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Images from the Unleash The Beast - Gwinnett


Mar 172020

Two hours prior to this past weekend’s PBR event in Duluth, Georgia, the dirt, bucking chutes and bull pens along with a full complement of visual and audio production created the same appearance the PBR has come to represent — an amped up spectacle featuring the Top 35 professional bull riders and the rankest bulls in the world.

The top bull riders, including Monster Energy teammates Derek Kolbaba and Marco Eguchi, were there.

The rankest bulls were there too.


PBR used only a skeleton crew and all nonessential crew members did not make the trip to Georgia, and those who did went through a health screening area in line with the CDC guidelines.


Inside the Infinite Energy Arena, the concourse and stands were unusually quiet. 


Out of a growing concern surrounding the COVID-19 pandemic no fans (along with VIPs and corporate partners) were allowed to attend the event and for the first time in its 25-plus year history, a PBR event at any level of competition was held in front of virtually no one. 


It was the only professional sporting event held in the continental United States, while the UFC mirrored the PBR approach in Brazil. 


Production and CBS Sports Network television crews, judges and stock contractors were kept separate from one another, while riders utilized six locker rooms — instead of the customary two — in an effort to create natural separation barriers and adhere to global calls for social distancing.


“It was different,” Kolbaba said. “There’s no other real way of say it—quiet. It was definitely odd to look in the stands and not see anyone.”


Kolbaba added, “It’s crazy to think that’s the highest of highs right there — bull riding’s biggest stage — where the lights are the brightest and the crowd’s usually the loudest, but this weekend I am pretty sure you could hear every single guy grunting. It was definitely different.


“That’s what it was, the best bull riders in the world against the best bulls in the world with not a single fan in the stands,” he continued. “It was weird, man. It was something.”


The Walla Walla, Washington, cowboy compared the unusual bull riding event to an elaborate practice pen “except the bulls bucked harder and it pays a lot better.” 


Kolbaba, who spoke during a layover in Minneapolis, Minnesota, while traveling home from Georgia, was uncertain what the immediate PBR schedule would like for March and April.


“There’s not exactly a great set of events going on right now,” said Kolbaba, referring the COVID-19 pandemic, “and I would say we were pretty lucky to be able to go and compete even though it’s a closed setting.”


Unlike many other team sports that had paused their seasons early last week, PBR athletes and staff only have an opportunity to earn a living by competing and, more importantly, winning. 


That said, PBR CEO Sean Gleason wanted to give competitors and other independent contractors an opportunity to continue earning a living. 


“There’s a lot of people being affected by this and not just in sports,” Kolbaba said, “but in our daily lives. … For us to be able to go, that was huge. I think that shows what the PBR is about and it would have been easy for them to close the doors. Instead, they gave us an opportunity to compete and earn a living.”


The PBR has announced this week’s events, including the elite televised event scheduled for Glendale, Arizona, have been canceled.


They are evaluating opportunities to reschedule the events later this season and said any other changes or cancelations will be forthcoming.