Murray remains face of PBR World Finals

When Ty Murray announced his retirement in 2002, fans couldn't believe the Professional Bull Riders legend was truly leaving his sport.

In a way, they were right.

Murray, who hasn't ridden a bull in nearly a decade, has remained with the organization as president and primary television commentator. He was on hand Tuesday to sign autographs for the Legends Reunion at the MGM Grand, and he'll be at the Thomas & Mack Center tonight as the PBR World Finals open.

Murray, 42, said his annual Las Vegas stop is the highlight of his year.

"There's not a better city to handle this," said Murray, a league co-founder and a nine-time world champion. "Las Vegas can handle anything. On top of that, it's a fun destination for our fans. Beyond the fun people have at our sporting event, there are a lot of things to do in the day."

Murray enjoyed considerable success in Las Vegas, where he wrapped up several of his championships.

"My greatest memories are in this town," said Murray, who won the Professional Rodeo Cowboys Association all-around world championship seven times before switching to the PBR. "This is the town where I reached all my goals. This is our World Series."

Though Murray's face remains a mainstay for fans by way of his television work, he said he still doesn't feel like he has a real job.

"This doesn't feel like a career to me," said the Phoenix native. "Being a founder (of the PBR), this is just something that I do. It's a way to support the sport I'm so passionate about and a way for me to keep the sport growing."

He does, however, feel he's doing something right.

"Our TV coverage has grown by leaps and bounds," Murray said. "Before, we could reach about 20,000 people at an event, but now we can reach 20 million or more on TV. This is finally treated as a professional sport, as it should be, instead of a spectacle."

Murray, who sustained a long list of injuries during his riding career, insisted that he'd rather sit in front of a microphone than on top of a bull.

"I had a good, long career, and I reached all the benchmarks I set for myself," he said. "I retired because I did what I set out to do. When the passion for riding started to leave me, that's when I was done."

As Murray takes the microphone tonight, there will be plenty of discussion about the trio of Brazilians that leads the series heading into this week's culminating event.

Top-ranked Silvano Alves, the series' 2010 rookie of the year, enters the event with three regular-season wins and a 2,261-point lead over countryman Valdiron de Oliveira. Robson Palermo, another Brazilian, enters third, 3,833 points behind the leader.

Though Alves enjoys a sizeable lead, Renato Nunes proved last year that no lead is insurmountable when he won the series by moving from third place to first with a strong performance in the World Finals.

The event, which will feature the world's top 40 bull riders, consists of six rounds of competition. The first five rounds feature all riders, with the top 15 advancing to the championship round. The leading rider through six rounds will receive the event title and $250,000 in prize money.

The total purse for the event is $2.2 million, including a $1 million bonus to the 2011 series champion.

The event opens at 6 p.m. each night through Saturday, and Sunday's final starts at 11:30 a.m.