LAS VEGAS – There was an hour before the start of the final night of the 2016 BlueDEF Tour Finals when Dakota Buttar used his right hand to grab a hold of a railing in the grandstands at South Point Arena.
Buttar then grimaced as he tried to hop down the stairs, avoiding putting pressure on his injured left ankle.
Ever so slowly, Buttar was able to make his way down to the arena floor to go find his Round 3 bull Big Dan.
The 23-year-old was not going to let his injured ankle get in the way of his last-day dash to qualify for the 2016 Built Ford Tough World Finals no matter how much pain was radiating throughout his foot, heel and ankle.
Buttar rode Big Dan for 86.5 points in Round 3 on Monday night, which combined with his 84-point ride on El Guerrero in Round 1 on Saturday, was enough to help him earn 73.3 points toward the world standings and grab the 35th and final spot for the World Finals.
“I am pretty happy,” Buttar said. “It was something I really didn’t expect at the start of the year. It all kind of just fell together this last month. I am pretty excited.”
Buttar had to bear down on Monday night after his left ankle was kicked by Scotty’s Crossroads in Round 2.
He earned 15 world points in Round 1, 33.33 world points in Round 2 and 25 points for finishing sixth in the event average.
He finished a mere 34.99 points ahead of No. 36 Jorge Valdiviezo.
Buttar joins No. 14 Tanner Byrne, No. 27 Aaron Roy and No. 31 Ty Pozzobon as Canadian qualifiers for the World Finals. It is the most Canadian-born riders since 2012 (Roy, Pozzobon, Chad Besplug and Zane Lambert).
“This is going to be a blast,” Buttar said in amazement.
Buttar was competing at the BlueDEF Finals because Pozzobon – the 2016 PBR Canada champion – was unable to compete due to a riding hand injury.
“This was pretty much a second chance for me to get to the World Finals,” Buttar said. “Ty called me. I had no idea he hurt his hand last weekend and was taking this weekend off.
“He told me to go ride like I was back at home.”
Buttar – a two-time Canada Professional Rodeo Association champion – concluded the 2016 regular season 35-for-63 (55.56 percent) at all levels of PBR competition. He won two PBR Canada Touring Pro Division events and was the runner-up at the 2016 PBR Canada Finals in Saskatoon.
He was actually riding at the BlueDEF Finals with a gash in his leg from Saskatoon. The wound re-opened every time he rode this weekend, forcing him to go back to his hotel room to clean it out to prevent any infection.
It is not the first time Buttar has had to cowboy up, and he is by no means a stranger to the rodeo world.
His dad, Jim, rode bulls during his younger days and Dakota’s older sister, Cheyenne, competes as an amateur barrel racer.
It was through Cheyenne that Buttar and Byrne became friends.
The two bull riders grew up only four hours apart and became good friends through their older siblings.
“Me and Tanner were pretty good friends growing up,” the Kindersley, Saskatchewan, bull rider said. “We have known each other since we were 6 or 7. I messaged him before Tulsa and asked if he would give me a hand if I am lost or something. He gave me his number and said if I need anything I can get ahold of him.”
Byrne and Buttar are less than a year a part in age.
“His sister and family were rodeoing, and my older brothers and family were rodeoing, so we were the two little twerps running around causing trouble behind the scenes,” Byrne said with a hearty laugh. “We grew up in junior bull riding together and went into bull riding together. We went over to the Canadian Pro Rodeo Association around the same time. He won it twice the last two years. I won the Finals twice, but never the overall championship, and then I came over here.”
Byrne compared Buttar’s riding style to that of Chase Outlaw, who won the 2016 BlueDEF Tour championship on Monday night.
“He is kind of like a Chase Outlaw,” Byrne said. “He is a smaller guy that is really sticky and gets a good hold with his feet. When he does ride them, he makes them look really good and that is going to be a huge key to his success up here. He is going to get good scores and stay on a whole lot of bulls.”
Buttar played hockey as a kid and his cousin is Darren Van Impe, a former National Hockey League defenseman.
But Buttar’s love was always bull riding. He got on his first steer at 8 years old and grew up idolizing two-time World Champion Chris Shivers and PBR Ring of Honor inductee Jim Sharp.
“I kind of ride over the front on most bulls,” Buttar said, before joking, “I try to look like them, but I don’t.”
Buttar went 0-for-2 in his BFTS debut in Tulsa, Oklahoma in August, but he arrived in Las Vegas with a much more confident mindset after going 2-for-3 at the Portland, Maine, BlueDEF Tour event two weeks ago.
“I was a little bit (nervous),” Buttar said. “I have rode with all of them in Calgary the last few years, but it is definitely different. It was a big eye opener going there. The atmosphere was so different compared to any other big rodeo I have been to.”
Buttar knows it will be a surreal experience on Wednesday night when he nods his head inside T-Mobile Arena during his first World Finals appearance.
It will be just his seventh PBR-sanctioned event on American soil.
“You see it on TV all the time, but you can’t grasp the actual atmosphere until you are here,” Buttar said. “I was kind of just trying to get some points this year and see how it went. I went to a few more of these and placed pretty high. That was my goal, but I wasn’t sure if it was possible.”
“Well, you kind of have to forget about it now and just worry about my next bull.”
Byrne thinks Buttar has what it takes to compete full time on the Built Ford Tough Series too.
“It is going to be an adjustment period for sure,” Byrne said. “Obviously, this is the big leagues and it is a whole new game. He definitely has what it takes, and he is going to prove it here in a little bit.”
Buttar is one of the most dominant bull riders currently in Canada.
He finished second in the PBR Canada standings behind Pozzobon, but he is one of seven riders to repeat as CPRA champion.
He is currently the No. 1 bull rider in the CPRA bull riding standings heading into the Canadian National Finals on Nov. 9-13 in Edmonton. Only two riders – Wilf Girletz (1950-52) and Gid Garstad (1964-66) – have won three consecutive CPRA championships.
First, though, Buttar has his sights on becoming the first Canadian to ever win the $250,000 World Finals event prize in Las Vegas.
The final day of the World Finals will coincidentally be Buttar’s 24th birthday.
“(Being a two-time Canadian champion) does give me some confidence, but this is something new,” Buttar concluded. “I have to prove myself.”
Follow Justin Felisko on Twitter @jfelisko
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