By: Justin Felisko
PUEBLO, Colo. – Two-time World Champion J.B. Mauney took a sip of cold water and could feel the condensation running down his dust-covered hands, creating a murky, muddy paste.
Mauney had pulled over his Ditch Witch trencher to the side of the path in Cotulla, Texas, and propped his feet up on the steering wheel as he began to talk about his ensuing return to competition Friday night at the 20th annual Dakota Community Bank & Trust Invitational, presented by Cooper Tires.
The future Ring of Honor inductee had already spent a handful of hours on that July 24 morning digging water ditches for his father-in-law and five-time PRCA World Champion Phil Lyne. Mauney’s Wrangler jeans were plastered with dirt, and their light blue had turned into a hazy mix of dust and denim.
The 33-year-old may have been able to operate the Ditch Witch in a pair of his brown loafers, but make no mistake about it, working every day this past summer in the 100-degree Texas heat and humidity has certainly given Mauney that much more motivation to get back to riding bulls full-time.
“I know one thing,” Mauney said with an exhale and a laugh. “My damn father-in-law is making it real easy to love bull riding again.”
Mauney has spent the last seven months working alongside Lyne while patiently recovering and rehabbing from his second reconstructive surgery on his right shoulder in the past three years.
The 14-time PBR World Finals qualifier has never sat out of competition for this long, which is nine months going back to Mauney’s last event – the 2019 Pendleton Whisky Velocity Tour Finals, where JJ Da Boss bucked him off and fractured his already torn-up shoulder.
Instead of spurring bulls for 90-points and slaying the rankest bovine athletes in the business, Mauney has been working cows, investing in the Ultimate Bull Fighter League, using heavy construction equipment to clear brush, building water lines and doing any other tasks possible.
There was one day where Mauney’s mother-in-law even asked his wife, Samantha, if he was eating enough because of how skinny he had become.
“My mother-in-law told my wife the other day that I need to start eating more, and I was starting to get skinnier,” Mauney recalled with a laugh. “I told my wife, ‘I eat as much as I always have. Have you not figured it out that it is due to the fact that your workhorse of a father works me and it is like 110 degrees outside?’”
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Mauney has been more of an everyday rancher during his time away from the sport vs. the worldwide celebrity that he is in the arena.
Suffice to say, there should be no surprise to what Mauney’s thought process is when it comes to his future.
“I am coming back in 2021,” Mauney said in confidence. “Hell yeah. I am not working the rest of my life. Screw this. I still feel like I can ride bulls. I still feel like I can win. I feel way better than I have since 2017. I am going to go as long as I can go.”
Mauney’s career was forever altered when he injured his right shoulder for the first time at the 2017 Calgary Stampede.
Dr. Tandy Freeman needed nearly six hours to repair Mauney’s shoulder. Freeman repaired torn ligaments and his rotator cuff, transplanted his bicep tendon and removed bone fragments after he was injured in a gruesome wreck attempting to ride Cowahbunga at the Calgary Stampede.
At the time, Freeman compared the damage he saw inside Mauney’s shoulder to that of a grenade going off.
Mauney, in classic stubborn J.B. Mauney fashion, rushed back to competition following the surgery in only four months to keep his PBR World Finals qualification streak intact. The North Carolina native has come to admit in the last two seasons that probably was not the smartest decision, and that he may have actually never fully recovered to his full potential.
His latest surgery was less severe compared to that in 2017. There was less damage inside his shoulder this time around, and the primary issue was a torn rotator cuff that he sustained last year in Tulsa, Oklahoma.
Freeman was able to use the surgery in January to clean out a buildup of scar tissue, too, which Mauney believes will help him have the chance at returning to his World Champion contender form he had before his fateful Calgary wreck.
Mauney is able to move his free arm better than ever before. Even a simple task such as scratching his back had been close to impossible the last three seasons until now.
“Everything is good,” Mauney said. “I can reach over the top of my head and scratch the middle of my back. There is no restriction on my shoulder. I think I can get back now to where I was. After the Stampede, really the only thing that took away from me was my free arm. After the second surgery, Tandy cleaned out a lot of that scar tissue. When I went to his office and saw him (in July) he said it is still weak in a few areas, but that is because I had two surgeries on the same spot. He said other than that, all of the muscles were fine like they are supposed to be.”
Mauney understands he will never be 100% again, but he is confident he is still a strong enough bull rider to compete, especially with his free arm having much more movement again.
He will get his first test in live competition Friday night against Sky Harbor (20-4, UTB) in Round 1. Mauney could start the season with quite the bang and win the round with Sky Harbor. Colten Jesse recently rode Sky Harbor for 88.75 points at the Pendleton Whisky Velocity Tour event in Sioux Falls, South Dakota. Stetson Lawrence rode Sky Harbor for 91.25 points in Guthrie, Oklahoma.
Fans can watch Mauney’s return exclusively on RidePass on Friday night beginning at 8:45 p.m. ET.
In an interesting nugget from PBR Director of Livestock Cody Lambert, Mauney’s matchup vs. Sky Harbor is also a third-generation bull that Mauney has squared off against. Mauney was bucked off by Sky Harbor’s father Pearl Harbor in 4.91 seconds during a $50,000 bonus matchup in Bismarck three years ago, and he previously had ridden Sky Harbor’s grandfather Black Pearl for 93.75 points to win the 2009 PBR World Finals.
Lambert said earlier in the week that he was excited to see what Mauney does in his return to competition.
“I want to see what that looks like,” Lambert said. “I am excited to see him back, and I hope he is as good as he has been, and I am not going to predict how it is going to be. For me, I don’t mind. I have people ask me, ‘Why doesn’t he just quit?’ and I say, ‘Well maybe he wants to ride.’
“It is a choice. It is absolutely a choice, and that is his choice. It doesn’t matter who wishes he could do it again or that he would quit or have quit before. None of that matters. If he wants to ride, that is a personal choice. When you choose to ride, you are choosing the most dangerous sport there is. It has to be the person that is doing it. It has to be their personal choice.”
Mauney, who is second all-time with 528 qualified rides on the premier series, needs one more 90-point ride to pass two-time World Champion Justin McBride for the second-most 90-point rides all time. Mauney and McBride both have 74. Mauney is also tied with McBride for the most event wins on the premier series at 32.
If Mauney is going to choose to step foot inside the arena, you can bet for damn sure that he believes he can win, and win a lot.
“I can dang near do just about everything I was doing before that injury in 2017,” Mauney said. “Hell, I feel good.”
Follow Justin Felisko on Twitter @jfelisko
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