Q&A: Unfinished Business

PUEBLO, Colo. – J.W. Hart and the PBR announced this past weekend that the BlueDEF Velocity Tour event in Decatur, Texas, on May 30 will feature PBR World Champions from the past three decades competing in a special pay-per-view event.

So far four riders – Hart, two-time World Champion Justin McBride, 1997 World Champion Michael Gaffney and Ross Coleman – have been announced as participants in the Ring of Honor – Unfinished Business showdown which will award $160,000 to the victor of the winner-take-all challenge.

According to Hart, the idea first came about from Calvin Jackson, a member of the committee (WC Challenger Charities) that helps put on the J.W. Hart Invitational. Jackson called Hart in July proposing they convince five bull riders to come out of retirement and compete for over $100,000.

At the time, Hart replied, “No way. I ain’t doing it. I don’t ride bulls anymore.”

Hart said he would think about it and after a couple more insistent phone calls from Jackson, he gave in.

He then received commitments from his fellow riders and decided to reach out to the PBR. It was then decided to increase the number of legends and the idea of a pay-per-view event began to take form.

“This is a one-time deal,” Hart said. “It is going to be big. Never will you see eight Hall of Famers come out of retirement again.” had a chance to catch up with the four Ring of Honor inductees that have accepted the challenge:

JF: Well, J.W., you are no stranger to coming up with marquee matchups for your yearly bull riding event. How did the three riders react when you called them with the proposal?

HART: When I called them, none of them joshed about it. Everybody was like, ‘Hell yes. Let me talk to my wife, but yeah.’

It really shocked me. I didn’t think some of the guys would want to or step up. It was a surprisingly overwhelmingly yes from the ones that said yes anyway.

JF: Any reactions in particular stick out to you?

HART: The one that tickled me the most was Michael Gaffney. When I said it, he said, ‘Yeah. I am ready, but let me talk to Robin.’ The excitement in his voice and all of them. They are all competitors. They are all bull riders. They are all adrenaline junkies.

JF: Michael, how did Robin react?

GAFFNEY: Of course I knew I was in for it as I approached my wife about it. She looked at me like I had three heads. She still looks at me like I am funny still.

JF: Deep down you were totally excited when J.W. called you, weren’t you?

GAFFNEY: I can‘t lie that it didn’t spark a little fire near my ears and that kind of thing. I am 46 years old, and of course my wife is not thrilled at all, but I am not in terrible shape by any means. I never let myself get in terrible shape. I work all the time. Is it riding shape? Can a guy at 46 be in riding shape? I think you can be. Can you be in excellent riding shape like I was when I was riding in my 30s? Hell no, there is no way.

There is no doubt in my mind by the time that bull riding comes around I will be in the best shape I possibly can be in when I nod my head.

JF: Justin, was last year not enough for you coming out of retirement for one day at THE AMERICAN?

MCBRIDE: One more, one more time. How many more times can you say that? I promised the day I retired and walked out of the Thomas & Mack I had no intentions of ever getting on another bull and I still don’t. It is not like I want to return to competition in any sort of way. Obviously (last year) didn’t work out and I thought, “Ok that is it,” and then J.W. called a couple of months ago with this idea and now it is a chance to pick your bull and ride at 160,000. That is dangling that carrot again. I can’t pass that up. Maybe if I was 50, but at age 34 I can’t not do it.

JF: You are the youngest guy and stay quite active on horseback and roping calves. That should be a benefit, right?

MCBRIDE: I think Father Time is definitely against all of us. That is just the hard facts of life. I don’t think anyone of us have any business trying to compete for a season or anything like that, but one time the stars could align. I will be four pounds lighter than I am today on May 30. That gets me right to the weight of right when I quit.

