By: Justin Felisko
August 18, 2016
NASHVILLE – It was a stereotypical hot, humid summer day in Statesville, North Carolina, when J.B. Mauney plopped himself onto his couch and grabbed the remote to his DVR.
Mauney normally spends most of his time during the Built Ford Tough Series break away from the rigorous summer bull riding trail and instead taking the three-month break to let his body heal.
From mid-May to August, the reigning World Champion will normally be out riding one of his five horses or working a small side job for a local friend or partner to pick up some horses or rope some cows.
However, on this day it was just too damn hot and sticky to even want to saddle up one of the horses and leave the comfy confines of his five bedroom, two-story log house.
So what did he do?
Well, Mauney did something that has gone much unnoticed throughout his 11-year Built Ford Tough Series career.
He got to studying.
And, no, not the kind of studying that results in becoming a math teacher or a chemist. This day was about film study.
By no means would he compare himself to Carolina Panthers head coach Ron Rivera, but Mauney’s attention to bull riding detail has become a secret weapon to one of the sport’s all-time greats.
Therefore, Mauney slid back on his couch and turned on his television and DVR. He then began to play, rewind, play again and repeat the process over and over until he could find something wrong with his bull riding.
“Today it is 88 degrees and it is too hot to do anything, so, hell, I will put them on and see what I was doing wrong,” Mauney said in July. “I will get on my drop barrel and try different stuff then.”
The kicker is what videos Mauney decides to watch. In many cases, he is self-analyzing some of his best rides, such as his monumental 94.25-point winning ride on Pearl Harbor from this year’s Sioux Falls, South Dakota, 15/15 Bucking Battle.
“Like Pearl Harbor, I watched it back to see what I was doing wrong with my free arm and where it needs to be,” Mauney said. “I put a lot more effort into correcting what I was doing wrong, even if I wasn’t doing it bad. It seemed as the older I have got, I focused on that. While when I was younger, I was just happy to have made the whistle.”
The ride was the second-best of Mauney’s career and it had the sell-out crowd (9,434) inside the Denny Sanford Premier Center on its feet.
Twenty-four hours earlier, Mauney was unable to attempt Speed Dial in Round 1 because of numbness in his riding hand due to nerve damage in his left elbow. Then there was the tough-as-nails two-time World Champion finding the strength to ride one of this year’s World Champion Bull contender’s during the bovine’s best out of his career.
The crowd was so astounded because of the obvious pain that was running through Mauney’s riding arm all weekend.
PBR Director of Livestock laughed and said, “That is J.B. Mauney.”
Lambert then continued to explain in Sioux Falls as Mauney celebrated with his daughter, Bella, “It is a big deal for a lot of guys, but J.B. rides hurt. J.B. is the best bull rider in the world for a reason because he is tough and gets it done. You watch him walking out of here. He still hasn’t let his arm drop down because his elbow is sore.
“Riding a rank one like that makes you feel better.”
The ride was gutsy. It was gritty. It was memorable.
Mauney was tough. The 29-year-old was courageous. He was legendary.
So what on earth could Mauney be looking for in this video two-plus months later?
“I rode him good around the right, but when he went back left I was a little raised up and I had my free arm a little too high and he threw me off right when the whistle blew I think,” Mauney said. “He was getting me so raised up, I should have sat down like I was supposed to. My free arm was a little high. That is my main problem. As long as I keep my free arm down I can usually do alright. That is the main issue I have had my entire career. I get to whipping it and I get my arm too high.”
Mauney is a much smarter bull rider than meets the eye.
The Mooresville, North Carolina, native understands why people may not know that. He doesn’t talk about it much, and all they get to see every weekend is him trying to fight his way to the 8-second mark.
Yet, when you have 68 90-point rides in your career, two gold buckles, two World Finals event titles and 461 qualified rides, it is safe to say you are more than just tying your hand in and hoping for the best.
“They don’t see that side of me,” Mauney said. “All they see is he can ride rank bulls and stuff like that. They see my I don’t care attitude and I don’t care what (bulls) do. Just run them in there. They think I don’t give a shit about anything. They don’t see when I am at home and all the time you put into it to get there. They don’t see I sit in there and the DVR is probably damn near worn out. I watch videos over and over.”
