BILLINGS — Other than the scar that spans the bridge of his nose, it’s hard to tell exactly how much damage Chase Outlaw’s face has endured.
It takes a close-up view to see Outlaw’s bridge scar and his partially black left eye. His sinuses only bother him occasionally, he said.
“Other than that, man, it’s as good as it can be,” Outlaw said Friday.
Less than a year ago, a disastrous bull ride nearly ended Outlaw’s career, destroyed his face and threatened his life. The 26-year-old from Hamburg, Arkansas, is riding at this weekend’s PBR Billings Invitational with a refreshed perspective. But don’t even bring up the word “retirement” around him.
Outlaw suffered his facial injury last July at Cheyenne (Wyoming) Frontier Days. He chose to ride his bull, War Cloud, without a helmet — a decision many riders make.
He remembers the ride but without full clarity. This much he knows: the bull bucked, his face collided with one of the bull’s horns and he crumbled to the dirt. His only thought in the instant after the accident was that his nose was broken. His face was numb, he said, while blood was streaming out of the bridge of his nose and pooling in the dirt.
The next thing he knew, Outlaw was in the sports medicine room. He tried to blow his nose at one point, and it caused blood to fill his sinus cavities.
“It kind of hit me when I tried blowing my nose and it felt like my eyes were about to pop out of my head,” he said.
He was rushed to the hospital and went into surgery at midnight. The procedure lasted until 1:30 p.m.
The X-ray revealed 30 fractures in his face, Outlaw said, requiring 68 screws and 12 plates to be inserted. He had to get a second surgery in November because of complications with the first one.
In between surgeries, Outlaw rested and reflected on his close call.
“That very well easily could’ve killed me. Could’ve made it where I very well could’ve never gotten on a bull again,” he said. “It put a lot of things in perspective.”
Outlaw didn’t spend all of last fall healing, however. Two and a half months after his injury, he returned to bull riding. He told himself that he would make the PBR world finals, and that’s exactly what he did. Now, he’s No. 2 in the PBR world rankings.
Outlaw was bucked off in 2.22 seconds on Friday, but he rebounded with a score of 88 on Saturday — the second best of all riders in the second round (Williston, North Dakota, native Stetson Lawrence posted an 88.25, the best score in either of the first two rounds). Outlaw is eighth overall going into Sunday’s final round.
His perspective has evolved, and his face will never be the same. As for his goal this weekend? It’s as clear as it was before the accident.
“Win,” Outlaw said. “That’s my mindset each and every time.”
Montana Western grad builds on good start
Ruger Piva always thought he would become a wrestling coach after his wrestling career ended. Instead, the Montana Western graduate is the 40th-ranked rider in the PBR, and he’s in good shape going into the final round of the Billings Invitational at Rimrock Auto Arena at MetraPark.
Piva, who still lives in Dillon, followed up a first-round score of 85.75 with an 83.5 on Saturday, placing him tied for third overall and setting up a potentially lucrative Sunday.
“This is my favorite arena,” he said before his ride Saturday. “Just the way it looks when you’re sitting on the back of the bucking shoots. I just think it’s the coolest. I’ve gone to a lot of other ones, but for some reason, it just always sticks out to me as my favorite, and I always seem to ride a little better.”
Piva, 24, earned 101 straight wins and two consecutive state wrestling titles at Challis (Idaho) High School, and he won a NCWA 165-pound national title at Western in 2015.
Piva broke his ankle riding a practice bull that summer. Ironically, the injury steered him away from wrestling and toward a career in bull riding, even though he preferred the relatively safer sport for most of his childhood.
“I went to a couple amateur rodeos after my senior year of high school, did pretty good, won some money. I was like, ‘Shoot, this is a lot better than wrestling,” he said. “I love wrestling, I still miss it every day. … (But) I figured I should try this before I get too old.”
Piva’s aggregate score of 169.25 is tied with Saskatchewan’s Dakota Buttar, who is ranked No. 37 in the world. First-round winner Cooper Davis (No. 8) of Jasper, Texas, posted an 85.25 on Saturday and is No. 1 overall at 173.25, edging Lawrence’s 171.75.
Columbia Falls native Matt Triplett had an excruciating ride on Friday, getting bucked off at 7.98 seconds. He bounced back with a Saturday score of 87.5, the third-best of the second round behind Lawrence and Outlaw.
The last round on Sunday is set to begin at 1:45 p.m. at Metra. It will be televised live on CBS Sports Network.