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Virgen: Extreme Rodeo lives up to name

Growing up in Compton wasn't that bad, Chris Byrd said. He was said it was a "little rough," and he knew a few people who were gangbangers.

Byrd said he thought gangs were "stupid," and knew how to deal with that lifestyle.

"I stayed out the way," Byrd said Friday night at the OC Fair's Action Sports Arena, where the Extreme Rodeo show took place.

Byrd now stays out the way in a much different way. He's a pro bull rider. So, he actually tries to stay on a bull, and if he's bucked off, he'll get out of the way.

There was plenty of that, though not successfully, as there was pummeling and entertainment Friday night.

Extreme Rodeo was more just for fun for the riders. Byrd and the other riders make their money at competitions.

Byrd said he only earned a couple hundred dollars for the Extreme Rodeo show. But the riders can make much more if they win a bull-riding contest, sometimes up to $20,000, Byrd said.

"It just matters where you go," the 22-year-old said.

Byrd began riding horses as a child in Compton and then rode bulls at age 15. Bull riding became his passion.

He works at a slaughterhouse in Chino during the week and performs at rodeo shows or competes on the weekends. He said he loves the OC Fair and the crowd's energy at the shows.

I was taken aback that a bull rider was from Compton. Byrd said he gets stunned reactions all the time, but tells people about one of his idols: Charles Sampson.

He was known as the first black world champion in bull riding when he won the title in 1982. Sampson grew up in Watts.

"But there ain't too many of us," Byrd said.

Before the Extreme Rodeo show took place, he told me he would just be riding bulls and that "the other stuff they're going to do is wild."

Boy, was he right.

One of the highlights came from the show's Toro Totter, which was featured in the movie, "Jackass 2." This one was just as hilarious and exciting. Four men sat in a large teeter-totter and did their best to avoid two wild bulls.

The crowd cheered loudly and many laughed when the bulls launched the stunt men across the arena.

It's one of the many moments that brings delight to Cotton Rosser, the 85-year-old who is the producer of the show.

Before all the hoopla, as the rodeo fans found their seats, Rosser rode around on a beautiful white horse wanting children and other fans to pet it.

Rosser is in his 58th year of producing rodeo shows. Recently the Reno Rodeo Assn. had a bronze statue built of him to honor his work with his Reno Rodeo shows. He's also the patriarch of the Flying U Rodeo Company, which performed during the Extreme Rodeo show.

"We love coming to the Orange County Fair," Rosser said. "A lot of good rodeo fans here."

Rosser said he grew up in Long Beach and knew when that area and Orange County was cattle country.

I asked him why he continues to produce rodeo shows.

"See that American flag right there?" he asked while pointing to it nearby. "See all the kids in the grandstand? That's why. I'm gonna go see all them right now and let them pet my horse. I love America. I love John Wayne, Roy Rogers, Gene Autry, Hopalong Cassidy, even the Lone Ranger. He gave me a silver bullet one time. Clayton Moore. That was at the Forum in 1985."

Rosser is famous in the rodeo world, and he's proud of his work.

"I have enough awards to sink a battleship," he said.

He should be proud. The show was very entertaining.

The younger fans grabbed their phones to take selfies with bull-riding stunts in the background.

The crowd went silent for a bit when it appeared one of the cowboys broke his leg. He lay still on the ground after a bull pummeled him just after the bull knocked him off a bike.

The rodeo life can be crazy, and painful.

"I've gotten trampled," Byrd says. "I've gotten knocked out a couple times. It happens."

I asked him if he ever thought to quit his career. He just laughed.

He also laughed when I mentioned what he thought if Compton's famous rapper Dr. Dre wrote a rap song about him.

"It would be nice," he said.

For now, Byrd will continue to appreciate the cheers at contests and shows like the one at the OC Fair.

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