By: Justin Felisko
June 20, 2017
PUEBLO, Colo. – Derek Kolbaba had no clue what American Gangster would try and do this past Friday in Bismarck, North Dakota.
Chad Berger’s bucking bull was set to compete for only the second time in his career during Round 1 of the Dakota Community Bank PBR Bull Riding Challenge Real Time Pain Relief Velocity Tour Challenge.
It didn’t matter one bit that Kolbaba was unfamiliar with American Gangster, though.
Instead, Kolbaba nodded for the gate, climbed to the top of his bull rope and got his knees up high as he coasted aboard American Gangster for a round-winning 88 points away from his hand.
Kolbaba has made a conscious effort of late to make sure he is riding to the front of his opponents versus being caught sitting on his pockets, which led to some lengthy buckoff streaks this season.
“Oh yeah, that is where you take all the power away,” Kolbaba said. “If you can be on your legs, wherever they go they are going to pack you around. I kind of had a bad habit sitting on my butt, and nothing good ever happens when you are back there.”
One of the first riders’ hands he slapped on the back of the chutes was reigning World Champion Cooper Davis.
Davis is well aware of how a strong summer run can spearhead a rider to a world title.
Last year, Davis won the Young Guns Challenge at J.W. Hart’s annual Velocity Tour event in Decatur, Texas, and it was a foreshadow of Davis’ push toward his first gold buckle.
“It is more along the lines of a confidence builder,” Davis said. “Going to enough events that when you get to Tulsa and Nashville, you are thinking, ‘Yeah, I am riding good and there is not a bull here that can throw me off.’ That is where events like this and Big Sky and Vinita and all of that come into play.”
To say Kolbaba is in the zone lately is only the tip of the iceberg.
The 21-year-old has jumped up to third in the world standings since Last Cowboy Standing by earning 430 world points with two victories and a second-place finish in three events.
Kolbaba earned an important 300 points by going 3-for-3 to win the PBR Canada International Major in Quebec City the first weekend of June. He then followed that up by winning night 1 in Bismarck on Friday and placing second on Saturday night.
“This just gives you that much more confidence,” Kolbaba said. “You show up and you just feel like whatever bull they run under you are going to ride.”
The Walla Walla, Washington, native is 6-for-7 this month at PBR events with his only blemish being a 4.29-second buckoff against Modified Clyde on Saturday with a chance at the victory.
Reigning Stock Contractor of the Year Chad Berger had high praise for Kolbaba’s 3-for-4 showing in Bismarck during the two nights of competition.
Kolbaba had ridden Beast of Burden for 89.5 points to win Round 1 earlier in the evening Saturday.
“He is going to give them a run for a world title,” Berger said. “The kid rode really good and made really solid rides.”
Kolbaba earned the victory on Friday aboard a familiar foe when he conquered BC Circular Insanity for 89 points.
BC Circular Insanity had previously bucked off Kolbaba at the 7.44-second mark during the 15/15 Bucking Battle in Tacoma, Washington, last month.
This time Kolbaba made him look easy and was prepared for any tricks BC Circular Insanity had for him.
“Last time, he went back right, and I was pretty much waiting on him to do that,” Kolbaba said. “He felt like he was bucking pretty good around to the left and, shoot, right there at the end I felt my hand come out and I held on with everything I had.”
Kolbaba had a chance to sweep both Velocity events in Bismarck before being bucked off by Modified Clyde in 4.29 seconds during the final ride of the weekend during the championship round.
His current roll has him to within 765 points of world leader Eduardo Aparecido, who has yet to compete at a summer event.
“When you are rolling, you are rolling,” Kolbaba said. “Your body already knows how to do it. You just have to let it and have fun.”
Kolbaba hasn’t really been thinking about trying to take a big chunk out of Aparecido’s lead because of the limited points available at summer events, but so far he has taken advantage of the opportunities in front of him.
“It is pretty cool to go up (to Quebec) and win,” Kolbaba said. “The money was great, but the points were huge. That is what we are working for. We are sitting pretty decent in the standings and what not.”
Davis, who began the second half last year 795.33 points out of the world No. 1 ranking, said the points really isn’t the focus when it comes down to the summer.
Rather it is about gaining a mental advantage.
“There is not a whole bunch of points there, but when you are going and kicking everybody’s tail that is going to be there then when you show up, you know there is not a reason in the world not to win it in the second half,” Davis said.
Kolbaba is going to compete this week at the Reno rodeo in Nevada and has mapped out a rough schedule of summer rodeos and Velocity Tour events to hit.
He doesn’t expect to qualify for the Wrangler National Finals Rodeo.
“It is more about staying tuned up and winning extra money,” Kolbaba said. “There is still a lot of money to win over there. I’m just kind of hitting all of the better ones. I have a good (July) Fourth run. I am going to try and hit some of these bigger Velocities and once we get into the second half I will just focus on (PBR).”
Follow Justin Felisko on Twitter @jfelisko
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