Richmond Champion either is busting broncs or busting books.
He’s a bareback bronc rider who is exploding on both the collegiate and pro circuits. He’s also a Tarleton State junior agriculture major.
When the bareback riding title was at stake Sunday afternoon at RFD-TV’s The American at AT&T Stadium, Champion clinched the title after turning in a lofty score of 90 aboard a bronc named Show Stopper and earned $1.1 million for his efforts.
“It will change my life, and The American will change rodeo forever,” Champion said.
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The American offered competitors $2 million, a record payout for a single-performance, one-day rodeo. About 35,000 attended the event.
Champion, 21, who has residences in Stephenville and The Woodlands, earned all of the $1 million “side pot” that mainly was intended to showcase up-and-coming competitors. He also pocketed $100,000 that was given to the winner in every event.
The winners of the other events were seeded, credentialed cowboys and cowgirls. For example, North Carolina cowboy J.B. Mauney, the defending PBR world champion, clinched the bull riding title and earned $100,000.
In team roping, two-time Professional Rodeo Cowboys Association world champion Patrick Smith of Lipan and his heading partner, Caleb Driggers of Stephenville, clinched the team roping title. Each earned $100,000.
Tyson Durfey of Weatherford, a former Wrangler National Finals Rodeo qualifier, won the $100,000 tie-down roping title. The other $100,000 champions were Hunter Cure, steer wrestling; Wade Sundell, saddle bronc riding; and Lisa Lockhart, barrel racing. Nineteen-time PRCA world champion Trevor Brazile of Decatur clinched the all-around title after competing in team roping and finishing second in tie-down roping (for $25,000).
The American was the brainchild of Randy Bernard, who served as chief executive officer of the Professional Bull Riders from 1995 through 2010 and currently serves as CEO of RFD-TV. And it was Champion who stole the show during the live broadcast on RFD-TV.
Champion earned the $1.1 million after making two bone-jarring, 8-second rides. In the first round, he turned in a score of 84. That advanced him to the four-man final round in which no previous scores counted.
During the final round, he turned in the 90 aboard Show Stopper, the Frontier Rodeo Company bronc. After the dust settled, Champion edged second-place finisher Steven Peebles, who turned in an 87.
Unlike the NCAA, which does not allow competitors to compete in college and pro sports at the same time, the National Intercollegiate Rodeo Association allows competitors to compete on the NIRA and pro circuits. Champion currently is taking a class load of 16 credit hours at Tarleton State, but he’s also competing on the pro rodeo circuit.
Asked if he would continue his college studies after earning the $1.1 million at The American, Champion said, “I’m not going to make an announcement on that. I don’t know. It’s been a busy winter, and I’ve been traveling a lot and I’ve been having trouble keeping up with some of the schoolwork. When you’re not there, it’s hard to do it. But I will go home, and hopefully I can stay in school and finish it.”
Champion is a member of Tarleton’s rodeo team. He is ranked No. 1 in bareback riding in the NIRA Southwest Region, a college rodeo superconference. But he’s also a standout competitor on the PRCA circuit, and he’s been hot at the winter stock show rodeos.
Champion shared the bareback riding title at the National Western Stock Show in Denver in January. He also finished in the money last month at the Fort Worth Stock Show Rodeo and the San Antonio Stock Show Rodeo.
After all that, he’s ranked fourth in the PRCA world title race with early season earnings of $21,417 as he attempts to qualify to earn his first berth to the Wrangler National Finals Rodeo in Las Vegas.
Champion qualified for The American by finishing in the top five in bareback riding at a semifinals event in Mesquite on Feb. 23. As the result of earning a berth through the qualifier system at Mesquite, Champion was eligible for the $1 million “side pot” at The American.
“I never thought for a minute that something like this could happen in my career this soon,” Champion said. “But here it is. It’s awesome. I’m pumped.”