PUEBLO, Colo. – 2002 World Finals event winner and CBS Sports Network commentator J.W. Hart has been involved with the PBR for over 22 years, but even the Iron Man admits he was taken aback when his cell phone buzzed last week.
Hart was waiting to hear from the five riders competing in his Young Guns Challenge about which bulls they would like to attempt in the $10,000 bonus round after the J.W. Hart PBR Challenge BlueDEF Tour event on June 4 in Decatur, Texas, when he looked down at his phone.
He had heard the rumors, but had not thought much of them until he saw two text messages from Derek Kolbaba and Jess Lockwood.
“I’ll take Bruiser,” Lockwood wrote.
Kolbaba then responded to the group message, “I’ll take Long John.”
“It is really unbelievable. I never would have thought that,” Hart said. “It is exciting news to me. It made me proud that we have a set of kids that really want to reach for the stars. It opened my eyes and made my jaw drop that these kids wanted to go pick rank ones to win these matches.”
Cooper Davis selected Who Dey, Jorge Valdiviezo chose Hy Test and Kurt Shephard picked Time Bomb.
The J.W. Hart PBR Challenge BlueDEF Tour event and Young Guns Challenge will be streamed exclusively on PBR LIVE.
Lockwood and Kolbaba made a special pact in Las Vegas during Last Cowboy Standing that if Hart gave the competitors a chance to select their bulls that they would both go out and make home-run selections.
“Me and Derek made a deal in Vegas that we were going to pick Bruiser and Long John if we had the choice to pick our bulls,” Lockwood said Monday morning. “The way we see it is why choose a bull the same caliber as the other guys in the rookie deal? That’s planning that you ride and they fall off. We figure we’ll ride our bulls and be 92-94 points on them and be five points higher than the competition.
“Then they’ll have to let us on Air Time.”
Neither rider has yet to conquer one of this season’s favorites of winning the 2016 World Champion Bull title. Outside of Lockwood’s failed attempt at Air Time at Last Cowboy Standing, neither rider has even had the opportunity to face a bull such as SweetPro’s Bruiser or SweetPro’s Long John.
“Well, me and Jess were kind of talking and he said, ‘I think I am going to take Bruiser,’” Kolbaba added. “So I was like, ‘Well shoot, if you are going to pick Bruiser, I better pick something rank too.’ I was going to pick Brutus at first, but J.W. said he was out, so I figured I mind as well go big or go home and pick Long John.”
Long John, the reigning World Champion Bull, has only been ridden nine times in 58 outs at all levels of competition. Only five riders have covered Long John on the Built Ford Tough Series. Long John is a masterful 27-7 on the BFTS.
The D&H Cattle Company stalwart is averaging a career-high 45.5 points this season and is 5-1. He has bucked off five riders in a row since two-time World Champion J.B. Mauney rode him for 90.25 points in Oklahoma City.
“I haven’t been on him yet, so that was part of the reason I picked him,” Kolbaba said. “He has a lot of up and a lot of down. If you can try and ride him like you are going straight, whether he is turning back or not, I think that is probably the best way for me. To just crawl up over him and take the power away from him. When he kicks I better get my butt down and give it everything for that sort of kick.”
Kolbaba may be tied for eighth in the world standings with Davis, but he is still only 17-for-46 (36.96 percent) on the BFTS.
His career-high ride is an 89.75-point 15/15 Bucking Battle winning ride aboard DaNutso in Anaheim, California, and he has yet to record a 90-point ride at any level of PBR competition.
Kolbaba admits he hasn’t slayed any dragons in his brief career and is making it a goal for the second half.
“It is mostly about forgetting who they are and go at them like something you have never seen before,” Kolbaba said. “You are going to go at them, try your butt off and not really get into too much of the hype.”
Kolbaba said he has reviewed video footage of Mauney’s two rides on Long John, and he remembers J.W. Harris’s 90.25-point ride on Long John from last year in Springfield, Missouri, as well as Nathan Schaper’s 89-point ride in Kansas City, Missouri.
All three riders are taller and have longer arms than Kolbaba, but the rookie doesn’t feel that will matter too much against Long John.
Gage Gay is closer to the same size as Kolbaba and took Long John to the 4.35-second mark in Billings, Montana.
“I watched when J.W. rode him and I remember when Schaper rode him and anytime J.B. has rode him,” Kolbaba said. “The thing they did was they really crawled out over him and took the power away from him. I think whether you are a taller guy or a shorter guy, as long as you are getting your butt off him and reaching out over there I think you can be in the right spot for sure.”
Kolbaba said he is ready to begin a new chapter of his career that showcases his belief in his ability to ride any of the ranker bulls in the BFTS.
That credence will be put to the test in Decatur in two weeks.
“I want to be somebody that had an impact on the sport instead of a guy hanging around just filling a spot,” Kolbaba concluded. “If you look at J.B. (Mauney), he threw it all out there and slayed those dragons, and now look where he is. That is kind of how I look at it.
“If you are going to be the best bull rider in the world, you are going to have to ride the best. So in the end you are going to have to pick them.”
Follow Justin Felisko on Twitter @jfelisko
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