By: Justin Felisko
October 14, 2016
PUEBLO, Colo. – One of the subplots of Matt Triplett’s dismay in April when he learned he would likely miss the remainder of the 2016 season was that he was not going to have the opportunity to be a part of PBR history at T-Mobile Arena.
Triplett believed, following reconstructive left shoulder surgery, that his chances of competing at the first Built Ford Tough World Finals at the brand-new arena were all but over.
“That kind of bummed me out,” Triplett said in Nampa, Idaho.
The opportunity to compete at the first World Finals at the state-of-the-art arena on the Las Vegas strip is one of the driving factors behind Triplett competing at the final two Built Ford Tough Series regular-season events in San Jose, California, and Tucson, Arizona.
Following a BlueDEF Tour victory in Memphis, Tennessee, and a BFTS round win in Eugene, Oregon, Triplett realized all he needed was one big weekend on the BFTS and he will be back within the Top 35 of the world standings.
“This year has been really depressing for me,” Triplett said. “It has been super hard to sit on the sidelines and watch. That is usually not the case for me. To come here and dominate is just what I have been working for.”
Triplett is 53rd in the world standings and 245 points behind No. 35 Jorge Valdiviezo. He has jumped 62 spots in the standings since returning to competition on Sept. 17.
“It was a decision I made after the last two weeks,” Triplett said about deciding to use his BFTS injury exemptions this year instead of waiting for the 2017 season. “I decided if I could move up 50 spots in one week, I might as well try to move up 20 spots and get in the Top 35. I really have been working hard and I don’t want to sit out Finals where this is a new stadium.”
It was at the 2014 World Finals where Triplett began to make his evolution from young gun to potential future World Champion. Triplett won Round 2 of the Finals with a career-high 92-point ride on Big Tex Walk Off, and the then 23-year-old finished the week 3-for-6, fifth in the event average, and third in the world standings.
Just as Triplett remembers watching Justin McBride ride Camo to win the PBR World Championship on television in 2005, he hopes to one day write his own legacy in Las Vegas.
“That was true grit and determination,” Triplett said shaking his head in disbelief. “That is what always plays in my mind when I come to these events and think about what I need to do. That was huge. It showed so much composure and try. It just motivates people. When you go back to YouTube and watch it, it sends chills down your body.”
If he gets his way, that chapter will be written this year at T-Mobile Arena on Nov. 2-6.
Triplett knows a gold buckle is not in the works for him this season, but he also understands, if he can qualify, he could become only the 19th different rider to win the World Finals event title.
“It is just history,” Triplett said. “When you ride bulls that is what you want to make. You want to make history. So when you can go into an arena and there hasn’t been history made, you can be the first to win the Finals there. It is huge.”
Although, he has to get to the Finals first.
Triplett failed to capitalize with his exemption last weekend in Nampa, going 0-for-2.
The Columbia Falls, Montana, bull rider is slated to take on Traveler (0-1, BFTS) in Round 1 before searching for 8 seconds against Chantilly Lace (4-5, BFTS).
Triplett is 4-for-10 at all levels of competition since returning from his surgery. However, three of his buckoffs came past 7 seconds.
“It is something I have been working really hard to get back to,” Triplett said. “I just knew it was something that if I got in shape and be healthy that nothing could hold me back.”
Triplett has potentially six more bulls left to get to the Finals via the BFTS. If not, he will have to attend the BlueDEF Tour Finals on Oct. 29-31 in Las Vegas at South Point Arena and try to earn one of four Wild Card World Finals qualifier spots available to non-international invites.
If he has it his way, he won’t have to worry about the standings once Oct. 29 arrives.
“That is how I look at bull riding,” he said. “I am here to win. I don’t come here to take second or third. You have to come here knowing you are going to win or you might as well not come.”
Other riders on the outside looking in
No. 36 Nathan Schaper: The 26-year-old has qualified for the last three Built Ford Tough World Finals. Schaper is competing in San Jose as the top alternate and is only 12.5 points behind Valdiviezo.
No. 37 Fraser Babbington: The Babs is trying to become the first rider from New Zealand to qualify for the World Finals. However, injuries are beginning to take a toll on Babbington, who was cut from the BFTS this week and is competing at the Columbus, Ohio, Touring Pro Division event Friday night.
No. 38 Cody Heffernan: The 2016 PBR Australia champion has currently been relegated from the BFTS, but his Australian title guarantees him a shot at qualifying for the World Finals via the BlueDEF Tour Finals.
No. 39 Kurt Shephard: The Australian rookie is 57.5 points behind Valdiviezo. He gained 40 points last weekend with a second-place finish at the Trenton, New Jersey, BlueDEF Tour event. Shephard is 16th in the BlueDEF Tour standings and is well on his way to qualifying for the World Finals.
No. 40 Brant Atwood: The 29-year-old is in search of his first World Finals appearance since 2013. Atwood returned to competition this season after missing last year because of shoulder surgery.
Follow Justin Felisko on Twitter @jfelisko
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