By: Justin Felisko
November 08, 2016
LAS VEGAS – Cooper Davis was sitting in his hotel room on the 12th floor of the Monte Carlo Resort and Casino on Sunday morning when he looked at his wife, Kaitlyn.
“The money doesn’t matter,” Cooper said to Kaitlyn. “But fulfilling that dream of being able to wear that buckle for the rest of my life matters. I want to win that gold buckle.”
Cooper was making his final preparations to head over to T-Mobile Arena when he went to kiss Kaitlyn and his son, Mack, goodbye.
“Well, when I come back I might be a World Champion,’” Cooper said.
Kaitlyn replied, “I hope you are, but if not, it is what it is and God has a plan. Always.”
Cooper’s rock of stability later sent him a text message just before the start of the final day of the 2016 season.
Her husband was 226.58 points behind world leader Kaique Pacheco and was right in the thick of completing his childhood dream.
The seven days in Las Vegas had been an emotional rollercoaster with qualified rides one night and heartbreaking buckoffs the next.
She knew Cooper was ready for Sunday, but she also knew just how much pressure he was putting on himself.
Cooper and Pacheco were tied in the World Finals event average as well. Cooper needed to not only ride his bulls on Sunday, but he was going to have to outscore the 8-second machine-making world leader.
“I sent him a text and I said, ‘No matter what happens, it is only year two. You have so many more years left. Just calm down, do what you know to do, and it will all work out.’”
Fast forward to a little after 5 p.m. and Kaitlyn was making her way back to her seat from the concessions stand when she saw Mack, the couple’s 1-year-old son, and herself being broadcast on the in-arena jumbotron.
Pacheco had just been bucked off by Slinger Jr in 6.46 seconds during the Built Ford Tough Championship Round.
“I am like, ‘What is happening? Why am I on the big screen?’
Eventually, she was told Cooper, who had won Round 5 with a 91-point ride on Catfish John, was the 2016 PBR World Champion.
Kaitlyn was holding Mack with one arm, while trying to use her other arm to fan herself as the emotional rollercoaster of Cooper’s year of hard work had finally come to fruition.
“It was wild,” Kaitlyn said, shaking her head in the media room at T-Mobile Arena. “I started crying immediately. I just thought he was about to ride. I didn’t know he won.”
Her priceless reaction has already been seen by millions of fans across the world and will forever live in PBR history right alongside Cooper’s big grin as he looked up at the jumbotron when it was announced he was the 2016 World Champion.
“It is the greatest feeling in the world,” Cooper said. “It is what I worked for so hard for my whole life, especially these last two years. I am really happy that the hard work paid off.”
A YEAR EARLIER, DAVIS THOUGHT HE WOULD ‘NEVER’ BE A WORLD CHAMP
Even Kaitlyn admits that it seems like it was just yesterday that the couple was inside the Thomas & Mack Center celebrating Cooper’s 2015 World Finals event victory.
Cooper became the fourth rookie in PBR history last year to win the most prestigious title in Western sports – the PBR World Finals – after losing 24 pounds in a span two of months.
Davis embarked upon a rigorous diet/workout after being called “fat” by PBR Director of Livestock Cody Lambert and Ring of Honor inductee J.W. Hart on August 15, 2015 at the Tulsa, Oklahoma, PBR event.
The Jasper, Texas, native lived on a 1,200-calorie diet consisting of chicken, brown rice, broccoli and sautéed vegetables for two months, ran close to 20 miles a week and climbed aboard the rankest bucking bulls in the world that weighed up to seven times his size.
Thanks to his workout regimen and diet plan, Cooper, who lost an additional four pounds before the start of the 2016 season, evolved from a borderline Built Ford Tough Series rider into one with world title aspirations.
The chubbier Cooper thought he would “never” win a world title before his weight loss.
“Once I transitioned to the PBR, I had my doubts before my rookie year,” Cooper said during a CBS Sports Network meeting prior to the World Finals. “After I got in shape and everything, I started to see it was a reality and I started going for it a little bit harder and believing in myself to do it.
“I was lacking the confidence, honestly, until Cody (Lambert) pretty much said you are too fat to ride bulls. I got in shape and put myself in the gym and started to see results. It happened here last year (winning the Finals). That is when it clicked I could do it. Before that, I thought I would make the Finals and never be a World Champion contender. Now I don’t see a reason I couldn’t be this year, next year and the year after that if I keep doing that.”
Kaitlyn and Cooper got married in Lake Tahoe, Nevada, three weeks after his 2015 World Finals event victory.
