Frank Newsom opened the door of his Paoli, Okla., home about 11 years ago to see a “malnutrition-ed little fart” standing in front of him on the porch. Ten-year-old Cody Webster stood holding a pair of cleats and shorts, staring intently at the bullfighter he had spent his entire life idolizing. No way did this kid really want to be a bullfighter, Newsom thought. “I was like, ‘Alright, let’s get out here in the yard – I have a bullfighting dummy,’” he said. “I didn’t know what to expect.”
The boy took every hit from the dummy Newsom could throw at him. He went down with every trick Newsom pulled from his sleeve, but popped up each time ready for more. In the midst of fighting, Webster cut open his leg on a piece of metal that had come loose on the dummy. “I was like ‘What do you think about that? Are you done? You still want to do this?’” Newsom said. The boy looked up. “Yes, sir.”
Webster turned 23 Thursday and will bullfight alongside Newsom Saturday and Sunday at the “Built Ford Tough Rumble in the Rockies” at the Broadmoor World Arena.
Webster has served as an alternate bullfighter on the PBR’s Built Ford Tough Series since making his debut last October at the PBR World Finals in Las Vegas. He was 22 at the time, the same age Newsom was when he made his debut.
“Man, I never expected to get that call. It is very overwhelming and a blessing,” Webster said. “It’s something that I have dreamed of my whole life. I grew up as a baby watching the NFR and the PBR and getting to watch Frank day in and day out. It’s very emotional getting to work with the man I look to as a father figure.”
FIGHTING HIS WAY UP
“There was never that ‘Oh, I want to be a bullfighter’ moment,” Webster said. The desire was always there, a knowledge that it was simply a part of him.
Before he was even able to talk, the boy had his eye on rodeo clowns and bullfighters. As soon as he was able to run around the house, he was no match for the imaginary 2,000-pound bulls chasing after him as he dove into piles of dirty clothes to avoid danger. “My mom had to make me a pair of baggies, and I would be up and down the hall jumping and running around out into the yard,” Webster said.
He even rigged up a tree tire swing for training at his aunt’s place. “I would go out there and push that tire and fight that tire swing like a bull for hours,” he said. “A day doesn’t go by without me thinking about fighting bulls.”
Webster grew up just a few miles down the road from Newsom in Wayne, Okla. After that fateful afternoon in the front yard with the bullfighting dummy, Webster would drag his cleats, shorts and gear over to his idol’s place for bullfighting practice nearly every afternoon through his teenage years and even into his professional career.
He helped Newsom build fences and herd cattle and even kept an eye on the house while Newsom was traveling to bull-riding events. Newsom, in turn, not only took Webster under his wing in the arena, but with the help of his wife Dea, started mentoring the boy, who grew into a man under his watchful eye. When Webster would get in a tough spot at school, Newsom was his first call, and you can bet the bullfighter was there in a heartbeat. Newsom was the first person Webster called in October after the PBR let the young bullfighter know the sport’s top riders voted him as one of the four men they trusted with their lives in the arena.
“He called me, and it took the rest of the evening for it to sink in,” Newsom said. “I knew it was going to happen, but I didn’t know it was going to be this soon in his career. To be honest, in the back of my mind I hoped one of these days he would fill in for me. I just didn’t think it would happen this quick.” Instead of Newsom’s prodigy eventually inheriting his position on the Built Ford Tough Series, they now work side by side at PBR Touring Pro Division events in places like McAlester, Okla., and Pueblo. “I am proud as heck for him, but that doesn’t even describe what I feel like,” Newsom said.
Both sides of Webster’s family are steeped in rodeo tradition. His mom and aunt were barrel racers, and his dad, grandpa, uncle and other relatives lived a Western, ranching lifestyle. Webster still remembers fighting bulls in his grandpa’s practice pen. Yet, it all goes back to that first encounter with Newsom. “That was the start of it,” Webster said. “His advice was to be true to who you are and just let your work in arena speak for itself.”
The lessons and training have continued for Webster. He calls Newsom on a near-daily basis and the two work out together when their schedules line up. When Webster enters the arena, Newsom tends to beam with pride, especially in small moments, like watching Webster calm an uncooperative bull in the chute. And Webster still can’t believe he gets to work with his mentor. “It’s been really great,” he said during World Finals. “Being able to come in here and work with this team (Shorty Gorham, Jesse Byrne and Newsom) in a venue like this and the best bull riders and the best bulls is unbelievable.”
It really sunk in when Webster finally heard his name announced on October 22 during introductions for Round 1 of the World Finals in Las Vegas. “Man, I have come here a couple of times in the past, but sitting up in the stands you don’t get nearly the vibe you get here,” he said.
Webster has demonstrated his potential as a bull fighter. His footwork and agility are strong and he shows a fearlessness necessary to succeed in the sport. “I always knew how handy he was, but for him to step into this deal and handle the nerves and be able to fit in to our program the way we do things has been awesome,” Newsom said. “I knew he could do it.”