Thursday, April 3, 1997 | 11:59 a.m.
BODACIOUS doesn't like to be left alone. But stay off his back.
The 1,800-pound rodeo bull likely is the most fearsome animal to compete since Christians were sent to the lions.
"He is very capable of killing a man," said Terry Don West, who will try to ride Bodacious for charity Saturday night. The event will conclude the $1 million Wrangler Bull Riders Only World Championships, which start tonight at the Thomas & Mack Center.
The event will be televised on Fox Sports (KVVU Channel 5) at 9 p.m.
Las Vegas was the site of Bodacious' last ride 15 months ago. He was retired from competition following the 1995 National Finals Rodeo for bludgeoning too many riders.
"I hope this is the last time they buck that bull. He will kill somebody," said West, the reigning Professional Rodeo Cowboys Association world champ, who will donate his $10,000 purse to Sunrise Children's Hospital. "There's a lot of fear there. You test yourself every time you get on a bull, but getting on Bodacious, you have to dig down deep and pull out something extra.
"He's scary. To get on him, you test how much you've got."
A nervous West climbed into Bodacious' pen for photographers Wednesday during a promotion at Harrah's. To calm the beast, he was flanked by his mistress and two calves.
"He'll tear the pen up," West said. "When I got in there, he gave me a look, saying 'Don't get no closer. You'll pay for it.'"
West's words of terror aren't hype. The 31-year-old from Henryetta, Okla., will be relieved if he wakes up Sunday morning. To help reach that moment, West will wear a bulletproof vest and a facemask during the ride. But just in case, he has purchased additional insurance to cover death and dismemberment.
The 5-foot-8, 140-pound West -- the first and last rider to stay aboard Bodacious for eight seconds -- has mounted the white behemoth four times. He has ridden him twice and has been tossed twice.
In 1991, West qualified the first ride on Bodacious, whose reputation was far from established, as evidenced by West's prize of $181. In 1993, Bodacious evened the score, bruising West's ribs.
In their next meeting, Bodacious nearly claimed West's life. At a 1994 event in Houston, West was battered by the bull's massive head and shoulders as he fell off. West's lung was punctured and his ribs were broken.
"He didn't want to get on him that night," said West's wife, Michelle, a former barrel rider. "He was saying 'I'm just not going to get on him.' And I said 'Big deal. What's the worst thing that can happen to you? You'll get bucked off?'
"Then when he was lying out there, gasping for air, about to pass on, I said to myself 'That's real smart, Michelle.' I decided never to put my two cents in from then on."
But West's injuries didn't keep him from facing Bodacious again. In 1995, wearing protective gear, he stayed on to score 87 points. This time, he earned $10,000.
Although Bodacious has been inactive and is approaching the end of his prime at 9 years old, West will use the same game plan he used the other four times they met. The mighty bovine's signature move of tossing his head back into his rider as the rider lurches forward is lethal.
"Bo hasn't forgotten how to buck," he said. "He'll try to dirk me down about his second jump and try to knock my head off. Then he'll level out and try it again.
"The power he throws behind him, with such force, that's where he hurts you. I gotta try to dodge the bullet. I want to walk away from this match. I don't want to get carried away in a stretcher."
In many endeavors, fear is a liability, but West claims bravado can be a rider's downfall on Bodacious.
"When he crushed Tuff Hedeman's face (October 1995 in Las Vegas), he broke pert near every bone in his face," West said. "I hated to see it happen, but I don't think Tuff gave him the credit he deserved. He was too confident on that bull."
The next time Hedeman drew Bodacious, two months later at the 1995 NFR, he refused to ride, opting for a zero score. At the same event, Bodacious broke bones in Scott Bredings' face, even though the rider was wearing a catcher's mask.
"One friend of mine rode him and he shoved his jaw bones back into ears, chipped his teeth and lost his hearing," West said. "That shows you what this bull can do."
Fortunately for the hundreds of fans who turned out at Harrah's to view Bodacious, he didn't give a demonstration.
"If he wanted to leave here, he could go," said Phil Sumner, the bull's former owner. He is in Las Vegas to help handle Bodacious during the event. "He's been real polite staying in the pen."
Sumner bought Bodacious for $700 years ago and sold him to Sammy Andrews for $7,500 in 1992. Today, Sumner estimates the bull to be worth more than $30,000.
"But if he weren't the competitor he is, he'd be hangin' in the packing house," he said.
When West climbed into the pen Wednesday and the bulbs flashed, it was Sumner who ensured everyone's safety, studying his old friend to detect any agitation.
"If his head starts cockin' or his ears get to twitchin', he's gettin' worked up," Sumner said. "But as long as he's got his girlfriend in there, he'll be pretty comfortable. You put him by himself and he goes berserk."
Saturday night, Bodacious will be alone with West.
"I don't want to do this," he said. "I'm scared for my life."