BILLINGS - As the 2021 National Finals Rodeo approaches next Thursday, it's fair to wonder who might go down the PRCA's greatest bull rider ever? Jim Shoulders earned seven world championships in the 1950s. Don Gay turned in eight during the 70s and early 80s.
But now, Texas cowboy Sage Steele Kimzey is creeping into the conversation, on the verge of winning his 7th. He's currently No 1 blazing into the NFR.
Pick a rodeo and when they crack open the bull riding chutes, you'll likely see Kimzey not just whipping the eight count, but conquering whatever beast is underneath him. We recently saw him do it again on a 92-point ride at the NILE Rodeo in Billings.
Kimzey grew up in a rodeo family; his Father, Ted, was a longtime PRCA barrelman/clown who worked the National Finals Rodeo in 1980 and 1987, and his brother Trey is also a bull rider.
So, why, from all of his early rough stock and timed event options, did Sage grip the danger of bull riding?
"I did all the events when I was little," Kimzey explained one-on-one to MTN Sports before his winning NILE ride at First Interstate Arena. "The older I got, bull riding was always my favorite event and it was the one I had the most success with. I guess it was a pretty alright choice."
That's an understatement. Kimzey, who's great hanging out alone behind the chutes or laughing with buddies around the training room, became the youngest millionaire in PRCA history during the 2016 NFR at 22 years, three months and two weeks. He's won over $2.5 million and six straight world titles between 2014-2019.
"I still have to kind of pinch myself, honestly," Kimzey said when asked about that impenetrable run.
He settled for fifth a year ago. We'll chalk it up to the strange COVID season. But now he's back on top of the world staring down another gold buckle.
But what if Kimzey never wins another? Is that a thought he's okay with? He had to think about the answer for a moment.
"You know, my motivation has changed a lot. I don't know that I have anything to prove anymore," he said.
"I still have a lot that I want to accomplish, so that's been kind of a weird paradigm shift. The motivating factor, bottom line — this is a lot of work. A guy has really got to want it."
To that point, there's always the appeal of less wear and tear on the body, and logging far fewer miles, by shifting to the Professional Bull Riders Tour.
"Yeah, I've thought about going over to the PBR. The money is good, the travel is not as hard," Kimzey admitted. "But at the end of the day, it's getting to be out on the road with your buddies, having the freedom to do whatever you want, whenever you want. That means a lot to me."
Fun fact most might not know - high school sports also meant a lot to him. Kimzey was a four-year basketball player in Oklahoma, winning a state title his senior year.
"We had two great guards, they played most of the time so I came in and gave them breathers whenever they needed it," he laughed. "Thank goodness -- they took all the pressure off me."
Certainly humble from a guy now making a multi-million dollar living under pressure.