15/15 Bucking Battle Preview: Kolbaba Feeling Confident as he Looks to Reenter World Title Contention

By: Justin Felisko

PUEBLO, Colo. – Derek Kolbaba likes to work off his own schedule, so the opportunity to avoid the airport this week and drive to Billings, Montana, is certainly a positive.

Kolbaba is looking forward to the PBR premier series’ 26th annual trip to Billings this coming weekend when the PBR Wrangler Invitational, presented by Cooper Tires, gets underway Friday night at MetraPark Arena.

“I have always liked Billings,” the Walla Walla, Washington, native told on Monday. “It is a little closer to home, and I can make the drive and not have to sit in an airport all day. Shoot, it would probably take me seven hours to fly it vs. 10 hours driving. It is nice not to be on somebody else’s schedule.”

Kolbaba will begin his drive on Thursday afternoon before finishing the journey on Friday morning.

This weekend will be one of the most grueling events of the season outside of the five-day PBR World Finals on Nov. 3-7 in Las Vegas. Billings is not only a three-day event, but it also features a 15/15 Bucking Battle. Therefore, the Top 15 bull riders in the world could potentially be getting on five bulls over the course of three days.

“That is the funny thing; it is like the Finals,” Kolbaba said. “It is just one of those things where you take it one day at a time. Knock that first one down and keep it rolling. It is easy to get in that headspace of, ‘Darn it, we have another 15/15 and so many bulls.’ It is what it is, and you just have to go in there and get them rode. That is my mentality. There are a lot of points to be picked up in those 15/15s that are dang sure useful when it comes to the end of the year. They are crucial events.”

One rider can win a maximum of 230 world points this weekend.

Kolbaba is ranked seventh in the world standings and is coming off back-to-back Top 10 finishes on the Unleash The Beast. If he wins his first premier series event since 2017, he could rocket himself into the Top 5 and get himself back into world title contention. Kolbaba is 493.5 points behind world leader Jose Vitor Leme.

The six-time PBR World Finals qualifier has drawn I’m Busted (19-2, premier series) for this coming weekend’s 15/15 Bucking Battle.

Fans can watch the 15/15 exclusive on CBS national television Sunday at 1 p.m. ET.

15/15 Bucking Battle Matchups

Taylor Toves vs. Drago (14-1, premier series)
Cody Teel vs. Ridin Solo (15-4, UTB)
Alex Cerqueira vs. Homegrown (12-5, UTB)
Boudreaux Campbell vs. The Right Stuff (31-2, premier series)*
Mauricio Moreira vs. I’m Legit Too (25-11, premier series)*
Silvano Alves vs. WSM’S Jive Turkey (17-3, UTB)
Rafael Henrique dos Santos vs. Mezcal (4-0, UTB)
Marco Eguchi vs. First Down (3-1, UTB)
Junior Patrik Souza vs. Marquis Metal Works Red Clark (14-1, UTB)
Derek Kolbaba vs. I’m Busted (19-2, premier series)*
Colten Fritzlan vs. High Brow Cat (3-1, UTB)
Dener Barbosa vs. Smooth Operator (88-12, premier series)*
Cooper Davis vs. Marquis Metal Works Coriolis Effect (14-1, UTB)
Kaique Pacheco vs. Smooth Wreck (31-8, UTB)$
Jose Vitor Leme vs. Boogie Bomb (8-7, premier series)$
*Bull previously bucked off the rider
$Rider previously has ridden the bull for a qualified ride

Kolbaba has not been a late-season title contender since 2017, when he entered Las Vegas on top of the world standings. He also won five events that season.

However, Kolbaba is still only 25 years old, and he believes he has not missed out on his world title window.

“I definitely feel like my prime is still to come,” Kolbaba said. “I am feeling really good right now and am ready to get this momentum rolling. I feel good, and I feel like I have been a little more consistent these last few weeks moving up in the standings. I feel good and feel confident, and pretty healthy.

“We are headed in the right direction.”

Kolbaba may not have a premier series win in the past four seasons, but he certainly has won some big-time events outside of the UTB. He has particularly been clutch in the WCRA.

Kolbaba won the WCRA Major Rodeo Corpus Christi on Sunday with a 91.5-point ride on County Jail. He did get his leg stepped on, but he said he would be good to go for Billings.

“I am good,” Kolbaba said. “He stepped on my leg and sored me up. It made walking through the airport kind of a pain in the ass this morning. We are in the home stretch.”

Kolbaba advanced to the three-rider Triple Crown Round with 89 points on Hooch earlier in the day. He had advanced out of the progressive rounds via 87 points on Shooter on Saturday night.

He has won three WCRA bull riding titles since May of 2018 and is one of the highest earners in WCRA history with a total upwards of $160,000.

“I don’t know what it is, or if it is the atmosphere or what,” Kolbaba said. “They are good events. I always seem to draw pretty well at then. Heck, I need to keep carrying that on.”

Kolbaba earned $23,500 in Corpus Christi, and he also won a custom surfboard.

“There aren’t too many waves up around here in Walla Walla, so I will probably just hang it up in the shop,” Kolbaba said. “That is pretty cool. It is always neat when you get something you don’t always see all the time. Everybody has a couple of buckles and rifles or something like that, but when you get something like a surfboard, that is a one-in-a-million deal right there. I imagine that is the last one I will ever win right there.”


Joao Ricardo Vieira was in contention for the Corpus Christi victory, but Gladiator’s Hammer bucked him off in 7.39 seconds in the Triple Crown Round. Vieira sustained an undisclosed injury and was meeting with Dr. Tandy Freeman on Tuesday, but he has already been ruled out for Billings.

UPDATE: Vieira said an MRI on his groin/abdominal showed no signs of a major injury, and he is hopeful to be ready for a return to competition in a week.

Vieira did earn 14 world points in Corpus Christi.

Meanwhile, world No. 11 Keyshawn Whitehorse said he sprained his MCL in Corpus Christi and is out for Billings.

Follow Justin Felisko on Twitter @jfelisko

Photo courtesy of Andy Watson/Bull Stock Media

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