Sure, rodeos are entertaining. Steer wrestlers jump off horses at full speed; team ropers exhibit great, uh, teamwork; and barrel racers sure are purdy. But the heavyweight counterpart to all these lightweight undercards is bull riding, and the vast majority of rodeo audiences endures the rest of the show to get to this most intense, most violent of spectacles. Watching bull riding evokes a feeling of excited anticipation mixed with mild fear. Like a NASCAR fan, you think, "I know it's generally safe, but something really bad might happen, so I'm gonna stay." Professional Bull Riders, Inc. has successfully capitalized on fans' lust for good bull riding. Top riders can earn quite a living: World champion Chris Shivers made more than $1.2 million in 2003. But for every big pro, there are dozens vying for a break. This weekend, the PBR's U.S. Smokeless Tobacco Co. Challenger Tour arrives in Beaumont, putting greenhorn cowboys to the test. A training ground for the PBR Built Ford Tough Series, the Challenger Tour offers up-and-comers the chance to shine. And after every fifth event, the top five Challengers replace the bottom five BFTSers. Bully for them. 8 p.m. Friday and Saturday, January 9 and 10. Ford Arena, 5115 I-10 South. For information, call 409-833-7747 or visit www.ticketmaster.com. $13.50 to $43. - Eric Norvell
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Are you ready for some fútbol? After years of socking it out with Venezuela for a berth in the Copa Libertadores, one of the top international club competitions in the world, Mexico has been granted two direct spots in the tournament. Mexican soccer squads will battle it out in an InterLiga to determine who makes it to the primarily South American tourney. And as if the tournament weren't international enough already, the InterLiga will be played here in the United States, including four games in Houston. Be sure to get in early, before all the tickets to these historic matches are sooooooooooold! 7 p.m. (Morelia vs. Santos) and 9:30 p.m. (Chivas vs. Toluca) Friday, January 9; 1 p.m. (Atlante vs. Atlas) and 3:30 p.m. (Club América vs. Tigres) Sunday, January 11. Reliant Stadium, 8400 Kirby. For tickets, call 713-629-3700. $20 to $45 per day. -- Keith Plocek