Kaitlyn shook her head and let out a, “No way,” when asked if people honestly have processed just how hard Cooper had worked to lose the weight last season and to continue to ride at his current weight (138 pounds).
She then lets out a big laugh.
It wasn’t always just a matter of Cooper going to the gym and eating healthy.
“I would be like, ‘Cooper, lets PLEASE eat some pizza,” Kaitlyn said. “He would say, ‘No, we are not going to eat any pizza. I can’t. I have a World Championship to win.’
“If I made him eat pizza the 40 times I asked, I don’t know if we would be here today. He definitely stuck to his guns and worked out every day and ate right.”
She may not want to take any credit for Cooper’s world title, but Cooper was quick to tell CBS Sports commentator Craig Hummer before the Finals that a World Championship would mean the most to her and their son.
“My wife has been there and helped me through all of this weight change and working out,” Cooper said. “Making sure I have done my part of the deal. At the same time, she is the one pushing me to be there and not be lazy.”
He hopes one day his son can look back on his dad’s world title run and find inspiration for his own personal goals, whatever they will be.
“I am glad I got to share this with Mack,” Cooper said. “Maybe one day we can look back and see the transformation I had to go through. Maybe if he is having a tough time with something, he can say, ‘Well, my dad worked his butt off so maybe I just need to work a little harder.’”
Hart said Davis is an example not just for kids, but for riders of all ages.
“He will have that to show his son that dedication and the fortitude and preparation and a desire and a want can equate to whatever you put your mind to,” Hart said. “Whether it be riding bulls, racing cars or being a doctor. It don’t matter. If you put your mind to it, it can come to fruition and he proved it.”
“It shouldn’t just set a precedent and an example for his son or young guys, but the guys in that locker room.”
Kaitlyn never doubted the love of her life, but even she is still amazed at how soon Davis went from a bull rider on the rodeo trail into a PBR World Champion.
Cooper wasn’t even riding full time on the BFTS until February 2015.
He has since increased his riding percentage by almost 22 percent, won his first PBR World Championship gold buckle, three Built Ford Tough Series events, a 15/15 Bucking Battle and has earned over $1.6 million in 14 months since beginning his diet and workout regimen.
Davis concluded 2016 42-for-80 (52.5 percent) in 23 events. He had 18 more qualified rides compared to 2015 and only competed in one more event in 2016.
“It is crazy,” Kaitlyn said. “It is insane. Whenever he won the event last year, he wasn’t in the PBR for a full year. He started in the middle of the year and then won it. Then people kept telling him, ‘You can be a World Champion next year.’ To really achieve that goal is crazy. Your second year in the PBR? Third year being a pro?
“A World Championship in the PBR is something to be proud about.”
A ROUGH START & THE FIRST OF MANY 2016 COMEBACKS
Davis had his sights set on being a World Champion from the minute he left the Thomas & Mack Center last year, but those aspirations took a small blow two months before the 2016 season when he tore tendons in his riding hand.
He sustained the injury while at his parents’ house in Jasper, Texas, when a piece of tin slid off a roof he was working on and slit his right wrist.
Davis underwent surgery with Dr. Tandy Freeman and missed the first two events of the season.
He went 2-for-4 in his season debut in Oklahoma City and admitted he was not 100 percent.
However, Davis then bounced back with consecutive round victories in Anaheim, California, the next week and a fourth-place finish.
The two round wins were the first of his 11 BFTS round wins in 2016.
“He missed the first few events of the year because he cut his hand, so he started behind,” PBR Director of Livestock Cody Lambert said. “Then it didn’t feel right when he started.”
Lambert knew there was something special brewing with Davis this season and predicted early on that Davis would be the World Champion.
He knew Davis was struggling in the championship round (1-for-11) and that the second-year pro was eighth in the world standings heading into the summer break.
Yet after seeing Davis ride Who Dey for 88 points to win J.W. Hart’s Young Guns Challenge in Decatur, Texas, Lambert was almost 100 percent convinced Davis was finally putting it all together.
“He kept getting better and got tough,” Lambert said. “He is very strong mentally.”
DAVIS’ SURGE BEGINS WITH PBR MAJOR VICTORY
When Kaitlyn thinks back to this season, she admits it almost felt like destiny was on Cooper’s team.
There were so many random and unexpected twist and turns along the way as he worked to overcome a 795.33-point deficit in the world standings as late as Aug. 19
“I feel this was supposed to happen,” she said. “So many strange things happened. Just like in Nashville when Fabiano (Vieira) got his arm hurt. He shouldn’t have even came back and Cooper came back.”
