December 5-14, 2024


2023 Champions

Dec 18, 2023

2023 Champions

By Patrick Everson

Brittany Pozzi Tonozzi rode into the 10-day Wrangler National Finals Rodeo with a lead of $110,000 in the world barrel racing standings. Then she put the gas pedal firmly to the floor, lapping the field en route to her third world championship.

Tonozzi cashed in eight of the first nine go-rounds – including a Round 7 win and four second-place finishes – while racking up more than $162,000 in NFR go-round earnings. Plus, she took second in the NFR average, good for another $63,889, to finish the season with a hefty $496,499.

It’s been a long ride to Tonozzi’s third gold buckle. She won the 2007 and 2009 world titles.

“It’s surreal right now,” Tonozzi said. “I never thought a third was going to be in the cards for me. This is another dream come true.”

Lisa Lockhart had an impressive Wrangler NFR, as well, winning the average with a time of 137.18 seconds across 10 rounds. That was good for $78,747. Lockhart finished second in the world standings with $343,688 in season-long winnings.

Brittany Pozzi Tonozzi during Round 7 of the 2023 Wrangler NFR. | PRCA Photo by Hailey Rae

Steer Wrestling

For the second year in a row, Tyler Waguespack came from behind in the final round to win a gold buckle. Waguespack tied Will Lummus for first in the 10th go, turfing his steer in 3.8 seconds. That allowed him to pocket $27,487, and he moved from fourth to third in the NFR average for another $50,516.

That took his season-long total to $303,576, beating Dalton Massey by about $20,000 – less than a go-round-winning check. Not only was it Waguespack’s second straight comeback world title, but his third in a row and fifth overall.

Waguespack knew coming in that it would take a 10th-night win – or certainly no worse than second – to get it done.

“I love this building, because I love the pressure,” Waguespack said. “The adrenaline in that arena tonight was just unmatched. It’s fun to let your hair down out there. That was probably the most memorable run I’ve had in this arena.”

So what does Waguespack’s unparalleled ability to rally tell him?

“That tells me I need to practice a little bit more, so I can be far enough ahead. This is stressful!”

Don Payne won the NFR average with a total elapsed time of 44.9 seconds on 10 head. That was worth $78,747. Payne finished sixth in the season-long world standings at $218,180.

Tyler Waguespack during Round 7 of the 2023 Wrangler NFR. | PRCA Photo by Hailey Rae

Bareback Riding

Rookie Keenan Hayes arrived in Las Vegas at No. 1 in the world bareback standings. He’ll leave Las Vegas in the same position, and with a ton of flair to boot.

Hayes won the 10th and final go-round with a 90-point ride for a $30,706 check. Further, that ride clinched the NFR average title, as he went 10-for-10 and racked up 850 points. So that put another $78,747 on his ledger. Add it all up, and Hayes finished the year with $434,050.

He’s the first rookie to win a world bareback championship.

“I can’t breathe very good right now. It’s amazing,” an exhausted, excited and emotional Hayes said. “I can’t thank everybody enough for getting me here. My parents, my sponsors, the guys in that locker room.”

Hayes’ final-round ride was his only go-round win of the 10-day NFR. But he was extremely consistent all week and cashed in five go-rounds, including a second-place effort on Night 3 and a tie for second on Night 4.

“It’s just being mentally tough. It’s dang sure been a tough week,” Hayes said. “Being able to win the last round and jump everybody in the average is just the coolest thing. I’m blessed to be here.”

Keenan Hayes during Round 6 of the 2023 Wrangler NFR. | PRCA Photo by Roseanna Sales

Team Roping

Heeler Wesley Thorp got a team roping title back in 2019, but the eight-time NFR qualifier wanted a second gold buckle. Header Tyler Wade, teaming with Thorp this year and competing in his sixth NFR, just wanted to get his first world championship.

The two made it happen, cashing a couple checks early in the week, then blazing late with wins in the eighth and ninth go-rounds. For the 10 days, Wade and Thorp each earned $153,131, including $50,517 apiece for taking third in the average.

That gave Wade a header-leading $308,057 for the year and Thorp a heeler-leading $325,284 for the year.

Afterward, Wade was just trying to process how he felt about his first gold buckle.

“I don’t know yet. It hasn’t sunk in,” Wade said.

Like a good heeler, Thorp was able to pick up his partner.

“This is unbelievable,” Thorp said. “All I could think about is all the times you’re down during the year. How do you get from that low to this spot? This is what you dream of. It’s very meaningful.”

Derrick Begay and Colter Todd won the NFR team roping average as the only duo to loop all 10 steers. Their total elapsed time was 69 seconds flat, and each earned $78,747. Begay finished fourth in the world header standings at $269,125, and Todd was third in the world heeler standings at $284,292.

Tyler Wade and Wesley Thorp during Round 9 of the 2023 Wrangler NFR. | PRCA Photo by Hailey Rae

Saddle Broncs

It’s one thing to win one world title. Two is nice. But when you get to three, then four, you’re in the pantheon of all-time greats. So welcome saddle bronc rider Zeke Thurston to that pantheon. Thurston won his second straight gold buckle and fourth world championship overall.

Thurston cashed a check in eight of 10 NFR go-rounds, including four wins – outright in Rounds 5 and 9, and ties for first in Rounds 1 and 8.

“Lots of people have one or maybe two,” Thurston said of gold-buckle counts. “But to do it over and over is no easy task. That’s a really big feat.”

Thurston stacked up $234,437 in the 10-day NFR alone, including $78,747 for winning the average with a score of 863 points across 10 rides. His season total of $456,356 was about $60,000 ahead of second-place Sage Newman.

“I’ve always wanted to be remembered as one of the very best to play the game. I feel like I’ve done that,” Thurston said.

Zeke Thurston during Round 9 of the 2023 Wrangler NFR | Photo by Clay Guardipee

Tie-Down Roping

Last year, Riley Webb was the tie-down roping Rookie of the Year. He won about $71,000 during the Wrangler NFR. Not a bad week’s work, but not nearly what’s required to win world titles.

Webb then literally sped straight home to Denton, Texas, leaving right after the 10th go ended and driving straight through from Vegas. And he got back to work.

“I didn’t want to leave [Las Vegas] this year with that same feeling,” Webb said.

Twelve months later, the 20-year-old Webb is the 2023 world champion. Webb did most of his NFR damage early in the week, winning the third go, taking second in the fourth and fifth goes, and tying for fifth on opening night. He was steady all week, taking second in the average for $63,889 to total $172,447 over the 10 days.

Webb finished the season with $452,852, about $41,000 ahead of hard-charging Haven Meged. Meged won the tie-down average, clocking 77.4 seconds on 10 head to pocket that $78,747 check and finish the season with $411,263.

“I had a great year and a great Finals. Fortunately, I didn’t have to win the last round to knock it down,” Webb said.

Riley Webb during Round 4 of the 2023 Wrangler NFR. | PRCA Photo by Roseanna Sales