By: Justin Felisko
ARLINGTON, Texas – If you are looking for 90-point fireworks and monumental bull rides, there is no better place to find them than at the PBR World Finals.
Even with the PBR moving the 27th edition of its season-culminating event out of Las Vegas for the first time in league history, the same prestigious excitement that comes with competing at the World Finals remained the same Thursday night.
Thirteen riders were able to make the 8-second whistle during what is historically referred to as the rank pen – the round in which PBR Director of Livestock Cody Lambert bucks World Champion Bull contenders and other fierce bovine athletes. Thursday was the most qualified rides in the rank pen, which in the past has been Round 2 in Las Vegas, since the 2014 PBR World Finals when there were also 13 qualified rides. Matt Triplett rode Walk Off for 92 points and a Round 2 victory then.
Similar to that round, there were two 90-point rides Thursday night inside AT&T Stadium Thursday with Round 1 winner Derek Kolbaba (92.75 points on Boogie Bomb) and Eduardo Aparecido (91.5 points on Hocus Pocus) lighting up the scoreboard.
“This still has the Finals feel,” Kolbaba said. “The points, the money up for grabs, is still right there. It is go time, for sure. It doesn’t matter where we are at. I am just happy we are having it. Bull riding is already hard enough, let alone you throw in all of the other hoops you throw in with COVID this year. Worried if you are going to test positive or not.
“At the end of the day, we are just so lucky to be going and still riding. I talked to a lot of people, and we realistically have not lost a lot of events and the opportunity has been there. We have been very lucky to still be going and get some money won.”
Kolbaba could be in the running for a massive payday this week in Arlington.
The 24-year-old had the first pick of the Round 2 draft courtesy of his first round victory and he selected Big Black (21-14, UTB). Kolbaba rode Big Black for 86.25 points 20 minutes away at the Dickies Arena in Fort Worth, Texas, in August. He was previously 0-for-2 against Big Black, who has delivered premier series riders a round win in 12 of the 14 times he has been ridden.
Kolbaba can easily be in contention for the Round 2 win on Friday night, and that would put him in an even better position to win the $300,000 check available to the winner of the 2020 PBR World Finals.
“It is nice to get the first one on the board and get a score running for the week,” Kolbaba said. “At the end of the day, it is not a sprint. There are five bulls you have the opportunity ride. You have to take it one bull at a time and let it all hang out. There is nothing to hold back for here.”
Aparecido won the 2017 Iron Cowboy inside AT&T Stadium and he has repeatedly said that victory was the biggest of his 8-year career thus far.
“I changed my life when I win Iron Cowboy,” Aparecido said. “I like this venue too. I like this bull. In Nampa, I was supposed to ride him, but I did not pass my physical. I was prepared for ride him today.”
Kolbaba has experienced the highs and the lows when it comes to the PBR World Finals too. All five bulls bucked him off last year inside T-Mobile Arena. A year earlier, he posted three 90-point rides, two of which were good enough for round victories, during the 2018 PBR World Finals for a third-place finish and $158,000.
The Walla Walla, Washington, native was the No. 1 bull rider at the beginning of the 2017 World Finals, but he wound up bucking off his last four bulls and watched good buddy Jess Lockwood win the first three rounds in Las Vegas to snatch the world title away from him.
Kolbaba has always had the ability to hit home runs, but he has elevated his game to a new level in recent months. Three of Kolbaba’s Top-4 career rides have come in the last three months. His ride on Boogie Bomb is the third highest score of his career, and he entered the World Finals having won the last two 15/15 Bucking Battles of the season courtesy of a career-high 94 points on Canadian Mist and 92 points on Sky Harbor.
“How about that,” Kolbaba said with a laugh. “Shoot, the 15/15s were pretty good to me this year, and I definitely needed to get some points heading into the Finals. Heck, I feel great, and that little time off before the Finals was definitely different than previous years, but I think there was a lot of good from it. I was able to make sure the body was 100%.
“I am feeling good, feeling confident.”
Follow Justin Felisko on Twitter @jfelisko
Photo courtesy of Andy Watson/Bull Stock Media
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