By: Justin Felisko
PUEBLO, Colo. – The camera may have been a bit far away to get a close enough look, but Ezekiel Mitchell was likely gritting his teeth on Monday night beneath his warm smile.
Mitchell opened up to fans during the PBR Virtual Experiences panel discussion about the Snapchat docuseries Life By The Horns about a wakeup call he had last season.
The 23-year-old has one simple goal every single year of his career since he turned pro in 2016: “Be better than you were the year before.”
However, that was not the case in 2020, as Mitchell went 1-for-4 at the PBR World Finals, dropping from No. 11 in the world standings to No. 18.
Mitchell finished No. 15 in the world in 2019.
“I feel like I am not at the top yet,” Mitchell explained. “The biggest wakeup call and moment for me – every year I was a part of the PBR, you look at the end of the yearly standings, and every year I climb. I climbed. The year before last, I was 15. Going into the PBR Finals, I was 11.”
Mitchell, who is currently ranked No. 28 in the world standings, then paused to reveal to the group of fans tuning in to the free panel that he was actually riding with an undisclosed injury last year in Arlington, Texas.
“This is stuff everybody is getting I haven’t put out there,” Mitchell continued. “I messed up my thumb, and I couldn’t hold onto my rope to save my life at the Finals. The only reason I rode Red Dawn is I split it off. And that it is why I hung, because my hand wasn’t coming off.
“I look at the standings at the end of the World Finals, and I was like there is no way I was pushed back farther than I was. I know I am still somewhat in there. I looked at the standings, and I saw I was 18th in the world. In that moment, I lost my mind. I lost it. And I am about to lose it again thinking about it. It irritates me, and it irks me to my core because, at the end of the day, I have always wanted to be better than myself. In my head, I am already the best. I said if it took me 15 years to march 15 spots up the world standings to be a World Champion, then that is what I was going to make sure I was marching.
“The only thing I could think about is that I backtracked, and I lost my cool. I threw my phone down, walked out of the hotel, bawled like a baby, walked back in, picked up my phone, slammed it back down, walked back out. That was the big baby in me, but I really want to be better than myself (each year).”
Mitchell is the primary focus of Life By The Horns. The 10-part docuseries follows him, as well as Andrew Alvidrez and others, through the rigorous journey to the PBR World Finals while also giving fans a look at the bull riders outside of the arena and their respective journeys to the professional ranks.
Mitchell, Alvidrez, Tyler Werner and their agent Max Maxwell joined PBR Virtual Experiences Monday night to discuss the series with fans.
Below is a look at a few of the topics Mitchell touched on during the 55-minute session. Stay tuned to PBR.com and the PBR’s social media channels for more information about future PBR Virtual Experiences, including the opportunity for fans to meet one-on-one with their favorite bull riders, stock contractors and Western sports personalities. The PBR will also be announcing additional panel discussions in the coming weeks.
(Editor’s note: Questions are summarized for brevity).
Q: How was the overall experience for you when it came to the filming of Life By The Horns?
EM: It was a ton of fun. I got to hang out with all of my buddies, and I enjoyed all of it. For the most part, it was something I didn’t expect to happen. To be completely honest with you, it was a farfetched idea that I didn’t know if it would work the way it did. It has been terrific. And Trevor and the rest of the production crew, as well as my agency, have done tremendous things with this. I can’t be more pleased with it.
Q: Has Life By the Horns helped garner new fans and attention to yourself?
EM: I have been approached in airports and different scenarios along the way heading to events and things like that. (One guy) was like, ‘Hey, I think I have just seen you somewhere. Were you on Snapchat on a Snapchat show?’ I was like, ‘Yeah, that was me,’ and he was like, ‘Dude, it was awesome.’
Just to see people from all over the country, to be able to walk around the airport and be noticed. It’s not so much for us. It’s for the sport, and for our sport to grow, because the only way we can grow as individuals and our careers is for our sport to grow and for people to take awareness of what we are doing and how we do things.
Q: What advice would you give to an aspiring bull rider?
EM: Consistency is key, and not giving up on yourself. Definitely, the journey to being on the Unleash The Beast or anywhere as a bull rider is going to be hard, taxing (and) demanding, both physically and mentally, and also emotionally. Being consistent, knowing every day you have to wake up and know that you are the best version of yourself and you can be better than you were before.
Q: When it comes to consistency in the arena, how do you go about improving your riding percentage this year?
EM: That is something I have been asking myself for a long time. And there have been so many circumstances where I thought certain things were working. I realized before I couldn’t do exactly what Andrew does, as far as putting work in the gym as hard as he goes. It didn’t work for me. I couldn’t do the same things whenever I was a 19, 20-year-old kid. More so, what I have learned for myself is that I have to work on being mentally tough. It is the mental capability of telling myself I am more than capable of doing the things I want to do. In my short career, I have proven a lot of things and have proven I can ride a lot of the bulls that a lot of people don’t get along with. It is more so for me to believe that on a daily, weekly basis that I am that World Champion contender. That is what I am telling myself here every weekend. My consistency hasn’t been where I want it to be as far as it was at the end of last year, but I feel like my consistency hasn’t really lacked a whole lot from where I was at this point last year. I always have trouble getting out of the starting gate on tour, and I feel like I am a lot farther ahead than I was. Points may not show that so far, but I have done some great things this year, and I’m just looking at building on that.
Q: One of those big moments came earlier this year when you rode Smooth Operator. How does that compare to your ride last year on Goodnight Robicheaux, and are either your favorite career ride?
EM: I don’t know. I guess if you want to put two of them up there, those are definitely two I look to. For me, it is all about being on this journey. So far, it has been a great journey, and I hope to freaking push it further and enjoy more of it. I guess if I had to say one, it would be Smooth Operator, just because he had bucked me off two times prior and I knew I could do it, and he is the two-time and reigning world champ. I really enjoyed that and being able to accomplish that.
One of my biggest goals has always been to be like J.B. (Mauney), and J.B. has conquered every World Champion bull in his time (except for Smooth Operator), and so far in my time, I guess I have rode every world champ because there has only been one.
Q: Who is your bull riding inspiration?
EM: My biggest riding inspiration – and it is kind of no secret, and I feel like a lot of people already know – is J.B. because he was the dragon-slayer, and that was kind of one of the biggest things that drew me to the sport. How he took on every single challenge and rose above. When his back was against the wall, it was J.B.’s time to shine. I respect that. Even though he really didn’t seem like one, but in a lot of situations, he was the underdog. I always respect the underdog and pushing through adversity.
Q: The Unleash The Beast heads back indoors in two weeks when the premier series heads to Glendale, Arizona (March 12-14). Do you prefer outdoor or indoor bull ridings?
EM: If the weather is great, I love outdoor events, but if the weather is not so great – I said the other day in Del Rio that I couldn’t wait to get back into climate control. I guess we are spoiled now. You get a little spoiled going to those indoor events, and then you get to Del Rio, where it is 29 degrees and it feels 25 and the wind is blowing and there is a little bit of rain, then you really take an appreciation for indoor arenas.
Follow Justin Felisko on Twitter @jfelisko
Photo courtesy of Andy Watson/Bull Stock Media
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