By: Justin Felisko
June 01, 2016
PUEBLO, Colo. – One year ago, Cooper Davis would not have even blinked an eye about selecting Jared Allen’s Air Time.
Even more so, Davis admits there was no way he would have been able to ride the 2016 World Champion Bull contender.
However, these are different times and much has changed since Davis weighed almost 170 pounds and was a rookie trying to earn his keep on the Built Ford Tough Series.
“No,” Davis responded in Las Vegas last month when asked if he could have ridden Air Time.
But the 22-year-old quickly pauses before adding:
“This year I can.”
It isn’t cockiness, but rather confidence in himself after finally tasting victory at the highest level of the PBR at last year’s 2015 Built Ford Tough World Finals.
Davis became just the fourth rookie to win the World Finals by going 4-for-6-last year after beginning a rigid 1,200-calorie diet less than three months before the Finals that resulted in him dropping 24 pounds.
It was back in August in Tulsa, Oklahoma, when PBR Director of Livestock Cody Lambert and 2002 World Finals event winner J.W. Hart jokingly gave Davis a hard time about his weight. Davis took the jab to heart though, while also respecting their advice, and began an extensive cardio program and diet plan that included brown rice, broccoli, chicken and sautéed vegetables.
Davis has continued to keep his weight down since his ferocious commitment to getting in better shape for the Finals and that has resulted in his continued evolution this season into a World Champion contender.
“Being a rookie is hard because you don’t know how far you can go until you can do it,” Davis said. “Kaique (Pacheco) and myself, we kind of had a taste of winning.”
Winning breeds confidence, and it is no surprise that Pacheco – the 2015 Rookie of the Year – and Davis, who finished sixth in the 2015 world standings and runner-up to Pacheco in the rookie race, are the two highest ranked young guns in the 2016 world standings.
Pacheco currently holds a slim lead atop the standings, while Davis heads into this weekend’s J.W. Hart PBR Challenge BlueDEF Tour event eighth, and only 767.83 points behind Pacheco.
Davis is one of five riders competing in Hart’s Young Guns Challenge on Saturday in Decatur, Texas. The winner of the bonus round will win $10,000 and then take on Air Time for a chance at claiming another $50,000.
Jess Lockwood, Derek Kolbaba, Kurt Shephard and Jorge Valdiviezo are also competing, while Pacheco was unable to participate in Decatur because he elected to go home to Brazil for the summer BFTS break.
The event can be watched exclusively on PBR LIVE starting at 8:50 p.m. ET.
Hart believes Davis is reaping the benefits of his commitment from last season.
“I simply think it is his dedication,” Hart said. “It has been highly talked about that he wasn’t the smallest guy on tour when he first came around. Myself and Cody picked on him one day and it just lit a fire under him. Sometimes that is all it takes. We were just picking on him, we weren’t serious or mad at him. He didn’t take offense to it, but he took ahold of it and acknowledged it.
“The next time we saw him he lost 10 pounds. Then the next time we had seen him he had lost 15 pounds. He has always rode good, but now his pound for pound ability has stepped up in notches. You can see it.”
Davis said a big key for him in avoiding any sophomore slump or setback this year has been because of the confidence he gained not just from the weight loss, but the victory at the Finals.
He is no longer picking around certain bulls in the championship round and believes he can ride any of the ranker bulls on the BFTS.
Still, Davis is very much aware that his results don’t match his belief.
Davis is 21-for-47 this season (44.68 percent), but only 1-for-13 in the championship round. His championship round failures are the main reason he is not sitting atop the world standings at the conclusion of the first half or has won his first regular-season event.
“Going into short rounds this year, yeah my record isn’t proven that I can ride a whole bunch of them short-round bulls, but it is not that I can’t do it,” Davis said. “It just hasn’t come together. Bad luck here. Bad luck there. My hand popping out of my rope or something like that. It is not a physical barrier that is stopping me from doing it. Mentally, I feel like I can do it. It is just a matter of time before those short rounds get down like those long rounds.”
The one championship round ride he pulled off was a 91.5-point ride on Crossfire. So far Davis is the only rider to have ridden Chad Berger’s impressive bovine athlete in 26 BFTS outs.
Can he become the second rider in 29 outs at all levels to manage 8 seconds on Air Time if he wins the Young Guns Challenge with a ride on Who Dey?
“I don’t think there is any bull that is not rideable,” Davis said. “You have to be on your day and you just have to beat them head-to-head. That is what everybody has had trouble with. They may be on top of their game, but he is going to throw something to you he is not used to seeing.”
With or without a ride on Air Time, Hart believes PBR fans and experts have yet to see the best of Davis. 2016 is only his second full year on tour, but the 2013 PRCA Rookie of the Year already has picked up some impressive accolades on his bull riding resume.
Out of the entire young gun class, Davis and Pacheco are the most prepared, and likely, to go on a strong second half run and push defending World Champion J.B. Mauney to the wire, says Hart.
“(Davis) will be in the race come October,” Hart said. “He will be one in the mix. I still don’t think he has reached his potential at this weight. I think he is still adjusting to how mobile and fluid he can be with this weight. Now he is putting some muscle with it and training with that weight loss. His better days are still a lot ahead of him.”
Follow Justin Felisko on Twitter @jfelisko
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