By: Justin Felisko
March 10, 2016
PUEBLO, Colo. – Ben Jones walked past Lachlan Richardson outside the locker room in Phoenix and mocked his fellow Australian, “Kickboxing? Yeah, right,” Jones said with a roll of the eyes.
Richardson then fired back, “I’ll just have to kick you.”
The two Australians then broke off into a fit of laughter.
Separated by 13 years, the two Australians have been more like fixtures of flirtation with the Built Ford Tough Series cutline, especially Richardson, than Top-20 bull riders during the course of their careers.
Yet Richardson, who has been practicing kickboxing with his roommate and fellow bull rider Francisco Morales, is off to the best start of his career and is ranked ninth in the world standings heading into this weekend’s Duluth Invitational.
Jones is 10 spots behind Richardson in 19th.
Richardson’s rise to the Top 10 of the world standings has been one of the more surprising developments of the early 2016 season. He is 8-for-28 on the BFTS and has two third-place finishes already on his season resume.
He has actually earned 758.33 of his 818.33 world points on the BFTS, unlike years past where Richardson had to use points earned at PBR Australia events or in the Touring Pro Division to stay on tour.
The Gresford, Australia, bull rider is only three rides away from tying his career-high of 11 qualified rides that he set in 2013 and 2014, while his 28.57 percent riding percentage is more than 11 points better than his 17.35 percent career ratio he began the season with.
What has led to the lightbulb moment for Richardson?
“I don’t know really,” Richardson bashfully replied. “I know this feels a lot more comfortable now. I am away from home all year and I come here and it feels like a new home on the weekends. I like being here.
“I guess I am maybe more confident. I don’t know really. It is a tough question.”
Yes, Richardson has already qualified for four consecutive Built Ford Tough World Finals despite never posting more than 11 qualified rides in a season, but he is still only 23 years old.
He is also the sixth youngest rider on the BFTS despite having qualified for the World Finals more times than 20 of the riders competing in Duluth this weekend.
“I’m still young and fresh, but I have been around for a while,” Richardson said. “I feel a bit more mature. I don’t know. It feels a lot better anyway. It took too long to get where I am, but you can’t look back.”
Richardson’s age is closer to that of a college graduate than that of a seasoned professional athlete.
Richardson, who sends most of his bull riding winnings back home to Australia, is the third oldest of seven kids and comes from a farming family. If he is lucky, Richardson spends two to three months of the year with his family.
Gresford and the surrounding community has an estimated population of around 5,000, so being comfortable in the United States and growing up may be part of his turnaround.
His lack of consistency at making the 8-second mark, has made it hard for Richardson to shed the moniker of the PBR’s Justin Bieber, a nickname he earned in 2012 after he won his debut event in Uncasville, Connecticut at just 19 years old. That is until 2016 rookie Derek Kolbaba showed up on tour this year.
It is no secret that Richardson has had to use strong performances at the Touring Pro Division and at PBR Australia events to find a way to squeak into the Built Ford Tough World Finals. According to ProBullStats.com, Richardson has a 24.79 percent career riding average at all bull riding events on American soil compared to 18.62 percent at BFTS events.
That is why, in a way, it comes as no surprise that Richardson is one of the few BFTS riders scheduled to compete at the Poplar Bluff, Missouri, TPD event on Friday night before heading to Duluth, Georgia, on Saturday for the two-day BFTS event.
Richardson will be joined by No. 30 Justin Paton and No. 31 Fraser Babbington. No. 36 Kurt Shephard and No. 39 Nathan Schaper also may compete in Missouri if they get in the draw as alternates.
“I love riding bulls,” Richardson said. “That is what I am here for. I might as well make the most of it and, like I said, I am away from the family so it is not like I am going to miss home if I am gone from home for an extra day or two. It keeps me busy and (helps me) get more money and points.”
TPD events offer world points to the Top-6 finishers in the event average, including 60 points to the winner.
Richardson also competed last weekend at the PBR Canada TPD event in Lethbridge, Alberta, where he was bucked off by Mr. Legit in 2.8 seconds before going 0-for-2 in Phoenix at the BFTS Ak-Chin Invitational.
Richardson said he hasn’t done anything different training wise compared to previous years other than beginning to kickbox with Morales during the week in Stephenville, Texas.
Morales was actually one of the first riders that welcomed Richardson to the United States in 2012 when he went with Jared Farley to him pick up at the airport.
Richardson has drawn Cooter (1-1, BFTS) for Round 1 in Duluth.
The fifth-year pro did say that being closer to the world No. 1 ranking instead of the No. 35 cutline is much easier compared to the opposite. He is 993.33 points behind world leader Shane Proctor.
“Yeah, it helps a lot to know I am in and be comfortable with that and not getting a call on Wednesday or Thursday saying I am in,” Richardson concluded. “Other than that, I still have to do the same job. I am definitely a lot more comfortable.
Follow Justin Felisko on Twitter @jfelisko
© 2016 PBR Inc. All rights reserved.