In hindsight, the Music City Knockout in August proved to be one of the ultimate turning points in the 2016 season and Davis’ journey to the World Championship.
Davis had never won a PBR Major or regular-season event before, and he was coming into the stretch run of the Built Ford Tough Series following an average BlueDEF Tour and Touring Pro Division summer run.
He made two World Championship-caliber rides midway through the Nashville event and then got an unexpected lucky break in the tournament.
First, Davis made a wild and crazy 83.25-point ride on Red Moon in Round 3 of the elimination-style event.
Red Moon spun aggressively away from Davis’ hand before lowering his center of gravity and steamrolling around the corner. Once he realized he was unable to dislodge Davis over the top, Red Moon rocketed forward and hopped and skipped down the front of the bucking chutes with Davis hanging on just long enough.
Davis then was able to bounce back in Round 4 of the elimination-style event when he was awarded a re-ride after Big Sky fell over just past the 7-second mark. It may have been a blessing in disguise for Davis because he needed to defeat J.B. Mauney’s 87.5-point ride and his Big Sky ride was likely not going to be enough. Instead, Davis came through with an 87.75-point ride on Fast Talker.
However, the most important moment of the 2016 season in hindsight came when Fabiano Vieira dislocated his shoulder in the semifinals attempting to ride Hammer It Again.
Davis had been eliminated by Vieira in the semifinals, but was given new life as Vieira was unable to compete in the final round against Pacheco.
Therefore, Davis got on Pearl Harbor – lasting 4.21 seconds – and won the event when Pacheco was bucked off by Jared Allen’s Air Time in 2.54 seconds.
Davis earned 905 points toward the world standings and moved to a career-best third in the world standings.
Davis’ championship surge was well underway.
DAVIS BECOMES NO. 1 BULL RIDER IN THE WORLD; INJURY STRIKES
Davis was a bull riding bat out of hell following Nashville.
He made it back-to-back victories the next weekend in Tulsa, Oklahoma, and nearly won a third straight in Thackerville, Oklahoma, before ultimately finishing second to Guilherme Marchi.
Davis used an 86.5-point ride on Cool Hand Luke in Thackerville to take over the world lead for the first time in his career, but he was clearly not 100 percent.
A week earlier, Davis had won his second consecutive round of the weekend with an 87.25-point ride on Psycho Path before the bull had slammed him hard onto his right shoulder.
Davis miraculously gritted his way back to action in the championship round with an event-winning 86.75 points on Machinery Auctioneer’s Little Joe and believed maybe his shoulder wouldn’t be a problem in the future.
However, Davis began to wonder after Thackerville if maybe there was something seriously wrong with his shoulder other than the original diagnosis of a right shoulder separation in Tulsa.
Davis would ride Cool Hand Luke again for 84.5 points in Springfield, before opting out of the event after Dr. Tandy Freeman believed he may actually be dealing with a broken collarbone.
The next night Pacheco regained the world No. 1 ranking and Davis’ fate was unclear.
“After I left Springfield, I wasn’t even sure if I could make it to the Finals or not,” Davis said earlier this season. “I asked Tandy what the worst possible situation was. He said I may or may not be back for the Finals. I had two or three days to sit there and ponder whether I would even be back for the Finals.”
SURGERY AND A FRANTIC RETURN TO WORLD NO. 1
Davis underwent surgery on Sept 14 to repair his broken clavicle.
He returned to competition in only 17 days and missed only two events. Davis knew he couldn’t afford to miss any more time with Pacheco atop the world standings.
Davis regained the world No. 1 ranking with two victories in San Jose, California, thirty-two days after Freeman used a steel plate and three screws to fix his clavicle.
In just his third event back, Davis looked as good as he did leading up to the injury. He won the 15/15 Bucking Battle with an 89.5-point ride on Big Cat and then capped a 3-for-3 event win by riding Beaver Creek Beau for 89.75 points.
“I just think it is a never say die attitude,” Cooper said. “I don’t want to make an excuse. If I fall off, I fall off. I don’t believe in a whole lot of excuses.”
Kaitlyn was almost in tears in San Jose as she stood on the dirt and saw her husband back in the victory column.
“To come back 17 days after surgery is pretty crazy and pretty honorable for anybody to be able to do that,” Kaitlyn said in San Jose. “I am so proud. It makes me want to cry. He used to watch the PBR when he was Mackston’s age. He would come to all of these events. He used to tell his parents, ‘I want to be a World Champion.’”
