LAS VEGAS – Cooper Davis slid onto the back of Moto Moto and nodded for the gate inside the Thomas & Mack Center on Sunday afternoon.
Once Moto Moto turned to the right, Davis whipped his free arm with champion-like coolness and as if he could not hear a single peep out thousands of screaming fans in attendance.
Davis then jumped off Moto Moto and used both of his hands to whip his riding helmet into the air, then glared off into space during Round 5 of the Built Ford Tough World Finals.
Yet, deep down the eventual 2015 World Finals event winner was feeling the butterflies of being a rookie contender for the Finals title.
His successful riding just kept everyone blinded about what the 21-year-old was feeling inside.
Davis arrived at the Thomas & Mack Center on Sunday around 10:30 a.m. and appeared to be as confident as ever.
He walked around with the same smile and sarcastic personality that has slowly developed this season from the once shy rookie who made his season debut on the Built Ford Tough Series in Anaheim, California, on Feb. 6.
Although deep down Davis knew what was at stake on Championship Sunday.
In fact, the rider that has been so dedicated to a diet plan that helped him lose 24 pounds since August couldn’t even stomach the thought of eating breakfast earlier in the day.
He had thrived on egg white omelets earlier in the week, but all he could get into his system was a shot of an energy drink Sunday.
“I haven’t even had breakfast yet,” Davis said moments after riding Moto Moto for 85.5 points to jump into the event lead. “I was riding hungry. There are a lot of nerves. I was trying to block it out as much as I could, I had a nervous stomach on the way here. I am not a big breakfast eater, but usually I will make myself eat something, but today I couldn’t do it.”
Davis demonstrated tremendous poise and composure in his first career World Finals.
From the moment he rode Dakota Style’s Hy Test for a career-high tying 89 points in Round 1, Davis appeared to be a different bull rider than he had been all season long.
Cooper Davis rides Dakota Style’s Hy Test for 89 points in Round 1 of the 2015 PBR BFTS World Finals.
He never once appeared out of his element and his inner confidence had him transforming before everyone’s eyes to become the fourth rookie in PBR history to win the World Finals event title and first since Jody Newberry (2003).
Davis earned 1,300 world standings points with the victory to finish sixth in the world standings.
“It really hasn’t sunk in yet,” Davis said. “I feel like I am in a dream. It is definitely going to be a memorable moment in my life that I will never forget.”
Davis will never forget the tears running down his face during the Built Ford Tough Championship Round as he prepared to attempt to ride David’s Dream, who bucked him off in 3.88 seconds.
It was an extremely emotional moment for Davis as it had just been announced that he had already clinched the World Finals event title as he was about to ride a bull that used to be hauled by the late David Wisener.
Wisener was a close friend and mentor to Davis and the long time stock contractor was killed in 2012 in a four-car accident.
Davis began riding bulls at 14, and would often go to Wisener’s for practice.
He almost attempted to ride David’s Dream at Wisener’s ranch when he was a teenager, but Wisener told him the time wasn’t right.
“I remember him bringing him to the practice pen because they needed to get an out on him,” Davis said. “He said you don’t need to do it today, but one day you are going to get on him at the PBR Finals and win $250,000 on him. I know he is watching over me with a big ole smile.”
Davis’ family was also smiling.
Cooper’s mom, dad and grandparents were in attendance, as well as his son, Mackston, who was born just days before Last Cowboy Standing in Las Vegas this past May, and his soon-to-be wife, Kaitlyn.
Cooper and Kaitlyn are getting married in three weeks 450 miles northwest of Las Vegas in Lake Tahoe, Nevada.
“My little boy is here smiling,” Davis concluded. “Him being up here and her and having my family here has made it that much better.
“I wouldn’t have had it any other way.”
An insult turns into a monster payday
Davis not only took home $250,000 to Jasper, Texas, by winning the World Finals, he also took home an additional $42,500 by placing in four rounds with his four qualified rides.
That is a boat load of money for a 21-year-old, and Davis plans on using the cash to pay off a variety of debt on his house and truck.
It is likely that if not for a polite insult by PBR Director of Livestock Cody Lambert and 2002 World Finals event winner J.W. Hart that Davis would likely not have even been a force at the Finals this year.
Lambert and Hart joked with Davis that he was a “fat” bull rider during the Tulsa, Oklahoma, Built Ford Tough Series event in August.
“I never took the time to get to know what he thought before I made that comment,” Lambert recalled Sunday. “There were two little stock contractors there that were chubby and Cooper was standing with them and I said, ‘There are three fat guys.’ He goes, ‘I am not fat,’ and started to argue. He wasn’t fat by any means for a normal person. To be a bull rider you have to be skinny. You have to be light.”
