By: Justin Felisko
January 21, 2016
OKLAHOMA CITY – Derek Kolbaba is seemingly always compared to Justin Bieber on a weekly basis no matter the stop on the PBR schedule, but it is the 19-year-old’s anti-Bieber personality and maturity outside of the arena that is truly helping him succeed through the first month of the season.
Despite being awarded five Built Ford Tough Series (BFTS) exemptions following his 3-for-3 victory at the BlueDEF Tour event in Denver last week, Kolbaba remained driven and focused on “earning” his way to the BFTS by ripping off two more consecutive wins at the Pueblo, Colorado, Touring Pro Division event and Reno, Nevada, BlueDEF Tour event over the course of the next three days.
“This is dang sure the best start to a year I ever had,” Kolbaba said. “I usually get rolling toward the end of the year, kind of like last year. I would say this is probably the best little run – or the best week for dang sure. To win three events back-to-back in a week. That is definitely the best week I have ever had.”
The Walla Walla, Washington, bull rider knew when he was given the exemptions it may rub some other riders the wrong way, but instead of becoming complement or greedy with the exemptions he used the invitations as added motivation to prove to any doubters that he belonged.
“Getting those five exemptions is awesome, and, yeah, there will be some people that think why not them,” Kolbaba admitted this week. “I was just lucky enough to get them, but every time I nod my head I am trying to ride every bull that is underneath me and win the event. It worked out perfect for me in Pueblo and Reno. I am just trying to do my job and carry that on to the Built Ford Tough Series and show that is where I want to be and where I kind of belong you could say.”
Kolbaba’s recent performance in the PBR’s developmental tours, as well as his cup of tea on the BFTS, has him showing he has the potential to compete alongside the Top-35 riders in the world.
His winning streak has featured seven consecutive qualified rides, including an event-winning 89.5 points on Mr. Bull in Reno.
Mr. Bull has bucked on the BFTS on 28 occasions and only nine times has Julio Moreno’s bull been covered for 8 seconds.
It is one of the most noteworthy rides of Kolbaba’s young career.
“That was pretty awesome,” Kolbaba said. “I had seen he was in the draw and ever since I first had seen that bull I had wanted my chance at him. When I heard that is who I had in the short round I knew I was winning then and if I did my part everything would work out and it should be a good score. He did his thing and I was able to stay with him. It is a pretty awesome feeling to ride a bull of that caliber. I was pretty happy.”
Kolbaba’s recent hot streak also featured him extracting revenge against Fruit Loop (87 points in Pueblo) after previously being bucked off by the bull at the TPD event in Kearney, Nebraska, in December.
He is 10-for-16 (62.5 percent) at non-BFTS events this season and went 1-for-3 at the BFTS season-opener in Chicago.
Following his first Built Ford Tough World Finals appearance last season, Kolbaba said he didn’t change much with his riding style or look to fine-tune any of his skills in the offseason.
Instead, it was all about riding better “above his shoulders.”
“That is the big one right there,” Kolbaba said. “I didn’t really change anything. It is just having the confidence and being able to ride above my shoulders. Getting comfortable at that level. It is slowly starting to (slow down). Getting on those ranker bulls and getting on those short rounds, whether you are riding them or not, it is still experience that everybody needs to be at that level and to get those bulls rode. I think it definitely is motivating me to better myself. Hopefully I am not that far off from getting them rode.”
Brendon Clark holds the PBR record with four consecutive Touring Pro Division victories. Clark accomplished the feat during the 2010 BFTS summer break. Over the course of the four victories, Clark went 8-for-8 with three 90-point rides.
Kolbaba is averaging 86.93 points per ride during his current run.
“That is really cool when people are saying it doesn’t really happen very often,”Kolbaba said. “When you can do something similar to a guy like that is pretty awesome. He won 4 and I won 3. Getting on a roll like that feels pretty good.”
Kolbaba’s roll hasn’t slowed down on the rodeo trail either.
He rode Rondo for 86.5 points on Wednesday night to finish in second-place in Fort Worth, Texas.
“I guess if you have that confidence from winning an event like Denver, it is funny how when you have confidence and everything starts falling,” Kolbaba said. “Confidence works like that I guess. Every bull counts whether it is at a Touring Pro, a BlueDEF or a Built Ford Tough. That is just how I approach it and every time I nod I am trying to win. It worked out for me those last three times.”
The rookie will go for his eighth consecutive ride at various PBR events on Friday night during Round 1 at the Chesapeake Energy Arena.
Kolbaba has drawn Udder Lover (0-0, BFTS) and already has his focus set on going 4-for-4 and earning his fourth consecutive PBR victory.
“That would be huge,” Kolbaba said. “That would top my career for dang sure. That is the plan and that is the goal going into it. We will keep going at it like we have been. I will go in there and ride four of them and see where everything falls.”
Follow Justin Felisko on Twitter @jfelisko
© 2016 PBR Inc. All rights reserved.