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When two-time Professional Bull Riders world champion Adriano Moraes talks about his sport, which requires a rider to stay on a bucking, spinning bull for eight seconds, he describes the adrenaline rush he gets when the bull charges from the chute; the pride he feels over conquering an 1,800-pound beast, even if it's only briefly; and the value of faith in facing injuries, which for Moraes have included a twice-broken leg, a fractured collarbone and cheekbone and a gored abdomen. The surprise comes when Moraes likens the sport to ballet.
"It's a lot like being a bailarino--the guy, not the ballerina," says the Brazilian-born Moraes, 36, who lives in Keller, Texas, and is featured in a new documentary called Rank, which airs this month on cable's Independent Film Channel and is also available through Netflix. "Bailarinos have a lot of strength but also a lot of finesse. They're lifting a ballerina like they're lifting a feather. It's a lot of control, a lot of balance. That's bullriding. It's not brute force; it doesn't matter how strong you are, a bull will always be stronger."
Rank--a term that breeder H.D. Page says is given to a bull who "can jump the highest and kick the hardest and spin the fastest"--offers a good introduction to one of the nation's fastest-growing sports, with more than 100 million viewers having tuned in to its 30 events on Fox, NBC and OLN this year.
"What we tried to portray is how the riders' lives are made up of long, slow, quiet periods of ranching, hanging around," says director John Hyams, "punctuated by eight seconds of fierce, violent activity." Hyams, who lives in New York City and whose previous documentary, The Smashing Machine, was about ultimate fighting, says he wanted to capture on film a world that was in large part alien to him.
Rank opens in Dickson, Okla., on the Page family ranch, where some 300 bulls are raised. In these segments the film's pace is slow, its tone almost reverential as Page and his father, Dillon, introduce their favorite bulls: Mudslinger, Western Wishes, Crossfire Hurricane, Hotel California. The film then moves on to the fast-paced 2004 finals, in Las Vegas, where the riding is quick and the bucking is terrifying.
Hyams follows the fortunes of three riders: Moraes, Mike Lee and Justin McBride. (The three will also be competing in this year's Las Vegas finals, Oct. 27-29 and Nov. 2-5.) Lee and his wife, Jamie, discuss a cracked skull he suffered that led to a subdural hematoma, surgery and the partial loss of sight in one eye. Lee, 23, still rides, knowing, he says, that "I'm gonna have a chance of dying, and I'm ready to die for something that I love doing. God gave me this talent, and I'm ready to die for Him, in the arena or out of the arena."
In some of Rank's more moving scenes, Moraes plays with two of his sons, whom he first saddled up on ponies before their first birthdays. As he does, he talks about wanting to show them more affection than his own parents showed him.
Comic relief is supplied by McBride, who strums his guitar and sings a vaguely obscene song about putting his male ego on hold until falling for a barmaid. The 2005 world champion, he'll tell you that the sport is all about focusing on "the simple steps of what it takes to stay on." (Keep your riding arm bent, your upper body down, your chin tucked. Lean into the spin. Don't let your balance arm get too far behind you.) He's a third-generation bullrider whose grandfather was killed by a bull, but ask the 27-year-old McBride if he gets scared when he lowers himself onto the back of a bull who'd just as soon gore his innards, and he answers, "Scared? Scared of losing."