Fifty-three days later and he was able to look at his parents and say, “I am a World Champion.”
DAVIS BOUNCES BACK FROM ROUND 2 BUCKOFF AT THE FINALS
The 2016 World Finals started off flawlessly for the three world leaders.
Pacheco, Davis and Mauney all posted Round 1 rides in their T-Mobile Arena debuts.
Davis looked great on Show Kitty, riding him for 87.5 points and headed into Round 2 in second place at the World Finals.
A rematch with David’s Dream was awaiting in Round 2 and it seemed like fate was on his side once again.
David’s Dream is named after the late David Wisener, who used to haul and care for the bull before tragically passing away in a 2012 car accident. Davis almost nearly attempted David’s Dream at Wisener’s ranch when he was 14 years old, but Wisener told him one day he would get on him at the World Finals and win $250,000.
Well, for the second consecutive year at the Finals, that didn’t happen as David’s Dream bucked off Davis in 3.12 seconds.
“If Cooper bucks off, I don’t talk to him,” Kaitlyn said. “He talks to me. If you think about it, when the stakes are so high, especially in this instance now, if he bucks off he has so much pressure on himself because he is so close he can taste it. If you don’t win it, you feel like you are just defeated.
“Yeah, he had his moments when he got upset. Who wouldn’t with a million dollars on the line, a gold buckle and your dream to be a World Champion?”
Cooper showed up the next day at T-Mobile Arena with a fire and determination in his eyes unlike ever before.
He knew his season was on the line and he ferociously conquered Hammer Down for 88.5 points in Round 3, but he still finished second to Pacheco, the round leader.
In Round 4, Davis rode Dead Calm for 83.75 points and Pacheco rode Red Bandana for 86.5 points, while Mauney franticly tried to put himself back in the hunt for the World Championship with a 90.25-point winning ride on Red Dawn.
“You always have to think your chances are high or else you are not going to do it,” Davis said. “I thought I had just as good a chance as anyone else. I don’t think it is putting pressure on yourself to believe in yourself and to want to do good.”
A CRAZY FINISH ON CHAMPIONSHIP SUNDAY
Lambert had a look of awe on his face when he tried to comprehend Davis’ wild 2016 championship run.
The 2016 World Finals brought with it some crazy twists and turns on the final day of competition that ultimately aided Davis winning this year’s championship.
Whether it was defending World Champion Mauney having a likely 90-plus ride on Stone Sober wiped off the board in the championship round Sunday because of a judge’s review (slap) to Wicked falling down with Pacheco in Round 5, many unpredictable scenarios played out in his favor.
“There were a lot of twists and turns there,” Lambert said. “The way it turned out was J.B. touching that bull was the difference. He would have won the World Championship if he didn’t touch that bull and probably been about 95 points too. Then Kaique had a good one ridden and I must have blinked my eyes because I couldn’t tell what happen. All of a sudden he is hung up to him and bucked off.
“It was such a great World Champion race. I wish that all three could get it because it was that important to all of them. Cooper worked hard, he deserved it and he earned it.”
Pacheco said with the help of Silvano Alves translating, “Cooper is a really good rider. He is an excellent rider, and he rode really good. His time is now.”
Davis earned the title with a phenomenal 91-point ride on Catfish John in Round 5 that showed as much heart and determination than skill alone.
“I was throwing a few Hail Mary’s and he was going fast and I was going fast,” Davis said. “I rather hang and drag than lose it and starve.”
Nine-time World Champion Ty Murray said, “This is the way a guy rides when he wants a World Championship. This is two great athletes going at it as hard as they can.”
Davis was later bucked off by Gangster’s Wildside in 2.73 seconds in the championship round and his first ride attempt as a World Champion resulted in broken ribs.
At 6:30 p.m., Davis sat back down inside the empty locker room inside T-Mobile Arena and began to finally change out of his riding gear.
The championship ceremony in the middle of the arena was over. Being rushed into the media room for a post-event press conference was also finally done.
All of the best bull riders in the world had already packed up their gear and headed home for the offseason.
All that was left was rolled up medical tape, rosin residue, dirt-coated floors, empty water bottles and one World Champion bull rider.
Davis let out a sigh of relief and took a seat.
A $1 million smile said it all.
“Yeah, I think I will take a little pain for this,” he said. “This is probably the coolest thing feeling in the world, other than having a little boy.”
Follow Justin Felisko on Twitter @jfelisko
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