Rider keeps stiff upper lip

You expect a challenge when talking with some of the bull riders at the Thomas & Mack Center.

Nine of the 45 contestants in Thursday's fourth round of the Professional Bull Riders World Finals are from Brazil. Translators are needed for all but a few.

It should be easy to converse with a good ol' boy from Virginia.

Talking to Billy Robinson would have been painless four weeks ago, before he caught a bull's horn under his chin, cutting him and fracturing his jaw.

"I can't complain," said Robinson, a 27-year-old from Galax, Va. "This is the biggest thing for us, and you have to be here to ride."

Easy for him to say ... well, not exactly. Before he completed the thought, he had to pause to pull his upper lip out of the web of wire and rubber bands that keep his jaw in place while metal plates help the broken bones mend.

But you don't need your mouth to ride a bull. Robinson proved that in Thursday's go-round before 17,082 spectators when he rode Sand Trap for 87.25 points.

He's one of five to successfully ride three of four bulls; no one has ridden all four.

The effort was good enough for ninth place in the round, earning Robinson $2,000. Wiley Petersen and Brendon Clark tied for first and won $17,500 with scores of 90.75.

Robinson's check would buy a good meal, but he could only stare at it.

He hasn't eaten solid foods in a month. Can't drink a thick milkshake through a straw. He's getting by on chicken broth and a nutritional energy drink that's cost him 20 pounds of his normal weight of 145.

But the slimmed-down Robinson, who is due to have the metal and rubber removed from his jaw next week, has been riding tough.

He was bucked off in the opening round but came back the next night to tie for second with an 89.25. He hasn't been thrown since. Robinson wasn't wearing a mouthpiece or helmet when he was injured and doesn't plan to once his jaw heals.

"The helmet wouldn't have helped me the way I got hit," he said, "and it's always felt like I was going to swallow the mouthpiece when I tried it."

Not even the pain produced by each bone-rattling jump of a bull suggests the protective items might pay off for Robinson. "I've been hit in the head a few times here, and it's jarred my jaw a bit," he said.

He has earned $14,500 in the Finals and is fifth in the event's average standings, which will pay the winner on Sunday $225,000.

His first event after the injury was the finale in Columbus, Ohio. He won the first round and finished the event 10th to win $4,160 and earn enough to move to 41st in the series standings.

2008 VENUE -- All seven performances of next year's PBR World Finals will be at the Thomas & Mack Center. The first three rounds have been held at Mandalay Bay Events Center, before the event shifted to the T&M, since 2004 when the Finals expanded to seven days over two weekends.

FORMER REBELS -- Justin McBride and Ross Coleman, UNLV rodeo teammates for two years in the late 1990s, placed third and fourth, respectively, in the Thursday's round. McBride, the series points leader, scored 90 on Sports Machine for his first successful ride after Coleman rode Cooper for 89.75.

Contact reporter Jeff Wolf at jwolf@reviewjournal.com or (702) 383-0247.