Since these photos were taken, Billy Gunn has left the Outlaws and is on his own. He Won the 1999 King Of The Ring Title!!
Billy Gunn, is a former Sam Houston State University and professional bull rider. He now gets his kicks from being a charismatic heel. Rarely in the WWF, though, does his heart ever pound as hard as it used to when he would slip into the chute, take a deep breath and hold on.
"There's nothing quite like riding bulls," said Sopp. "I loved those days. The people were great, the guys were great. My hat's off to the guys that still do it. People don't realize the heart the guys put into it."
For 15 years, Sopp's heart was in bull riding. Sopp, 35, originally from Orlando, Fla., was a four-year state rodeo qualifier in high school. When it came time to pick a college, he grabbed close friend and fellow rodeo cowboy Morris Futch and hit the road. The two looked all over the country for a school that would pay for their education while letting them do what they did best.
The two settled on Sam Houston State and Huntsville, Texas, a place Sopp said he "loves" to be. "The people in Huntsville are some of the most friendly people you will ever meet. They were great to me when I was there," he said.
Sopp rode bulls for Sam Houston in rodeos around Texas and Oklahoma. When he wasn't riding, he was hauling bulls to rodeos, which allowed him to meet legendary riders Ty Murray of Stephenville, Tuff Hedeman and the late Lane Frost.
After his freshman year, Sopp attended Don Gay's rodeo school in Mesquite, where Sopp returned later to ride at the Mesquite Rodeo.
It was words he heard Gay speak at that camp that drove Sopp out of rodeo and into pro wrestling.
"Don told me that if there is ever a day you get on a bull and you don't get butterflies or have a fear of the bull, then you better get off right then because you're about to get hurt bad," said Sopp, who rode professionally in California for six years after he left Sam Houston in 1985. "That's what happened to me. I got on a bull one day and it just happened. I knew then it was time to move on."
Injuries also had taken their toll. In addition to the bruises, breaks and aches that every bull rider works with, Sopp had a serious scare after a bull gouged him in the back after a ride. Sopp said after taking the horn in the back, the air vessels around his lungs began to expand and put undue pressure on his heart. He had trouble breathing and went to a hospital, where he stayed a week.
Sopp retired from riding and returned to Florida, where he began working at a local gym. He had never expressed an interest in pro wrestling, but after being coaxed into going to a school with a friend, Sopp found a new passion in 1991.
He made his way up the ranks quickly by putting his 6-5, 270-pound frame on display each night no matter how he felt. It's a mentality he learned while riding bulls and still carries with him.
"I work hurt, sick, because that's what I have to do," Sopp said. "When people pay to see me, they pay to see all of me."
Cody Monk is the wrestling columnist for The Dallas Morning News. Monk writes about the personalities and events that shape the industry. He discusses the business side of wrestling and has profiled several of the business's top stars, including Stone Cold Steve Austin, The Undertaker and Bad Ass Billy Gunn.