–Team of Tonozzi and Mattern Wins $125,000 in Chicago–

“It’s just incredible what the WCRA is doing for the cowboys.”

That’s not a statement from the World Champions Rodeo Alliance’s publicity department. It’s an unsolicited, direct quote from a cowboy, in this case Garrett Tonozzi.

The two-time Wrangler National Finals Rodeo team roper—who competed at Rodeo’s Super Bowl in 2006 with Brady Minor, and in 2008 partnered in Las Vegas with Kinney Harrell—is one of many contestant fans of the WCRA. Longtime Professional Rodeo Cowboys Association team roping director Tonozzi (who was preceded in that position by his NFR heeler uncle Bret Tonozzi) and Joe Mattern joined forces to win the biggest checks—$62,500 a man—at the $1 million Windy City Roundup in Chicago in January.

Garrett Tonozzi and Joe Mattern win $62,500 individually during the Windy City Roundup. Photo by Andy Watson

“To give the cowboys a chance to compete at a one-day, $1 million rodeo is amazing,” said Tonozzi, who just turned 34 on March 22. “There will be a few hiccups to iron out along the way with anything this big and new, but it’s awesome how the WCRA is for the cowboys in every way. The bottom line is they want to help the cowboys, and that is so refreshing and cool for all of us.”

Cowgirls, too, including two of them in Tonozzi’s own family. Garrett’s wife, Brittany Pozzi Tonozzi, won world barrel racing championships in 2007 and ’09, and has a dozen times made the NFR barrel racing roster. Brittany was one tipped barrel on the last day of last November’s WCRA Semi Finals at the Lazy E Arena in Guthrie, Oklahoma, away from competing alongside her husband in Chicago, and finished second at the Days of ’47 Cowboy Games & Rodeo in Salt Lake City last summer.

Brittany and Garrett Tonozzi with daughter Tinlee.

“The WCRA’s been great to our family, for sure,” said Garrett, who with Brittany celebrated their daughter Tinlee’s second birthday the day before his, on March 21. It was a Spirit-themed party. “She’s horse-crazy, if you can imagine,” Garrett said.

Miranda and Joe Mattern

The Tonozzis have home bases in Victoria, Texas, and Monument, Colorado, and will move into their new place in Lampasas, Texas, in May. Mattern—the heeling half of the $125,000 Windy City Roundup-winning team—lives in Magnolia, Texas, with his wife, Miranda. He’s equally excited with what’s going on at the WCRA.

“The WCRA is for the cowboys,” said Mattern, 30. “Some associations have gotten away from that, and that’s sad. There are great people behind the WCRA, and I think it’s going to work. I’m for it 100 percent. I think it will really take off and be great.”

Tonozzi, who’s currently roping at the PRCA rodeos with Dustin Davis, and Mattern, who’s heeling for Cyle Dennison at the rodeos right now, made their way to Chicago by “nominating three or four rodeos last summer,” according to Tonozzi. “We happened to do good at Greeley and Prescott, which put us in the top eight in the WCRA (Virtual Rodeo Qualifier) points, and advanced us to the final day—Sunday—at the Semi Finals in Guthrie.”

They finished second in their pool that Sunday afternoon last November, and the top four from each pool punched their tickets to Chicago. Tonozzi and Mattern won more than $5,000 apiece at the Semi Finals.

Each Chicago champ earned $50,000 of the million-dollar payoff. And there was a twist, that fell into Tonozzi and Mattern’s favor. In order to collect the $25,000 second-place cash, contestants had to make a qualified run or ride in the last round. In the nine-team long round, Lane Ivy and Buddy Hawkins were 3.64 and Tonozzi and Mattern were 3.73 to advance to the two-team championship match round.

Because Ivy and Hawkins did not stop the clock in the two-team showdown round, they split the second-place payoff with the champs and all four got $12,500 of it. Thus, Tonozzi and Mattern’s $62,500 a man. And yes, the way the chips fell, all Tonozzi and Mattern had to do on that last one was get a time—any time—and 5.6 did the trick.

“The WCRA is a great avenue to win a lot of money,” Tonozzi said. “Between Chicago, Guthrie and the money we won at Salt Lake last summer, we’ve won over $70,000 at three rodeos. That’s amazing. I’ve watched rodeo hoping it would grow my entire life. To win that much money at three rodeos is incredible.”

Tonozzi rode his former barrel horse Streak of Fling roan mare Disco, 8, in Chicago and plans to head on her again in Green Bay. He and Davis also plan to nominate and hopefully win their way into the May 15-19 WCRA Semi Finals at the Lazy E.

“It’s just smart business to go rope there again,” Tonozzi said. “You don’t have a chance to win $10,000 at very many rodeos.”

Mattern banked on a 9-year-old bay gelding by the name of Scoot in Chicago, and will be back on board in Green Bay. Like Tonozzi, Mattern’s now nominating events to try and get back to this May’s WCRA Semi Finals—even with the bye to Green Bay in his back pocket.

“Garrett and I also entered the preliminary round at Guthrie last November, and we both want to be there again this May,” Mattern said. “Those Semi Finals are good-paying rodeos, and a chance at some good money.”

Was either of the two teammates skeptical about driving all the way to Chicago?

“No,” Tonozzi said. “It was a no-brainer to me. For a chance to win $50 grand in one night I’d drive to New York, if I had to. The fact that we won it aside, they treated us so good there. We were treated like professional athletes. That’s always appreciated, and is not always the case. The competition was first class. They went to the trouble of getting the best steers from Texas—that had been at the NFR in December—and sending them to Chicago, so everyone would have a fair shot.

“I’m super excited about getting to go to Green Bay (all Chicago champs advanced to the Titletown Stampede, June 1 at the Resch Center). I’m a huge football fan. I’m a Denver Broncos fan, but Green Bay resonates with every NFL fan. It’s pretty cool. It’s an amazing opportunity, for sure. We also get to rope at Salt Lake City again this summer. Amazing.”

“For that much money, there was no second-guessing going,” agreed Mattern. “And our plan couldn’t have come together any better in Chicago. They had a good turnout, too, as far as fans. We couldn’t have asked for a better place to keep our horses when we weren’t at the rodeo, and where we kept our horses at the venue was climate-controlled. It was a great experience all the way around.”

Mattern’s an order buyer in the cattle business, and also preconditions cattle to go to the feedlot. It’s a complementary cowboy career to rodeo roping, as he can be home with the cattle in Texas during the winter and spring months, then sell them in time to hit the summertime rodeo trail. 

“I’ll be loaded up and ready to go to Green Bay, for sure,” Mattern said. “I’ve been looking forward to that since we left Chicago. What happened in Chicago was such a good confidence boost going into the new year. It was definitely my biggest win ever, and a very memorable one. Just the chance to win $50,000 was mind blowing. Leaving that ground money on the table was a cool idea, too. I will definitely nominate rodeos from here on out to try and be at the rest of these WCRA events. Having $62,500 in your pocket makes the drive home easy.”

“The WCRA is already making real progress for the contestants,” Tonozzi added. “They’ve already put a lot of money into cowboys’ hands, and they’re doing everything they can in the contestants’ best interest. This is definitely going in the right direction. Every time they have one of these million-dollar majors, it’s $1 million in new money for rodeo contestants to win. The needle’s moving in the right direction. It means a lot to see something like the WCRA come along—and succeed.”