By: Justin Felisko
May 10, 2016
PUEBLO, Colo. – Derek Kolbaba has quickly learned just how hard it is to try and qualify for both the PBR’s Built Ford Tough World Finals and the Wrangler National Finals Rodeo.
The 20-year-old rookie is attempting to follow in mentor Shane Proctor’s footsteps this season and make a run at qualifying for the two largest bull ridings in all of Western sports, but it has come with mixed success so far.
On the PBR side, which is Kolbaba’s main priority, the Walla Walla, Washington, cowboy has thrived. He is coming off his first career victory in Des Moines, Iowa, and heads to Last Cowboy Standing, the final PBR Major of the first half, leading the Rookie of the Year race and is seventh in the world standings.
When it comes to the rodeo trail, Kolbaba hasn’t had as much success and is ranked outside of the Top 50 of the PRCA world standings with only $6,958.97.
“Come summer it is going to be nothing, but rodeoing and trying to play a little catch up you could say,” Kolbaba said. “Right now, I don’t have all that much money won in the PRCA. I have a little bit, but definitely not where I would like to be. There is so much money to be won throughout the summer that it’s definitely not gotten to my head yet that I can’t make it.”
This weekend he has an opportunity to help his case on each end of the spectrum. Last Cowboy Standing is the headlining event of the Las Vegas Helldorado Days rodeo. The PBR’s Last Cowboy Standing takes place Friday and Saturday night, while the rodeo runs Fri.-Sun.
Kolbaba and Proctor plan on competing in the bull riding portion of the rodeo on Sunday afternoon.
“That is another great thing,” he said. “I don’t have to put a bunch of miles on and no all-night drives or anything. (Shane Proctor and I) are going to do the Last Cowboy Standing those two days and then finish it off with the rodeo on Sunday. That will be pretty nice hanging out for three days and just riding bulls.”
Kolbaba has never competed in the Helldorado Days rodeo, but he is aware of its longstanding tradition in Las Vegas. Helldorado Days has been around since 1949 and John Quintana holds the bull riding record with a 96-point bull ride in 1974.
“It is always a good rodeo in the PRCA before the PBR even got involved with it,” Kolbaba said. “Now that PBR is getting involved and making it a whole big event for one weekend is going to be pretty awesome. It is going to bring a lot more people. The set up should be pretty nice. I am pretty excited about it.”
It could potentially be a huge weekend for Kolbaba.
He is only 575 points behind world leader J.B. Mauney and could leave Las Vegas as the new world No. 1 bull rider with a Last Cowboy Standing championship.
Last Cowboy Standing will also be Kolbaba’s first career PBR Major event after having to withdraw from Iron Cowboy in February because of a riding wrist injury he sustained at a February rodeo.
“These Majors give you the option to get a lot of points,” Kolbaba said. “Now it is just up to me as a rider to go out there and get it. It is a good format. All you have to do is go in there and ride your bulls. Whether you are 80 points or 90 points, you are still moving on. You have to win to really make it count and that is what we are all really shooting for.”
Kolbaba was extremely disappointed that his wrist injury prevented him from competing at Iron Cowboy. The wrist was a big reason he dropped into an 8-for-30 slump before winning the last BFTS event three weeks ago in Des Moines, Iowa.
He hasn’t ruled out the possibility of taking time off this summer to let the wrist heal if the injury worsens on the rodeo or BlueDEF Tour trail.
“That is a thought I guess you could say,” Kolbaba admitted. “I still would like to be able to go, especially to the big rodeos because there is a lot of chances out there. If you go to the big ones, you can win a lot of money. We will just see and play it by ear and see how it goes. If it is hurting me that bad, I guess we will see about taking a month off but we will have to see when the time comes.”
The struggle with trying to qualify for the both the World Finals and the NFR is that PBR riders, who are obligated to go to Built Ford Tough Series events when they are ranked inside the Top 30 of the world standings, have a much smaller window to earn enough money to qualify for the NFR.
The BFTS runs from January to mid-May before resuming again in mid-August. Therefore, Kolbaba and Proctor have to pick and choose select events during the BFTS season and then make a strong summer run.
“I can see the hard part being, especially in the PRCA, you got guys that go to 100-115 rodeos in a year,” Kolbaba said. “They get to go from January until December and for us we are only trying to hit in three months. So that makes it a little tough compared to a guy that is trying to rodeo all year. That would be the biggest thing I think. Just being able to go to more rodeos.”
Proctor is in a much better position currently at qualifying for both Finals. He is ranked fifth in both standings.
Kolbaba knows that if Proctor, himself or any rider ever wins both championships in the same season that they will forever live in Western sports lore.
“To win both would be just a dream come true,” he concluded. “That is the best of the best right there. Not only are you dominating in one association, but are dominating the other. It doesn’t get much better than that.”
Follow Justin Felisko on Twitter @jfelisko
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