LAS VEGAS – Two-time World Champion J.B. Mauney didn’t even flinch when asked if he would pick Jared Allen’s Air Time as he walked toward his post-event press conference on Saturday night.
“You damn right I am,” Mauney said aggressively. “Just like I told Matt Scharping a minute ago. I come here and I always am one to let it all hang out, so I might as well do it again.”
Jared Allen was at a charity event for his Homes for Wounded Warriors foundation when he learned of Mauney’s selection late Saturday night.
“It’s amazing,” Allen told PBR.com via text message. “This is a matchup I have been wanting to see. I believe things happen for a reason and I hope to see something epic.”
Mauney has to hit a home run on Sunday afternoon at T-Mobile Arena if he hopes to repeat as World Champion.
The No. 3 bull rider in the world standings rocked the state-of-the-art venue on the Las Vegas Strip with the first 90-point ride in T-Mobile Arena history when he rode Red Dawn for an electric 90.25 points.
Mauney’s 71st career 90-point ride, and his seventh of 2016, earned him 300 world points to close the gap between him and world leader Kaique Pacheco to 544.08 points with one more day left in the season.
“It is big,” Mauney said of his Round 4 victory. “I don’t look at the points, and I don’t really know where I am at. That doesn’t really bother me. I just try to win every time I nod.”
Mauney was then informed he was still very much mathematically alive in the world title race.
“I haven’t looked at the points or anything,” he reiterated. “I will tell you after the short round tomorrow.”
Mauney needs another round win to help his chances in the title race. He heads into Championship Sunday fourth in the event average, but Pacheco and world No. 2 Cooper Davis each came through with their own qualified rides after Mauney’s 90.25-point ride.
Pacheco and Davis are tied for fifth in the event average. If the season ended on Saturday night, Mauney would have been 406.58 points behind Pacheco in the final standings.
Mauney must ride Air Time in Round 5 or else his title aspirations will likely be crushed.
Fans can watch the monster matchup Sunday afternoon on CBS Sports Network beginning with Inside the PBR World Finals, presented by B&W Trailer Hitches, preshow at 3:30 p.m. ET. The showdown can also be seen on PBR LIVE.
“That is great,” PBR Director of Livestock and CBS Sports Network commentator Cody Lambert said. “Air Time will really buck and J.B. is going for a World Championship. He can’t hang back. He has to win another round.”
Mauney can win not only $30,000 for a Round 5 victory if he rides Air Time, but he could also take home the “8 to Glory” $25,000 bonus.
The 29-year-old became the first bull rider to earn over $7 million with his $30,000 Round 4 victory on Saturday night.
“Money doesn’t bother me,” Mauney said. “Gold buckles is what I am after.”
Sunday will be the fourth meeting between the reigning World Champion bull rider and the PBR’s toughest buckoff artist.
Mauney has failed to make a qualified ride in all three previous matchups – lasting an average of 3.9 seconds per attempt.
Air Time has demolished 24 consecutive riders on the Built Ford Tough Series and has only been ridden once in his four-year BFTS career.
Other than 2010 World Champion Renato Nunes (92.5 points at the 2014 Phoenix BFTS event), no rider has even sniffed success against Air Time.
“He is the type of bull that you have to have you’re A-game on, and you can’t ever set a gameplan for him,” Mauney said. “You never know what he is going to do. You don’t know which way he is going to go. I get along with bulls like that. Maybe the fourth time is the charm.”
Air Time bucked off Mauney earlier this season in Des Moines, Iowa, in 3.63 seconds.
The white spotted bull was marked 45 points in that matchup and is averaging 45.25 points against Mauney.
Will fans see Air Time’s streak of 24 consecutive buckoffs come to an end? Or will Air Time defeat Mauney for a fourth consecutive time?
“Bucks off, of course,” Allen said. “I am hoping for 48-plus (points). Honestly, I think Air Time will win, but if there is ever a toss-up, this would be it. J.B. is a beast and we all know Air Time is as well. He had one bad out and we expect greatness on Sunday.”
Scharping said Mauney’s past experiences with Air Time should benefit him.
“J.B. has been on him enough,” Scharping said. “J.B. knows what the deal is. I don’t have to worry about him. J.B. is perfect in the chute. He shows a bull off better than anybody. He can get past a lot of them crazy moves. He is one of the few guys that can really get through a lot of that.
“I say he is riding him tomorrow.”
The big question mark for the matchup is which Air Time shows up?
Air Time was a leading contender for the 2016 World Champion Bull title before putting up a career-low 42.5-point bull score for the second consecutive World Finals on Thursday night when he bucked off Zane Cook in a trashy 6.47 seconds.
“You never know with him,” Scharping replied when asked if he is expecting a rebound performance from Air Time. “I am lighting a fuse on him. I hope.”
If Air Time didn’t have such a poor showing at the Finals, he would be bucking in the championship round.
“With everything that happened on Thursday, I have always said I put everything in my faith this year. Whatever happened, happened. What is meant to be, is meant to be,” Scharping said. “It is all good with what happened because if it wouldn’t, this matchup wouldn’t have happened because he could not have picked him.
Now he is in the long round. This is going to be a huge, huge deal Sunday afternoon.”
History could be made on multiple levels on Sunday afternoon if Air Time returns to his normal self and Mauney channels his legendary home-run hitting ability.
A ride aboard Air Time may help propel Mauney to a record-tying third world title, but it also could re-write the record the books.
The highest ride score in PBR history is 96.5 points.
Bubba Dunn was the first to reach 96.5 points by riding Promise Land at the Tampa, Florida, event in 1999. Two-time World Champion Chris Shivers then rode Jim Jam for the same score a year later in Tampa.
Shivers would hit the record-mark again at the 2001 World Finals aboard Dillinger before 1997 World Champion Michael Gaffney tied the record with a 96.5-point ride on Little Yellow Jacket at the 2004 Nampa, Idaho, BFTS event.
“Air Time is somebody you can be 95 and higher on,” Lambert said. “He might break the all-time record. You never bet against J.B. Mauney.”
Scharping understands the likelihood of Air Time rallying for the World Champion Bull title are slim to none, but he still thinks Air Time can put up a 48-point bull score and make things interesting with Mauney.
He wants to see Mauney and Air Time dance for an unheard of 97 points.
“Honestly, I would love to see him ride him and set the freaking record,” the Scharping concluded. “That is what I want to see. I am not looking for a buckoff. I am not looking for anything else.
“I want to see him ride him and set the freaking record.”
Follow Justin Felisko on Twitter @jfelisko
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