By: Justin Felisko May 26, 2015 @ 06:00:00 PM
PUEBLO, Colo. – When Mike Lee made his Built Ford Tough Series debut in 2002, the 18-year-old rookie looked around the locker room and saw legend upon legend sitting in his presence.
There was nine-time World Champion Ty Murray, eventual three-time World Champion Adriano Moraes, two-time PRCA champion Jim Sharp, soon-to-be 2002 World Champion Ednei Caminhas, future two-time World Champions Justin McBride and Chris Shivers, 2002 Tampa winner and 1999 PBR Rookie of the Year and PRCA champion Mike White and another solid handful of future PBR Ring of Honor inductees.
In fact, Lee is the one active rider competing at this weekend’s Built Ford Tough Ring of Honor: Unfinished Business, presented by BlueDEF, pay-per-view event that has competed with the eight PBR legends who have unretired to compete in a $160,000 challenge in Decatur, Texas.
“Oh man, you are making me feel old,” Lee said before laughing. “Back then I was a young kid and I really didn’t say much. I just watched everybody. That is what I am good at – just watching people and learning. I absorbed and kept my mouth shut and watched how they got her done and how their attitude was and how their emotion was too. It really helps a young man to see what it takes to get somewhere.”
Lee ran through the list of the eight PBR legends – McBride, Shivers, White, J.W. Hart, Ross Coleman, Cody Custer, Tater Porter and Michael Gaffney– and talked about the varying things he noticed and learned by observing throughout his career before the start of this past weekend’s Last Cowboy Standing.
He remembers how helpful Porter and Gaffney were, and the amazing rides put together by McBride, Shivers and White.
“I remember Tater Porter was a really tough guy and watching him get by a lot of rank bulls,” Lee said. “He is a really cool guy too, and he would help everybody. Michael Gaffney was a great guy to be around. He was always helping people and he had a really pretty riding style to watch. When he got tapped off he couldn’t ride one any better.”
Lee also noted how impressive it was to watch Coleman grit his way to the 8-second mark despite being one of the taller bull riders in the PBR and how calm Custer was no matter the scenario.
All of those observations certainly have helped Lee become a World Champion and a potential Ring of Honor inductee in his own right. In 14 years on the BFTS, Lee has ridden the second-most bulls in PBR history (472), won 13 BFTS events and in 2004 he became the first rider to win the world title and the World Finals event average in the same season.
Lee is also one of the toughest bull riders in the PBR, having competed in 20 or more events every season except 2005 when he missed six months with a dislocated left shoulder.
The 31-year-old recalled no matter how hurt Hart ever was, you could always bet on him showing up to an event.
Hart competed in a then-PBR record 197 consecutive events.
“J.W. Hart went through a lot of pain,” Lee said. “I remember that. He got stomped on quite a bit, but he always showed up next week.”
Lee will be competing in the BlueDEF Velocity Tour event, as well as the Champion’s Challenge, on Saturday night in Decatur despite injuring his free arm two weeks ago in Hico, Texas, when he was stepped on by Butcher’s Nightmare.
“I was making a good ride on him and he kind of quit on me and he got me off my butt and I didn’t quit and I tried to hang on,” Lee said. “What that does is when you try to hang on until the whistle he either throws you to the hard ground or underneath him. I kind of got underneath him and his back foot stepped on my arm pretty good.
“(Dr.) Tandy (Freeman) thinks it is going to take some time for that hand to start working right, but my arm works good. It is just my hand is a little funny. That is all.”
Lee is currently 16th in the world standings and the Decatur resident has gone 15-for-52 (28.85 percent) on the BFTS. He won the 15/15 Bucking Battle in Nampa, Idaho, as well as the BFTS event in Sioux Falls, South Dakota.
Last year, Lee placed first and second at the J.W. Hart Invitational by going 2-for-5 after triple-entering in the event. He rode Bruiser in the first round for 91 points and David’s Dream for 88 points in the championship round.
“I like being outdoors,” Lee said. “You feel the wind, the rain and whatever it brings and it makes me relax a little more.”
Despite not being the oldest rider on the BFTS, he is one of the most experienced now. The only other rider from Lee’s first BFTS event that competed this last weekend in Las Vegas was Billy Robinson.
Lee admitted that things are different now in the locker room compared to then.
“I think it is a little bit different,” Lee said. “It seems like everything is a younger crowd and younger personality. There is a difference between a 20-year-old and a 30-year-old. I am just in their shoes now. It has kind of flipped a little bit. I see things form a different perspective now.”
Follow Justin Felisko on Twitter @jfelisko