Physical is not a concern for me, as far as that goes for some of the other guys. It is just that adjustment of being relaxed. That is the one thing I realized getting on (at THE AMERICAN). Nothing was as fluid as it was when I did it every day. Not really nervous, you are just stiffer. You are not as relaxed and fluid as you were. It is not nearly as natural as when you are doing it all the time. You are not thinking about any of it when you are doing it all the time. But when you haven’t done it in six or seven years you are thinking about everything. This isn’t a sport that lends itself to thinking about everything as it is happening.

JF: Ross, you must have been quite stunned when J.W. called with the offer?

COLEMAN: I could tell something was up in his voice because I have known him for a long time. Him and Justin are like brothers to me. They really are. He takes care of me and I take care of him. Whatever he needs, it is game on. When they came up with this idea to do a big bull riding like this, (I decided) it is time to get my butt back in shape again. I figured what a better excuse to do it than get on one more ride.

JF: Have you already started exercising and getting in shape since J.W. called?

COLEMAN: My wife already has me dieting right and got me eating right, and we are still four, five months away. I am going to get lean, feel good and go ride one.

I was thinking about the years. In 1998, I got my card in the PBR. I went to Touring Pros that year and I think that was 17 years ago. It is amazing how time flies, and I am getting a little age on me. I will be 36 when we get on that bull, but it is a great idea to get these old guys back in the limelight again. They are kind of the superstars that started the whole situation. I am just happy and honored to be a part of it.

JF: Beyond the money at stake, how much fun is it going to be to put your gear on inside the locker room next to all of your buddies one more time?

HART: That is probably the biggest part. Just the camaraderie. Shoot, we were all a big family at one time. Now, we got families and we all moved off. We see each other a few times a year, but we used to live together on the road. It will be good to get in there and make fun of each other again.

MCBRIDE: It is like a reunion, but it is really cool that over half of the guys that are going to compete in this deal weren’t around for the draft. We are going to pick our bulls. It is already starting where we are tossing around who is going to get on what. At first you think of a bull, but then you hear a bull that somebody else is thinking about and you are like, ‘Ugh, I can’t win on that.’

I think you are going to see everybody’s competitive spirit show through.

GAFFNEY: Those are the guys that helped kindle my fire when I was in the locker room because I was the old guy and they were the young guys. Ross and Justin, and even J.W., they were the ones that fueled my fire for those last few years, so it will be good just sitting beside them getting ready to do battle.

It will be the briefest of moments. It will take you back to the days where as soon as the bull riding was over everyone was in the locker room sitting there until 1, 2, 3 o’clock in the morning. We would just sit there and razz each other. It was just really a time that we cherished.

COLEMAN: It’s going to be good. I rode with all of them. I was around in ‘98. Me and Justin came at exactly about the same time. J.W. was the hottest rider on tour at the time. I (remember) I was a kid looking at old videos from bull riding schools and stuff and I had pictures on the wall of Michael Gaffney.

JF: While we await the announcement of the next four challengers, who among the four of you is the early favorite?

HART: I think Michael Gaffney is going to surprise somebody, but you got to go with the favorite as Justin.

COLEMAN: I would put my money on Justin probably out of us four. Now, that will be what we need to do is all stay on. Which is easier said than done. Especially some of the bulls I heard we are getting on are the legit deal, which is fine. We better be getting on some legit bulls. If this is going to be a one-hit wonder, we might as well go out with a bang.

GAFFNEY: I can almost guarantee that I am the least favorite, which is fine. I am so much their senior. Ross is just an animal and Justin is the exact same animal and he is a little bit more refined. Seriously, when you are talking about those two they have been removed not real, real long. I think they still are both in great shape.

MCBRIDE: I think each one of the four guys will say that they are going with themselves or otherwise they wouldn’t have entered.

You are not talking about guys that just competed to be on tour. You are talking about guys that competed to win and they believed in themselves. You are going to see that again.  While everybody is excited to watch the other ones and see the other ones again, it will be fun in that aspect, but when it is each of our turns it will be serious business and we will want to win.

Follow Justin Felisko on Twitter @jfelisko.

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