The bull explodes out of the chute, turning left and jerking Brian Canter along with him. Canter holds on, every inch of his 5-foot-3-inch, 120-pound body moving with the bull. Deuces Wild leads, and Canter dances step for step, move for move.
The bull was a beast, known around the Professional Bull Riders tour as a prize draw. Jerome Davis had ridden him at a previous PBR Finals and knows what to expect — a strong buck, and a good chance of head-to-head contact.
Canter keeps his hand tight, his chin up over the bull, his slight body square over the middle. In this brute sport, the smaller the better. Less distance head to toe, less reliance on the free hand for balance. A lower center of gravity. Canter hangs on for six, seven, eight seconds, victory. He jumps off the bull and throws his hands in the air.
Davis tries to twist with Knock ‘Em Out John but drops his body as the bull lurches forward. The bull throws his head back and pounds Davis with his heavy skull.
Canter is elated as he hops up on to the side railing. He points toward the crowd. More than 6,600 people stand and cheer, but Canter is gesturing at one.
Davis tumbles to the ground unconscious, unable to put his hands out in front of him to cushion the fall.
Canter is standing on the railing, staring at his mentor, Davis, saying “Thank you” without uttering a word.
Davis stares back from his wheelchair.
“I pointed right at Jerome, and I thought that was sweet right there,” Canter said after his 89.5-point ride won the third round of the PBR Finals on Sunday at the Mandalay Bay Events Center. “He knew what I meant when I pointed at him. I didn’t look at nobody else.”
Nine years after his last bull ride, Davis still lives and breathes the sport. He could have turned his back on the sport that broke it, and nobody would have blamed him.
Davis still raises bulls and trains cowboys at his home in North Carolina, running a school for younger bull riders. One of them was a small, spirited kid who lived up the road.
“Shoot, I love to watch Brian ride,” Davis said. “He’s like family. He’s at the house all the time when he’s home, and always calling from the road. I kinda know what gets him thrown off and what makes him ride well. I don’t speak up and tell Brian what he needs to do, but if he asks me, I’ll always tell him what I think.”
Their connection is special, kindred spirits. As Canter stands in the media room after his ride, shy from the attention but proud that he deserves it, Davis slaps him on the chest and says, “You did good.”
Canter just nods, appreciative of the compliment but not smiling. He expects the praise from his mentor. And when Canter discusses Davis, all he can talk about is his resiliency and strength.
“If before I ever got on a bull someone said I’d get paralyzed as a bull rider, of course I wouldn’t get on,” Davis said. “But if I had it to do all over again, and I knew the risk, yeah, I’d be right back up. I always thought about getting killed, but I never thought I’d get paralyzed.
“It’s not hard for me to watch Brian — I don’t hate the sport for what happened to me.”
• NOTE — Brazilian cowboy Renato Nunes sustained a collapsed lung after being stepped on by Encore after his ride. Nunes is undergoing further testing and is listed as questionable for next week’s portion of the World Finals. The event resumes Thursday at the Thomas & Mack Center.