OKLAHOMA CITY – Once Matt Triplett puts his headphones in his ears during a Built Ford Tough Series event, it is only a matter of time before the 23-year-old is able to tune everyone else out and zone in on the most important 8 seconds of the night.
While most people think the up-and-coming bull rider is blasting pump up music of some sort, that it not always the case. Instead, Triplett has some Eric Thomas speeches downloaded onto his iPod to help motivate and calm him down prior to an upcoming ride, along with a range of music including but not limited to Mac Miller and Lil Wayne.
Thomas is famously known for his “How Bad Do You Want It” speech that has more than 40 million combined views on YouTube.
In years past, Triplett could be found jumping around, rocking his head to the beat of the music and appearing almost too fired up and too anxious about being on the BFTS.
Triplett has since dialed it down and found a different level of calm and focus on the PBR’s main circuit.
It is one of the early observations from this year’s Triplett compared to 2014. While he is still the same high-energy guy, there is a calmer more composed Triplett on tour through the first month of the season.
The bright lights, the loud music and the pulsating crowds are starting to no longer be nearly as awe-striking as they were during his first two years, he said.
“A lot of it has to do with getting comfortable here,” Triplett said. “You have big-name guys I have looked up to — J.B. Mauney, Guilherme Marchi, Silvano (Alves). All of the big name guys are here and when you are riding against them it puts a lot of pressure on young guys. You are going against the best guys in the world, so you have to come here prepared with a mindset that you are going to win.”
Triplett, who finished 2014 third in the world standings, won his first career BFTS event this past weekend in Oklahoma City and has used three round wins and a 60 percent riding average to jump to second in the world standings. He trails defending World Champion Alves by just 35 points after gaining 615 points in Oklahoma City and leads 2013 World Champion Mauney, who is third in the standings, by 200 points.
Coincidentally, Triplett is sandwiched between the two riders he has been trying to mold part of his game around.
Triplett became close friends with Alves during four PBR Australia Cup events in November. The young bull rider arrived in Australia fresh off a 3-for-6 performance in Las Vegas, highlighted by a 92-point ride on Walk Off in Round 2. He quickly became a rising star over the course of the five days inside the Thomas & Mack Center and on the final day of the World Finals, he was introduced alongside Alves and 2014 reserve champion Joao Ricardo Vieira in the middle of the arena.
Clearly, it was a whirlwind of an experience, but he also couldn’t help but watch as Alves became only the second rider in PBR history to cover all of his bulls at the World Finals, which helped the Pilar Do Sul, Brazil, native capture his record-tying third World Championship.
It is why Triplett made sure to make the most of his opportunity in Australia to get to know Alves better and pick the talented bull rider’s brain as much as possible.
“I really got close to Silvano when I went to Australia,” Triplett said. “He taught me so much, and it is phenomenal just for him to do that. It is remarkable. (He is) a great friend to show me some things. Silvano taught me a couple of things with my Brazilian rope and that has helped tremendously.”
Alves said, “Matt has been good this year. He has looked very consistent, very focused.”
The only other bull rider on the BFTS to have won three rounds this season along with Triplett is Mauney. The Mooresville, North Carolina, bull rider split Round 1 on Friday night with Triplett by riding Uncle Tink for 89 points. Triplett had made the 8-second mark on Spin Machine.
Mauney said how impressed he has been with the young bull rider following a PBR LIVE interview on Friday night.
“When you get into the PBR you are against the top bull riders in the world and the bright lights will get to you sometimes,” Mauney said. “The pressure gets to you. Then if you don’t try one as hard as you should you have all of the critics saying, ‘Oh, well he looked off. He don’t need to be here anymore.’ There is a lot of stuff out there, but he is pretty level-headed. Everybody is going to talk about it. They talk about me some times. You can’t pay that no attention. You have to show up every time and do your job – and that is to ride bulls.”
While Alves taught Triplett some technical things, Triplett has been able to learn from Mauney how to not let the pressure of the situation get to him. He has been able to observe from a distance how Mauney can block out all the crowd noise that comes with being the most popular rider on tour.
“J.B. Mauney showed me a lot of things,” Triplett said. “J.B. helped with my mind and has been a great mentor and hero. It is just nice to have World Champions talk to you and show you little tricks that can help your bull riding.”
There is always going to be a fine line between confidence and cockiness in professional sports. In many instances, confidence can be mistaken for cockiness. Triplett’s good friend Gage Gay says his traveling partner has been able to toe that line nearly perfectly and hasn’t let his success at the 2014 Built Ford Tough World Finals or through the first four 2015 BFTS events get to his head.
“I don’t believe it has,” Gay said. “If it did, I think it would be showing more in his riding and he wouldn’t be doing as good if he had a big head. He is still the same guy. I love him to death and love him like a brother. I wouldn’t want to stay with anybody else during the weekends, but Matt.”
There was no greater example of Triplett understanding he has much to improve upon if he hopes to remain a top contender than by his reaction following his first career win.
There was no extravagant celebration; instead, he was left stewing over a missed opportunity to ride Cooper Tires Brown Sugar for 8 seconds in the Built Ford Tough Championship Round. He came up just shy at 7.88 seconds.
It was a common problem for him last year (1-for-17), and he understands riding championship-round caliber bulls consistently is something he must improve. He is currently 0-for-4 this season, including two buckoffs that happened just past 7 seconds.
“I am pretty upset, but we got next weekend,” Triplett said. “It is in the past already, so I have to work really hard and prepare for Sacramento.”
Triplett reiterated his disappointment hours after the event that the buckoff was still eating away at him.
It was the main thing that CBS color commentator and 1994 Rookie of the Year J.W. Hart noticed this weekend from Triplett.
“The best that I see out of him is the fact that the way he handles himself,” Hart said. “He says, ‘I failed, but I am trying to get better. I won the event, but I wanted to ride this one. I have room for improvement.’ He’s not thinking, ‘Well I won it, I am great.’
“He is wanting to get better every day.”
It is exactly why Triplett had already made plans to go to yoga on Monday night once he arrived home from Oklahoma City.
“It is such a long year,” Triplett concluded. “I just have to keep taking it one bull at a time and I am going to step up my workout programs. I have to keep on getting better.”
Follow Justin Felisko on Twitter @jfelisko.
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