By: Justin Felisko
April 23, 2016
DES MOINES, Iowa – All you have to do is look at the world standings from this season and compare it to last year’s and it is very clear that the 2016 title race is a way closer race.
Through the first 14 Built Ford Tough Series events in 2016, the Top 15 riders in the world standings are separated by only 950 points. Last year, there were only five riders within 1,000 points of each other heading into the 15thBFTS event of the season.
Mason Lowe is currently 15th in the world standings, just 950 points behind world No. 1 J.B. Mauney. In comparison, Chase Outlaw was ranked 15th in the world at this time last year and was 1,695 points behind then No. 1 Joao Ricardo Vieira.
One of the bigger changes this year is that there has been 100 world points added to the event average winner for three-day events (500) versus two-day events (400). In 2015, all average winners were awarded 400 points.
There is also the fact that New York was a PBR Major this season, and that more points are being awarded per round (20) than last year with riders that place sixth and seventh in a round being given points toward the standings unlike last season.
The minor changes, as well as a small dip in riding percentage (36.39 percent vs. 31.65 percent), appear to have helped make the PBR world title race that much tighter.
It also helps that Mauney, the current world leader, has yet to win a regular-season event compared to Vieira already having won a PBR Major and a 15/15 Bucking Battle at this point last season. Mauney has won three of the past four 15/15 Bucking Battles this season, though.
It is partially why two-time World Champion Justin McBride let out a chuckle in Billings, Montana, last weekend when asked about the 2016 title race.
“He wasn’t here this weekend, so we are not talking about him a lot, but J.B. didn’t miss out on anything,” McBride said. “That was a big time missed opportunity for the guys that are trying to run him down right now. All he is doing is getting healthy. Coming back healthy is a dangerous scenario for everyone else. To me, he is still the best bull rider in the world.”
Mauney doesn’t scoreboard watch or pay attention to the standings. In case he was wondering though, he does currently leads No. 2 Fabiano Vieira by 208.01 points heading into this weekend’s Des Moines Invitational.
“Hell, I haven’t even looked at it,” Mauney said two weeks ago in Little Rock, Arkansas. “I haven’t looked at the point difference or the spread or anything. I try to not pay any attention to that crap.”
In fact, the next four riders in the standings – No. 3 Paulo Lima, No. 4 Joao Ricardo, No. 5 Shane Proctor and No. 6 Eduardo Aparecido – are right on Mauney’s heels and less than 500 points behind.
“It seems like there is a lot more guys bunched up at the top,” Mauney said. “Usually you get toward the break and you have two or three guys that is kind of separating themselves. It seems like this year the Top 10 is pretty much bunched in there together. It is anybody’s game.”
Through 14 events last season, the Top 10 in the world standings were 189-for-397 (47.61 percent) with 13 event and 15/15 Bucking Battle victories. This year, the Top 10 is 187-for-436 (42.89 percent) with 14 event and 15/15 Bucking Battle victories.
“It is tighter,” McBride said. “There are more guys with a real shot. We haven’t just narrowed it down to two guys.”
There is also the reality that Mauney overcame a 1,662.5-point deficit in the world standings last year to win his second world title.
There are currently 23 riders within 1,610 points of Mauney in the 2016 standings.
The world title race could be even tighter before the summer break arrives if Mauney is not victorious in Des Moines or Las Vegas.
Last Cowboy Standing, which is the headliner for the Helldorado Days Rodeo in Las Vegas on May 13-15, is the final BFTS event of the first half. The PBR Major will offer 3,000 points toward the world standings and it could help a rider distance himself from the field in the standing, or potentially jump right back into the fire.
One rider can earn a maximum of 1,250 of the 3,000 points available, 625 of which come from being crowned the Last Cowboy Standing.
The PBR Majors carry chief significance in the world title race.
Major victories kept Vieira and Pacheco in the title race all the way up until the 2015 Built Ford Tough World Finals last year, and 2016 PBR Major wins by Lima (New York) and Proctor (Iron Cowboy) have them on the door step of winning their first gold buckles.
Not even thinking about what a PBR Major victory at Last Cowboy Standing could mean for any of the contenders, McBride still knows which rider is the one to beat as the PBR hits the halfway point of the 2016 season this weekend.
“Mauney is by far the front runner,” McBride said. “Not only does he have the experience, but he has the ability to back it up.
“He is going to be the guy to beat.”
Follow Justin Felisko on Twitter @jfelisko
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