ONTARIO, Calif. – Gage Gay isn’t looking at 2016 as an opportunity to defend his 2015 BlueDEF championship.
To be blunt, if all things go well, Gay will be sitting atop the world standings at season’s end and fighting for his first career World Championship following a strong third season on the Built Ford Tough Series.
That doesn’t mean he is going to ignore the BlueDEF Tour though.
The 21-year-old knows how much of a difference points earned on the BlueDEF Tour can help a rider accomplish the ultimate goal in professional bull riding.
He earned 41.36 percent of his world points through non-BFTS events on his way to a 14th place finish in the 2015 world standings.
“They are a big part of the World Championship,” Gay said before boarding his flight for California. “If it is going to be a close race then it may come down to those BlueDEF points. They are easy bull ridings if you ride both of your bulls. If you ride them all, you are going to win. They pay to good not to go to them when you are not at Built Ford Toughs. When I can, I will be at all of them.”
The 790 points he earned on the BlueDEF Tour and Touring Pro Division are a major reason he finished inside the Top 30 of the standings and will have a guaranteed eight BFTS events to begin 2016.
Gay – the 2015 BlueDEF Tour Champion – begins his 2016 BlueDEF title defense and pursuit of points toward the 2016 world standings on Saturday night at the Ontario, California, BlueDEF event.
All of the action from Citizens Bank Arena can be watched exclusively on PBR LIVE on CarbonTV.com starting at 10 p.m. ET.
Gay has drawn Agent Johnson for Round 1.
This past season was a step back and a step forward for the Staley, North Carolina, bull rider.
However, the trials and tribulations he went through in the first three months of the season have helped him become a stronger bull rider, Gay believes.
The first two months of the season witnessed Gay go a measly 3-for-22 on the BFTS before being cut from the PBR’s top tour at the beginning of March.
It appeared as if 2015 was certainly going to be a major sophomore slump for the second-year pro.
That was until he began an aggressive march back to the BFTS in the BlueDEF Tour, where arguably Gay made his biggest improvements of his second season.
Gay immediately won the Hampton, Virginia, event with a 3-for-4 performance, and three weeks later he earned another BFTS exemption by going 2-for-2 to win the BlueDEF event in Omaha, Nebraska.
Finally, two weeks later, he went 3-for-4 in Billings, Montana, to crack the Top 30 of the world standings to stay on tour for the rest of the season.
Billings was one of two second-place finishes by Gay last season.
He stole the North Carolina crowd away from hometown hero J.B. Mauney in Charlotte, North Carolina, in September with a 2-for-3 performance and used that momentum to win the BlueDEF Finals with a 3-for-3 performance in Louisville, Kentucky, three weeks later.
“It is a step forward,” he said. “I didn’t finish as high as I did in ‘14, but I wasn’t even in the Top 100 in the world at one point and I finished 14th. I am happy with that. I think I just came in expecting to ride everything I got on and I didn’t put out the effort as much as I needed to. That is why I got cut. I was falling off everything.”
Overall, he finished the season 17-for-68 (25 percent) on the BFTS with five Top-10 finishes.
It wasn’t exactly the sophomore season Gay was hoping for, but it is also easy to forget how young Gay is. He won’t turn 22 years old until the second half of and he showed a resilience to bounce back during the final half of 2015 in a situation that other riders may have crumbled under.
In fact, he is only one month older than 2015 Rookie of the Year Kaique Pacheco and fourth months younger than 2015 World Finals event winner Cooper Davis.
“A big part of it is going and doing good at those things,” Gay said. “Then you get your confidence back up for when you go back to the Built Ford Toughs.”
It was one of the reasons his dad, Troy, got on him about going to some events this November and December.
Gay didn’t compete at any BlueDEF or Touring Pro Division events last fall
He plans on also riding at next month’s BlueDEF event in Cincinnati.
“It will be good not going two months without getting on a bull and going and expecting to do good,” Gay said. “This will help keep me on my game.”
Gay believes he can be a Top-5 bull rider if he can put everything together for a full season.
“I am really setting my goals on being Top 5 in the world because I know I can do it,” he concluded. “Hell, I barely rode any bulls in the first half of the season and I still finished in the Top 15. If I have as a good a first half as I did second half, I should have no problem doing that. I just need to start things off better this year, be confident, and always remember to have fun. I seem to make the most money when I have fun.”
Follow Justin Felisko on Twitter @jfelisko
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