The comments at first were ill received by Davis, but he then realized the two PBR Ring of Honor inductees were trying to help him reach his potential.
“Lambert brought it to my attention that I needed to lose a few pounds,” Davis said. “You can take that either way. You can be really mad or you can take it as those guys see something in you. They saw enough that they knew I had the potential to do it.”
Therefore, Davis began a rigid 1,200-calorie diet featuring chicken, brown rice, broccoli and sautéed vegetables starting on Aug. 16.
Davis followed the diet strictly for two months and incorporated a new workout program with an increased focus on cardio.
He dropped to 144 pounds before the start of the Finals and Lambert jokingly asked Davis if was going to go celebrate with a hamburger as he was walking out of the arena on Sunday
“I may go eat a full pizza after this,” Davis said after the encounter.
In all seriousness, Lambert and Hart left the Thomas & Mack Center with tremendous respect for Davis.
“He has always been talented,” Lambert said. “He is a young guy. He has been to the NFR. He won the Texas High School Finals (2012). He has won a lot in his day. When he lost that weight and changed the shape of his body in just a few months, you can tell he was serious about being really good. Somebody has to want it that bad.”
Hart knows how hard it is to dedicate yourself to such a strict regimen.
The 1995 PBR Rookie of the Year lost 20 pounds in four months leading up to Unfinished Business this past May.
“Evidently, he did listen to us,” Hart said. “He said that us calling him fat lit a fire under him. He said he was going to go lose some weight, drop some pounds, get in fighting shape and show us he could do it.
“I lost 20 pounds and I won, and he lost him 20 and he wins the Finals. Some of those other guys may take note.”
The stats don’t lie
Davis’ dedication to changing his body two months ago not only impressed Lambert and Hart, but it impressed his peers.
J.W. Harris, who taught Davis to start spurring more when he leaves the bucking chutes a couple years ago at a bull riding school in Mesquite, Texas, wasn’t surprised by Davis’ performance in Las Vegas.
Once he saw Davis begin to put in the time and effort outside of the arena, he knew it was only a matter of time before greatness came from the rookie.
“Well, that proved he wanted something more out of being just a good bull rider,” Harris said. “He wants to be great and he has all of the talent to be great. He rides bulls so good. Shoot, he put in a commitment this year that he had never done and it has paid off for him.”
Cooper Davis covers Compact for 87.50 points in Round 3 of the 2015 PBR BFTS World Finals.
Statistically speaking, the past two months showed a massive turnaround for Davis and he peaked at the exact right moment in Vegas.
Davis had only ridden 12 bulls in 40 attempts (30 percent) on the BFTS prior to beginning his diet plan.
He also began the season with a streak of 11 consecutive buckoffs until he rode Flip Out for 86.5 points in Sioux Falls, South Dakota, during the March BFTS event.
“I didn’t have the confidence in myself at the beginning of the year and it showed,” Davis said. “I bucked off (11) bulls in a row in my first few Built Ford Toughs.”
Bryan Titman traveled with Davis earlier in the season and added, “I told him he was going to be something at the end of this year. I knew he was going to pull it together and be one of the best. He is one of the best in this whole deal. I am really impressed. He is one person to look up to. If there are any kids out there, they should look up to Cooper because he is going to dedicate himself no matter what he does.”
Following the diet plan, Davis concluded the season by riding half of the bulls he attempted (12-for-24) with a reinvigorated sense of confidence.
Overall, Davis finished 24-for-64 (37.5 percent) with 10 Top-10 finishes and three Top-5’s. He also concluded the year with five consecutive Top-10 finishes.
He finished second in the Rookie of the Year race to Kaique Pacheco and earned $420,121.58.
“I am just happy with the way this year has turned out,” Davis said. “It shows hard work and determination goes a long way.”
World Champion Aspirations
Davis performance at the Finals combined with his 50 percent riding average since he shed 24 pounds has him believing he could be a World Champion contender in 2016.
Not once all season did Davis say he believes he could win a World Championship, but that was the running theme of every interview Davis gave in Las Vegas.
Davis is now ready to turn things up in 2016 and make a run at a gold buckle and $1 million.
“I just have to keep putting the work in,” he concluded. “Next year, I feel like I could be a World Champion contender. I feel like J.B. (Mauney) is a hard guy to beat, and along with Joao (Ricardo Vieira) and Kaique, there are a bunch of guys in there that can win a world title next year, but I feel like I am with them now as far as my riding goes confidence wise and physically.”
Follow Justin Felisko on Twitter @jfelisko
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