Ezekiel “Blue” Mitchell, the only professional bull rider with his own social media team, walked into the Sprint Center in Kansas City last weekend with his usual confident swagger and his ever-present million-dollar smile and something new as well hanging over his head: the prospect of being cut from the premier series.
Friday night, Blue’s smile-bared teeth gleamed as white as ever, but his back was firmly against the wall. He was in a drought, amid a six-out buck off streak. He needed to ride a bull to remain on tour.
That’s because the dreaded “cut line” is now in effect for the Unleash The Beast series. Riders outside of the top 35 standings will no longer be on the elite series. They’ll drop from the Unleash The Beast to the Pendleton Whisky Velocity Tour events, attempting to earn world points and climb back up the standings to regain their spot on the top tour.
Zeke has one of the best personalities and social presence in the sport, but that meant nothing to his round one Bull. OK Brand isn’t on TikTok, has no clue about Zeke’s social media favorability scores, and has never let a single rider last the 8 seconds on his back.
Still, the fan-favorite rider is always sure he can make it to the 8-second whistle. He wears his confidence like another star on his striking new Ariat duds, which Zeke describes as Evel Knievel meets Super Man.
Despite his carefree ways, the pressure was ratcheted up for the 22-year-old cowboy from Texas now living in North Carolina with his agent (described as the rich uncle who doesn’t take any shit) to keep him more focused than in Houston where everyone and their giggly sister wanted a piece of the rising star recently profiled in GW in this fantastic piece:
Yeah, the pressure was on in KC, because, that darn cut line meant Zeke’s spot on tour – and in the limelight that follows the world’s top pro bull riding tour – was on the line.
Zeke climbed down for his final preparations, wrapping his riding hand and finally nodding for the gate to open. OK Brand leaped from the chute with Mitchell in his superhero get-up securely matching each of the bull’s moves until the 8-second whistle. After landing on his feet, Mitchell danced when collecting his rope as PA announcer Matt West announced an 87.75-point score…good enough for third in the round and increasing Zeke’s chances at the top of PBR has moved up to No. 29 in the world, six spots off the cut line.
Check out the ride that helped keep Zeke on tour:
As the video shows, Zeke can ride anything and knock out high scores. But he doesn’t always do that.
That makes him exasperating, especially when you see guys like Keyshawn Whitehorse in a virtual trance hours before the show visualizing the ride ahead, and then Zeke Mitchell clowning around like he’s heading to the junior high prom.
Is he too caught up in the trappings of fame brought by a winning personality and million-dollar smile?
Clearly, he has the full package of athlete and entertainer, and may just catapult PBR into the mainstream. Can you say “Tiger Woods effect”?
For more evidence, check out this terrific video Gear Patrol shot when Zeke rode in Madison Square Garden to start the season.
Of course, there was a difference with Tiger, and how he brought golf to new audiences, Woods won…often and big.
Personality-wise, Zeke runs circles around Tiger. But he’s not there yet in the winning department.
Can he compartmentalize the adulation and social likes to block out the klieg lights when entering the bucking chute for the most important 8 seconds of his day?
Kansas City was a window into a supremely talented rider’s potential. A great ride. And then two buck offs.
So much promise. So much potential. So exasperating.
Which makes professional bull riding such a fascinating sport.
And also makes North Little Rock starting Friday night so much more intriguing to watch, as Zeke Mitchell, the only bull rider with his own social media team tries to stay in the spotlight.