Aspiring Champions Collide

PUEBLO, Colo. – Did we just potentially see the future 2015 World Champion rider and 2015 World Champion Bull square off this past weekend in Thackerville, Oklahoma?

The consensus is that it is still too early to tell, especially with four regular-season events and the Built Ford Tough World Finals remaining to sort out this year’s title races, but J.B. Mauney’s 92.25-point ride aboard SweetPro’s Long John was a classic battle between two aspiring champions.

Not only did Mauney jump into the world lead with his 60th career 90-point ride, but he also was able to avenge his 6.7-second buckoff to Long John at Iron Cowboy in February.

“The first time I got on the bull I had watched him a bunch and I really didn’t know how he felt,” Mauney said. “Today, I was a little more set forward and knew what was coming. I didn’t really have a game plan, but I knew where my butt needed to be. I tried to make it happen and lucky I was there when the whistle blew.”

Long John was marked 45.25 points, which gives him four consecutive outs with a 45-plus-point marking. He has been marked 45 points or better in eight outs this season.

He slightly leads fellow World Champion Bull contenders Smooth Operator (44.73), Jared Allen’s Air Time (45.07), Little Red Jacket (44.4) and Roy (45.25) with a 45.41-point average bull score per out this year.

Eight of Long John’s nine buckoffs this season have come against Built Ford Tough Series riders ranked in the Top 15 of the current world standings.

Mauney paused when asked if he felt it was a World Champion vs. World Champion matchup.

“Could be. I don’t know. I don’t look that far ahead,” he said.

PBR Director of Livestock Cody Lambert doesn’t have Long John as the leading contender for the 2015 World Champion Bull title at this time.

“I think Long John is an underdog to win it,” Lambert said. “Long John was good. J.B. rode him and made him look easy, but when you ride one of those really rank ones that drop like that, you have to do it perfect and you are going to make them look easier than they really are.”

Mauney added, “You ride all of them rank bulls the same way like they are jumping and kicking. The first time I got on him I let him get me kind of behind and tonight I really made sure I tried to stay ahead of him.”

As of this week, Lambert has Smooth Operator and Jared Allen’s Air Time atop his bull rankings, but that can certainly change within these final four weeks.

According to H.D. Page, Long John is expected to potentially buck once again this weekend in Springfield, Missouri.

Smooth Operator and Air Time will not be in Springfield, but Little Red Jacket is expected to compete.

Two-time World Champion and CBS Sports Network commentator Justin McBride has been impressed by Smooth Operator, but added that it still all comes down to the Finals.

“Long John has his work cut out for him,” McBride said. “To me, Smooth Operator is my favorite. He is a rank one, but Long John has a great chance. They are like the guys. They have to put it together in Vegas. They can’t have an off day in Vegas.”

McBride’s thoughts were nearly the exact same as H.D. Page’s on Saturday night.

Page was proud of Long John, who tied with Stone Sober for the high-marked bull of the weekend, but he knows these regular-season outs will not mean much at all once the Finals arrive in October.

“There are a lot of great bulls and there is a lot of season still to go and it is all decided in two outs in Vegas,” he said. “It is whatever bull comes there 100 percent and is on his game. His confidence has to be at a level like J.B. has his confidence right now.

“Them bulls have to carry that same confidence into Vegas. It is anybody’s game once you get out there. Those bulls that are going to be in the race, they all are going to have the ability to be marked 47 when they are on their game.”

Follow Justin Felisko on Twitter @jfelisko

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