ANAHEIM, Calif. – Matt Triplett dragged his bull rope past the exit gate and walked to the left corner of the bucking chutes and glared off into the back pens.
Once his adrenaline began to calm, he turned around, let out a deep breath and glanced up at the Honda Center Jumbotron that was showing the replay of his attempted ride on Mr. Bull during the Built Ford Tough Championship Round.
The slow IV drip inside a hospital room would have seemed infinitely faster than the slow and tedious millisecond-by-millisecond replay playing out in front of a silent 10,097 fans.
Did the current world leader finally breakthrough in the championship round?
“Yeah baby!” Triplett screamed as the green light of the replay booth came on and the big screen showed Triplett’s bull rope still in his hand at 8 seconds. “That is what I am talking about!”
The No. 1 bull rider in the world has known all along that he could perform in the round known for featuring the PBR’s rankest bovine athletes.
Yet, he has continuously struggled to overcome the mental block that had been holding him back for so long since last season.
He began this year 0-for-5 in the championship round and was 1-for-22 dating back to last season.
On Sunday, Triplett received 89 points on Mr. Bull, which capped off his 4-for-4 weekend and sealed his second Built Ford Tough Series win in the last three weeks.
“I was so jacked,” Triplett said. “I was going to be really mad if I didn’t stay on, but it worked out and it was awesome.”
It was the fifth time he faced Mr. Bull on the BFTS and he rode him only once before – doing so in Billings, Montana, last year for 90.5 points.
Triplett, who has credited much of his success this season to practicing hot yoga and using other sport psychology tactics, immediately disappeared to the locker room once he selected Mr. Bull during the championship-round bull draft.
He came out only for a quick interview with CBS Sports Network sideline reporter Leah Garcia before returning to the locker room, where he spent most of the final round until reappearing for his ride.
“I wasn’t thinking at all,” Triplett said. “I was trying to stay as loose and calm and cool as I could and not think like I have been in the short rounds.”
Not overthinking has been a huge component for Triplett in the first six events. Instead of anticipating what a bull may do or overanalyzing video of his upcoming matchups, he has shown up to the arena not knowing which bull he was going to face and has tried to take each bull as a completely new matchup.
Triplett has also brought the fight to his opponents on the dirt. The Columbia Falls, Montana, bull rider is using an aggressive riding style to climb to the front of his bulls and is throwing his free arm loosely.
Yet, amid his aggression is a conscious effort to not over-anticipate.
“It helps me so much by waiting on bulls,” Triplett said. “It is helping me ride them and pick them back up.”
Nine-time World Champion Ty Murray says Triplett is in the right place mentally to succeed.
“You know, he is the zone right now,” Murray said. “Everything is just happening. Every move is there. Every adjustment is there.”
Anaheim was Triplett’s first 4-for-4 performance of his career on the BFTS, and he extended his lead over No. 2 Silvano Alves in the world standings to 780 points. He was also the only rider in the top four of the world standings to earn any points in Anaheim.
It was the kind of weekend that proves the 23-year-old has what it takes to be considered among the potential top contenders in 2015, believes Murray.
“I have been watching Matt for a while and I have always liked him since he came around, as far as his amount of aggressiveness and effort and the way he tried,” Murray said, “but up until now, I thought he was a cute kid with some talent.
“He is legit. He is crossing the obstacles as he gets to them. He is doing everything he is supposed to do and he is starting to look like a contender.”
Triplett is tied with Reese Cates for the BFTS lead in wins (2), sits No. 1 on the BFTS with five round wins, has a 68.18 percent BFTS riding average and is on pace to shatter his career-high mark of 33 qualified rides in one season that he set last year when he finished third in the world.
Murray said the key going forward for the young bull rider is to keep building off his success and finding ways to maintain it throughout the 27-event season.
“Everybody kicks ass at some point, they get in that zone,” Murray said. “Now his job is to figure out how to extend it. Hopefully, he is able to remember the things that are working for him. The things that are working for him is not caring what his bull does, not finding out what his bull does, taking it one jump at a time, having fun, being aggressive and putting out the effort.”
Fun was something Triplett did not have much of when he won his first event of the season two weeks ago in Oklahoma City.
Triplett was so frustrated that he bucked off Cooper Tires Brown Sugar in 7.88 seconds during the championship round that it soured his victory.
“I am happy for Matt,” Gage Gay said. “Last time he won he got thrown off in the short round and he wasn’t happy at all. Even though he won $40,000, he was pissed he got thrown off. I told him this time he at least can be happy with it.”
Triplett was all about celebrating his second victory.
“Tremendous difference,” he said. “When you ride all four bulls, you feel like you’ve actually won. When you can only ride three out of the four, it doesn’t feel as much as a win. You don’t feel like you accomplished what you came here to do.
“I come here every weekend to ride every bull and that is what you have to do to be a winner.”
Follow Justin Felisko on Twitter @jfelisko
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