By: Justin Felisko September 01, 2014@ 06:00:00 PM
THACKERVILLE, Okla. – Mike Lee calmly accepted each item being tossed his way Saturday night at the WinStar World Casino and Resort outdoor arena. Hats, programs, daysheets, t-shirts, belts and a variety of other trinkets were being thrown into his face with a sharpie or pen. Then, obviously, there was the endless amount of picture requests.
The 2004 World Champion from Decatur, Texas, – which is a little more than an hour away – didn’t even flinch. He just kept smiling and accepting every request without hesitation from a stool that helped him reach the grandstands. It already had been 20 minutes after the 13-year Built Ford Tough Series veteran received his belt buckle for his first BFTS victory of 2014 after going 3-for-3 and he was in no rush to return to the locker room and pack up his gear bag.
He was the last rider to earn a qualified ride and the last to stay in the arena signing autographs.
“The thing of it is we wouldn’t have a bull riding if it weren’t for the fans. They are the ones buying the tickets and if we don’t have anyone buy tickets we wouldn’t have it so…,” Lee said before trailing off and posing for another picture.
Lee brought a sold-out crowd to its feet multiple times Saturday. He came into the final night of action sitting tied for ninth after his 86-point ride on Flab Slab in the first round. He then registered another 86 points on Red Dingo in Round 2 by barely hanging onto his bull rope to propel him to fifth in the event average. The crowd was already standing and cheering before issuing an even greater roar when on the final sprint of his celebratory lap around the arena he banged his two fists on his helmet and threw his hands into the air.
Lee, who has become accustomed to running around the arena after a successful 8-second ride, even appeared to be running faster than he normally does. He may be 31 years old, but he is enjoying bull riding with the exuberance of a young rookie on tour.
Most of all, he looked relaxed for a man that is the hunt for his first world title since doing so 10 years ago as a wide-eyed 21-year-old. Before the event on Saturday night, Lee was even playing with his 8-month-old son Peter in the locker room and was completely at ease.
In Lee’s mind, the whole weekend was about him just being himself and that relaxation helped translate to his first BFTS win since going 3-for-3 last year in Biloxi, Mississippi. Thackerville was the first two-day event in which Lee has gone 3-for-3 since the second event of the season in Chicago.
“It really just depends what’s in your mind and what is on your spirit,” he said. “You can be real rattled if you let it be. I was just trying to think of breathing right and breathing when I was riding.”
It also helped that the BFTS was outside this weekend. Competing outdoors has always been a thrill for Lee and after winning four TPD events this summer he was certainly thrilled to be outdoors once again.
“I love the outdoors,” Lee added. “The bulls are a little longer outdoors. They seem to cover a little bit more ground.”
There is a growing belief in Lee’s once doubtful mind that he can accomplish the task of winning another prestigious World Champion gold buckle.
“Sometimes, believe it or not, everybody has doubt and I am about tired of doubting myself,” he said. “I am just ready to live and be free. Enjoy my life and enjoy my moment. Even if all the pressure in the world is on me, I need to enjoy that pressure instead of fight it.”
Lee did exactly so during the Built Ford Tough Championship Round after seeing the previous eight riders all buck off. Lee made good work of the previously unridden Jet Airliner and reached the 8-second mark for 85.25 points, pushing himself into the lead.
Two-time World Champion and CBS Sports Network broadcaster Justin McBride came away once again impressed by Lee’s fearlessness on a bull that other riders have shied away from.
“He is a really mean bull,” McBride said. “You hear all of these horror stories where if he sees a gate man or a clown he is going to jump out of it and will be hard to ride. The thing I love about Mike Lee is he does not let that stuff kind of bother him. He picks the bull and goes and nods his head and reacts to whatever happens.”
Sipping on a bottle of water, Lee then watched on from the Bad Boy Mower’s Lead Dog chair as Eduardo Aparecido, J.W. Harris, J.B. Mauney and Joao Ricardo Vieira all bucked off their respective bulls to seal him the victory.
The win pushes the fourth-ranked rider in the world to within 607.94 points of Vieira, the new world leader, heading into this weekend’s Jack Daniel’s Invitational in Nashville, Tennessee. The Top 5 riders in the world standings – Vieira, Guilherme Marchi, Fabiano Vieira, Lee and Silvano Alves – are all separated by less than 1,000 points with seven BFTS regular-season events remaining.
“I feel really good. I just can’t quit,” Lee said. “You have to keep going for it and give everything you got and enjoy it and don’t forget to enjoy what you are doing.”
Follow Justin Felisko on Twitter @jfelisko.
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