By: Slade Long May 23, 2014@ 12:45:00 PM
PUEBLO, Colo. ― In just eight days, PBR World Champion J.B. Mauney and PRCA champion J.W. Harris will square off against each other in Decatur, Texas. Mauney will face Asteroid and Harris will take on Shepherd Hills Tested.
Both riders mentioned in earlier interviews that they saw it as less of a match between two riders and more of a match between each rider and his bull, which is not surprising – every competent bull rider sees every event this way. They focus on the right part of it. Getting by your bull is the number one priority in bull riding. Still, competing against better riders makes every rider better.
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From a statistician’s perspective, Harris and Mauney competing in the same events, which they’ve done several times already, is the most interesting thing that could happen in the sport of bull riding. They’ve spent most of their careers apart, and that has led to quite a bit of armchair speculation on what would happen if Harris came to compete in the PBR regularly. What has actually happened is that since Harris made his Built Ford Tough Series debut in Fresno, California, he has two top 10-finishes and Mauney has none.
In the sport of bull riding, the BFTS is where the highest level of competition takes place, but the process of gathering bull riding statistics goes far beyond the highest level. Harris’s numbers have had him on my radar for a long time. He’s been the one guy outside the BFTS with the highest potential for success.
Harris and Mauney actually have a lot in common statistically. They’ve been around for about the same length of time. In their careers, each has been on around a thousand bulls. Mauney has ridden 55.77 percent of his, while Harris is at 55.75 percent overall. Mauney has been to the Built Ford Tough World Finals seven times and won the event average twice, while Harris has qualified for the National Finals Rodeo seven times and won the average twice. They are roughly the same size physically and both have a tendency to come up big in high-profile situations. They’ve both struggled with injuries. Injuries are a part of bull riding. They happen at every level on every caliber of bull.
Where their career numbers diverge says a lot about how the sport of bull riding plays out away from the bright lights of the BFTS. The common assumption is that bull riders working the pro rodeo circuit travel harder and crawl on more bulls on average to make their pay, but while Harris has been riding professionally roughly one season longer than Mauney, Mauney has actually climbed on more bulls in that time. Mauney has also faced a lot more of the top level bulls. Bulls that would be BFTS short-round quality are used in pro rodeos, but less often than they are in the PBR. In a given year, the top riders in the PRCA will face those bulls less than 10 percent of the time, while the top PBR riders face them two to three times as often. In 2009, for example, Mauney drew the top tier bulls 41 times and rode 23 of those, while Harris was 4-for-10 against bulls from the same group.
Most riders naturally rise to a level where they can win and there are quite a few riders in the PRCA who know how to win. If you took most of those guys and put them up against consistently better bulls and a larger group of riders who are just as capable as they are, it would not be surprising to see them struggle more. Because the bull power is spread out in pro rodeos, a lot of money is won on average bulls, and the rankest bulls in rodeo tend to score more buckoffs than they do against the top PBR riders. Harris has dominated in the rodeo world and he definitely has the talent to compete at any bull riding.
When Harris and Mauney meet up on May 31 in Decatur, they will have something else in common – they’ll both be underdogs. Mauney does have a slight edge in that he’s ridden Asteroid before and that Asteroid is probably the better draw of the two bulls. But, Asteroid and Shepherd Hills Tested are the kind of bulls you just don’t bet against. That said, I always feel uneasy predicting that either of these guys will come up short. In any sport, when the top competitors face each other, you don’t want to miss it.
Follow Slade Long on Twitter @ProBullStats
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