By: Justin Felisko
PUEBLO, Colo. – Stetson Wright may not have ridden alongside the likes of PBR World Champions Jess Lockwood or J.B. Mauney just yet, but the 20-year-old has seen the two PBR greats rise to the occasion in some of the more pressure-packed situations in PBR history.
Whether it be Mauney riding three-time World Champion Bull Bushwacker and ending the legendary bovine’s streak of 42 consecutive buckoffs, or Lockwood riding Heartbreak Kid in back-to-back weeks, nearly breaking his neck in the process, both two-time champs have had a knack for making some of the biggest rides in the biggest of moments.
Wright is a champion in his own regard as well. He rose to the occasion multiple times last year on his way to becoming the first roughstock athlete to win the PRCA’s All-Around World Championship since 1998.
The Milford, Utah, native aspires to one day make a full-time run in the PBR and pursue a world title like his idol Mauney, but for now he is getting his first taste of some of the PBR’s pressure situations with the Monster Energy Team Challenge, presented by U.S. Border Patrol.
In particular, Wright faces the tall task of trying to lead his undefeated Team Las Vegas (3-0) past Division A-leading, juggernaut Team Cooper Tires (3-0) on Friday night live on CBS Sports Network at 10:40 p.m. ET. Cooper Tires holds the No. 1 spot virtue of having a higher aggregate team score compared to Las Vegas.
The winner Friday will be in the absolute driver’s seat for the Division A championship, which would give the victor a bye into the semifinals of Championship Weekend in Sioux Falls, South Dakota, on July 10-12.
“That is why I want to go to the PBR so much,” Wright said. “Them bigger events – that is when I ride the best, I feel like. When there is a lot of pressure, that is what I like. When there is no pressure, that is not fun to me. I like when Jess, J.B., Sage Kimzey and them guys step out and go 90 points.
“When they do that, I am going to try like hell to be 91. I think that is what the PBR is. The big rides. The big moments. That is what keeps me going every day.”
Wright and Team Las Vegas will have to counter as best they can a stout Team Cooper Tires unit featuring world leader Jose Vitor Leme, six-time PRCA champion Sage Kimzey, seven-time PBR World Finals qualifier Stetson Lawrence and two-time PBR World Finals qualifier Keyshawn Whitehorse.
“They are a great team, too,” Leme, the Cooper Tires Team Captain, said last weekend. “They are good guys. We are going to have a good battle next weekend.”
The game is the first of possibly two matchups between the lone undefeated teams in Division A. If the two teams remain in the Top 2 of the Division A standings following Saturday night, they will likely face off again on the CBS Game of the Week (Sunday 1 p.m. ET).
“Everyone is going to be looking at the six-time World Champion (Kimzey) and Jose Vitor Leme,” Wright said before Division A competition got underway last weekend. “Then there will be the guys in the back, and hopefully we can come out on top. I guess we will let the riding do the talking.”
Wright could set the tone early for Team Las Vegas with a ride aboard Milk Man (28-12, all levels) in the first out of the game.
Depending on how the game plays out, Wright could have the opportunity to deliver his team a victory Friday as the last rider to attempt to ride. He has drawn Love Shack (1-0, all levels) to end the game.
Wright had to step up last weekend for Team Las Vegas as the team of rodeo bull riders slugged out three consecutive wins in gritty fashion.
Wright is 2-for-5 and third in the Built Ford Tough MVP race for highest individual aggregate in the league. In the team’s ugliest win, Wright rode Big Black Cat for 88.25 points with the team down to its final two outs to edge past Team YETI 88.25-0.
Team Cooper Tires General Manager Cody Lambert expected Team Las Vegas to be a contender in Division A.
Wright may be only 20, but he comes from a family rich in winning. His father, Cody, is a two-time World Champion saddle bronc rider (2008, 2010) and his brother, Ryder, was the 2017 saddle bronc World Champion. Stetson’s uncles, Jesse Wright (2012) and Spencer Wright (2014), are also World Champions.
“I kind of expected big things out of Stetson Wright, and he is a true competitor,” Lambert said. “It is not a great surprise. He has already experienced winning and stuff like that. He hasn’t experienced the PBR, but I expected good things out of him. It is really good to see him doing well because those guys are the real deal. That whole family is. They are just like that. They are really easy to cheer for because there is nothing phony about them. They are real cowboys.”
Wright is confident that he and his teammates, 2018 NFR event average winner Chase Dougherty and 2017 Canadian Pro Rodeo Association Champion Garrett Smith, can be better than they were a week ago (6-for-18), and challenge Cooper Tires.
“It would be awesome to win against them because that is the team everybody is looking at,” Wright said last week. “But in my eyes, the guys on my team and me are just as good, if not better, than the Cooper Tires team. Not taking anything away from them, and I look up to the guys on that team, but I don’t think anybody here is better than anybody else.
“Everybody at this whole deal can ride good. It is whether you show up or not.”
Follow Justin Felisko on Twitter @jfelisko
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