BAKERSFIELD, Calif. – Marco Eguchi hasn’t forgotten about the Built Ford Tough Series, even if many people may have forgotten about him.
For three consecutive seasons, Eguchi was a Top-15 bull rider, finishing as high as sixth in the world standings in 2013, and appeared one-step away from evolving into a potential world title contender.
Then things began to slowly deteriorate for the now 26-year-old.
After finishing 15th in 2014, Eguchi took a major step back last season and was cut from the Built Ford Tough Series following the first eight events. He would compete in only one more BFTS event – Last Cowboy Standing – and went on to conclude 2015 ranked 51st in the world standings.
He went 5-for-23 on the BFTS, and 41-for-113 (36.28 percent) at all PBR-sanctioned events.
Eguchi said the biggest reason he faltered and performed so poorly last season was because of a right elbow injury (riding arm) that he sustained in Nampa, Idaho, two years ago when Pound The Alarm stepped on him.
“When the season started, I felt real bad in those first Built Ford Tough ones,” Eguchi said. “I would try and wrap it real tight. (Now) it clicks a little bit, but it is nothing bad.”
He recently began competing with a new elbow brace three weeks ago at the L.J. Jenkins Invitational in Clovis, New Mexico, and so far the switch appears to paying off.
Eguchi has gone 5-for-7 in three BlueDEF Tour events this season, including an 84-point ride on Black Out during Saturday night’s BlueDEF Tour event at Rabobank Arena.
The five qualified rides already is more than his 2015 BlueDEF total of four qualified rides in 15 events.
“Since I have used the brace, I have felt better,” he said. “It is helping me. With this brace, I feel nothing.”
He finished in seventh place overall in Bakersfield and is currently 13th in the world standings.
Eguchi added that a broken left foot in September also may have played a factor in his quick start to 2016 ironically.
The Poa Sao Paulo, Brazil, bull rider sustained the injury when Speed Bump fell on him two months ago at the Belton, Texas, Touring Pro Division event.
He tried competing at the Cleveland BlueDEF Tour event two weeks later before taking a full month off.
Eguchi believes the time off helped him give his elbow some much-needed rest, something he failed to do for most of the year.
He also has been rehabbing at Fit-N-Wise in Decatur, Texas.
“I was able to rest and I feel better now,” he said. “I do a lot of exercise to my elbow and I use the brace now.”
Eguchi placed third at the BlueDEF Tour event in Clovis and third last weekend in Ontario, California.
“I need to take time (if I am hurt). That is the first thing I learned,” he said. “I am focused to start again. This is the start of the season. I need to get points. I am happy. I just want to stay healthy, and I see now, if I get healthy, I can do better.”
Three-time World Finals event winner Robson Palermo was cut last season from the BFTS as well and said that once you start putting together qualified rides on a consistent basis in the BlueDEF Tour and Touring Pro Division that is only a matter of time before a return to the BFTS happens.
“He has come back and he has been riding good,” Palermo said. “He rode last week and rode a bull this week. He is starting to turn it around. I think he is going to come back quick. The more bulls you get on, especially at an event like this, it gets your confidence back. This format here is a little Built Ford Tough. You feel good and you feel like you are there. When you ride here and you feel OK, when you get back there you have no problem. You are going to feel normal. This helps get your confidence back.”
For the first time since his elbow injury, Eguchi believes his confidence is back.
He was able to withstand the friction that Black Out put on his elbow in Round 1 on Saturday night when the bovine athlete jerked him back and forth inside the bucking chute prior to the gate opening.
The 84-point ride wasn’t a huge one, but it was just another confidence boost for a rider who clearly had been shaken mentally and physically in 2015.
Eguchi expects to compete at the next BlueDEF Tour event in Cincinnati on Dec. 6, where he can potentially earn an exemption to one future BFTS event and points toward the world standings.
“I missed competing in the best competition in the world,” Eguchi concluded. “This I missed about the Built Ford Tough. I am going to get back. I know I can.”
Follow Justin Felisko on Twitter @jfelisko
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