Two-time World Champion Justin McBride, who is co-hosting this weekend’s “Inside the PBR Majors” (Saturday 9:30 p.m. ET/ CBS Sports Network) with PBR Director of Livestock Cody Lambert, said there is a reason why Mauney has ridden so many rank bulls.
He didn’t just show up one day, grit his teeth, and go get 90-plus points aboard three-time World Champion Bushwacker, 2012 World Champion Asteroid, 2015 World Champion Long John and many more.
“Yeah, it gets overlooked in the hype, but there is a reason he rides the way he does,” McBride said. “He knows a lot and really understands it. It is not a fluke he has won (the championship) twice. It is not a fluke that he rode all of those rank bulls. It is because he really understands it and he understands his body. He knows how he can ride. I can think of several instances over the years the things he says are just way over the rest of the fields head. They don’t understand it and he can’t explain it to them. He is really, really sharp when it comes to bull riding.”
Lambert added about Mauney re-watching his Pearl Harbor ride, “Well, for one, he is admiring his work. He is trying to make sure he makes it feel like that again. That is how you want to do it. When you do everything right, you want to do it that way again.”
The study habits are two-fold, though, believes Lambert. Yes, Mauney is looking to find ways to improve, but it is also about maintaining his position on top of the PBR mountain. Mauney has tasted gold buckle success in two of the past three seasons following seven years of failure.
Mauney doesn’t plan on letting up either.
“When you reach the top, it is hard to figure out a way to make yourself better,” Lambert said. “It is about figuring out a way to make yourself stay there because once you are on top, there is only one direction you can go. It is kind of a steep drop.
“The focus when you are riding everything and doing everything right, the focus is staying in that place.”
Mauney went 4-for-5 at the Calgary Stampede and competed at two other Touring Pro Division events. Other than that, the summer has been about hanging around his 24-acre property, working some small side jobs and studying bull riding film.
In the past, Mauney couldn’t sit still for more than two weeks before he would be driving to an open bull riding in North Carolina or packing his gear bag for the PBR summer run.
Times have changed, though. Mauney is older. He wants to spend more time with his daughter, who will be starting kindergarten this fall, and he also knows if he wants to win a record-tying third World Championship then his body has to be healthy for the stretch run.
“I have tried to get away from as many practice bulls as I used to,” Mauney said. “I am getting older and feeling a lot more crippled, but getting on my drop barrel I can go back to the basics and my free arm. That is the difference when they turn back and you can be 82 points or whether you turn back and you are 94 points.”
Long-time friend Kasey Hayes debuted with Mauney on the BFTS in 2006 and the two have grown up together in the last 10 years. They matured into veteran bull riders and became fathers. The two are no longer just wild, 18-year-old cowboys hopping in the van driving down the road in search of their next four-legged bovine victim.
“I would say he ain’t really changed much, but I guess the only change in J.B. is age,” said Hayes, who is now a father of two. “He has changed quite a bit. He has a daughter now. Now he is a father, and he is a good father too. That little girl means the world to him. That is the most important thing is his life, but at the same time, he still shows up to ride bulls and to win. That is why he comes to bull ridings – to win. That is what he loves to do.”
Even though he didn’t compete at summer Touring Pro Division or BlueDEF Tour events much at all, Mauney is much in-tune for the beginning of the stretch run to the 2016 Built Ford Tough World Finals (Nov. 2-6).
Mauney heads into this weekend’s Frontier Communications Music City Knockout, presented by Cooper Tires, second in the world standings. He is only 115.33 points behind No. 1 Kaique Pacheco following a nine-week run of being the world leader. Mauney won three 15/15 Bucking Battles and his 54.55 percent riding percentage (24-for-44) is tops in the BFTS.
He is the No. 2 seed in the 36-rider tournament and the top seed in Bracket B. Mauney will face the winner of No. 23 Nevada Newman vs. No. 26 Kasey Hayes in Round 2 on Friday night (Friday 9 p.m. ET/CBS Sports Network).
Healthy and recharged, Mauney is ready to make a push at becoming the second rider in PBR history win back-to-back world titles come November.
“Hell, I am ready,” Mauney concluded.
Follow Justin Felisko on Twitter @jfelisko
A portion of this story appears in the upcoming edition of the print magazine 8 Seconds Vol. 3, which fans can purchase at live PBR events, as well as at PBRShop.com.
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