfully, he hasn't taken her advice.
Bob Welch has covered rodeo for six years and in addition to writing for ESPN.com ProRodeo, is the managing editor of Spin to Win magazine and serves as an associate producer onsite for the Xtreme Bulls and Wrangler ProRodeo Tour telecasts. Welch lives with his wife, Kristen, and 2-year-old son, Tate, in Black Forest, Colo.