By: Justin Felisko
PUEBLO, Colo. – The 2021 Unleash The Beast: American Roots Edition series begins Saturday afternoon at the Southeastern Livestock Pavilion in Ocala, Florida, with the PBR Monster Energy Invitational.
PBR.com will be counting down the final days leading up to the UTB season opener by looking back at the Top 5 bull riders at the conclusion of the 2020 season.
Today, we look at two-time World Champion Jess Lockwood, who finished fifth in the 2020 world standings.
No. 5 Jess Lockwood
World Championships: 2 (2017 & 2019)
Best World Standings Finish: 1 (2017 & 2019)
2020 Premier Series (UTB) Stats
Riding Percentage: 48.89%
Top Ride: 92.25 points on Big Black (Manchester, New Hampshire)
Average Ride Score: 88.34 points
Wins: 1 (Manchester, New Hampshire)
15/15 Bucking Battle Victories: 0
Round Wins: 10
Top 5: 7
Top 10: 9
90-point Rides: 6
2020 Recap: Two-time World Champion Jess Lockwood was poised to put up a tremendous title defense last season until he tore his left hamstring on March 1 in a freak, bad-luck incident in Kansas City, Missouri.
Lockwood had just ridden I’m Legit Too for 91.5 points before he caught his right spur in his bull rope during his dismount. I’m Legit Too then yanked Lockwood into a split, ripping his hamstring muscles from his hip and forever altering his 2020 season.
The Volborg, Montana, bull rider was the No. 2-ranked bull rider in the world at the time, a mere 72.5 points behind Jose Vitor Leme. He had already notched a PBR-best eight round wins to go along with one event win and five 90-point rides through the first two months of the 2019 season.
Lockwood’s 2020 quickly became focused on overcoming a career-threatening injury, which needed to be surgically repaired by renowned Dr. Thomas Youm in New York.
Lockwood’s injury is unusual in Western sports. It is rare for a bull rider to have to come back from a severely torn hamstring of this magnitude, but Lockwood remained committed to a serious rehab and physical therapy program to ensure his career was not over post-surgery.
The five-time PBR World Finals qualifier would eventually return to competition on Sept. 11. However, he could not run down Leme before then having to miss the final two regular-season events because of a right shoulder (free arm) injury he sustained when Night Shift bucked him off in 6.05 seconds in Lincoln, Nebraska.
Lockwood decided to shut down his regular season despite still being in world title contention out of a sense of extra precaution with his injury. The last thing he wanted was to be forced into another surgery, this time on his shoulder, if he rushed back to competition.
Lockwood struggled during his return at the World Finals and went 1-for-4. However, his final ride on Lil 2 Train (91 points) did help him win the fourth round.
The soon-to-be sixth-year pro still finished fifth in the world standings despite only going 4-for-14 (28.57%) in his return from surgery.
Lockwood was certainly not happy with how his season ended, and he made sure to get right back to the grind at the end of November. His training includes stints inside his workout shed where he can increase the heat to 110 degrees. He also has been getting on bulls consistently, and he won Matt Triplett’s invitational bull riding.
Suffice to say, watch out for Lockwood in 2021.
Two-time World Champion and CBS Sports analyst Justin McBride expects Lockwood to be extremely motivated this season and be one of the top contenders ready to challenge reigning World Champion Leme.
“Jess is pretty dangerous this year, coming off the year that he had,” McBride said. “Not only the injuries he dealt with, but when he did come back, it wasn’t all roses for Jess. He got bucked off some bulls he is typically riding. And I think he was pretty frustrated with his Finals. He ended really well with a good ride at the Finals (91 points on Lil 2 Train), but there were three other ones that got away from him, and I know he’s not satisfied with that. He is not happy about it, and so he’ll be pretty hungry this year.”
Five-time PBR World Finals qualifier and RidePass commentator Colby Yates agreed with McBride that Lockwood should again be in title contention.
“It pisses him off when he doesn’t do good,” Yates said. “He sat out for a while this year. That played a big effect in his season but look at the year after he won his first world title. He slacked off a little bit. He realized that, and he came back and took what he left behind in 2019. I think we are going to see that again. That same drive. That same fire. He knows he has the ability to win multiple world titles.”
Injuries. Injuries. Injuries.
That is a narrative for almost every bull rider who climbs into the bucking chute, but that has been arguably the main culprit why Lockwood does not potentially have a third world title already. He has missed 37 premier series events since turning pro in 2016.
However, Lockwood continues to show he can bounce back from his injuries and compete at an extremely high level when healthy.
“He’s a special athlete, really,” Yates said. “He is really unique. He is one-of-a-kind, and I don’t think anything is going to faze him. He didn’t come back like the Jess we expected, but he understands, or maybe he has a different approach than most guys, but I don’t think anything is going to affect him.
“He and Jose has to be the best show, battle, that everybody has ever seen in the history of this sport, and I think it is going to play out again.”
Follow Justin Felisko on Twitter @jfelisko
Photo courtesy of Andy Watson/Bull Stock Media
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