SULPHUR SPRINGS, Texas – With his feet firmly entrenched in the past, Allen Nelson peers easily into bullfighting’s future.
“Good bullfighting at any level is about the basics,” said Nelson, 53, of Perry, Ark., the oldest active bullfighter in the United States. “It’s the same thing I learned when I first started, and it’s what makes a good bullfighter today.”
And it’s the foundation for the Professional Bullfighters Inc. and its Daisy Protection Bullfight Tour, which will be one of three featured competitions at the Texas Heritage National Bank PBR Challenge presented by Priefert Ranch Equipment.
Nelson should know. He’s one of the PBF’s founders, serves as the association’s vice president, is head of the organization’s officials and is a TwoBulls Academy trainer.
“In the PBF, our judging system has to incorporate the basics of bullfighting to make sure bullfighters do things that way to get the highest score possible, and if they’re not doing the basics right, they’re penalized,” said Nelson, who will be the Star Country Entertainer during the two performances of the PBR Challenge, set for 7:30 p.m. Friday and Saturday at the Hopkins County Regional Civic Center.
Four two-man teams will compete over the two nights of competition in conjunction with the Professional Bull Riders’ Enterprise Rent-A-Car Tour and American Bucking Bull Inc. Classic contests. The players are a who’s who of elite bullfighters, and all the teams are represented by finalists from the 2008 PBF Daisy Protection Bullfight World Championships: Team Texas Heritage National Bank, Andy Burelle and Dusty Tuckness; Team Alliance Bank, Joe Garretson and Lance McIlvain; Team CNB Bank, Wacey Munsell and Chad Dowdy; and Team Timber Ridge Belgians, Dave Jantzi and Toby Inman.
“The main thing I like about the PBF is that it allows for growth in our sport,” said Nelson, who is also a clown/barrelman in the Professional Rodeo Cowboys Association. “I’ve seen bullfighters come, and I’ve seen them go. I’ve seen the greats. But the year after they’re gone, who will remember them? The PBF does so many things. It’s going to allow guys like that to still be involved in bullfighting as a teacher, as a judge, as a mentor.
“The PBF gives something back to the sport. I think it does something to the young guys, because it gives them competition, the chance to come up through the ranks and earn their spots just like everyone else in rodeo, everyone else in a free society.”
Nelson knows, mainly because he’s been there. He started three decades ago, when he took his knowledge of livestock inside the arena. Then he began educating himself.
“I started going to every school I could afford,” said Nelson, whose middle child, 21-year-old Brodie, is also a bullfighter. “Early on, I’d work high school rodeos, the (American Junior Rodeo Association), open rodeos.”
His years working as a rodeo clown might come in rather handy this weekend, where he will enter the civic center arena under the spotlight of entertainer. Donning a microphone, he will serve as the color commentator to the arena announcer while throwing in plenty of newsy items that will not only inform the audience but also entertain.
“The key is to knowing when you need to say something to keep things going and knowing when to shut up and let the action do the entertaining,” Nelson said.
He began working ProRodeos in 1988, and even though it’s just a few times a year, he still fights bulls. Slower afoot than the younger sect, Nelson realizes he fights bulls a different way than most, even different than he did 20 years ago. But there’s the love affair with something few have done, even fewer have tried.
“I love it so much,” he said. “It’s something I’ve always done. Early in my life, I really loved football, and when I got to college and wasn’t playing anymore, I missed it. I think I’d be that way with bullfighting.
“You don’t lose your mental ability to fight bulls. At some point, you reach an age where your mind is writing checks your body can’t cash. You have to keep an eye on that. As a young man, there were some things that I could do and get away with, but now I rely more on my brain.”
Still, his life and his livelihood are wrapped around that passion. While he doesn’t spend every week fighting bulls, traveling from one rodeo to another, he believes in it as a business, as a way of life, as competition.
“I’d like to see bullfighting taken to a new level, and I don’t see anyone other than the PBF doing that,” Nelson said. “My commitment is to make the PBF work.”