DENVER – Two years ago, a shy and tad bit chubby bull rider stood in the middle of the National Western Stock Show with his blue riding shirt and teal chaps.
A 20-year-old kid named Cooper Davis had just won the 2015 Touring Pro Division Finals event with a 3-for-3 performance, beating the likes of three-time World Champion Silvano Alves, two-time World Champion J.B. Mauney and 2008 World Champion Guilherme Marchi.
At the time, Davis was a relatively unknown bull rider that had spent his first few years having success on the rodeo trail.
“This year the ultimate goal is me being the Rookie of the Year; but I just have to get up there and continue to prove myself,” Davis said at the time.
Fast forward to the end of the 2015 season and Davis was becoming the fourth rookie all time to win the World Finals event title.
Jump ahead another 12 months later and Davis was lifting the PBR World Championship trophy over his head inside of a jam-packed T-Mobile Arena.
Davis on Sunday afternoon took a moment to reflect on that week in Denver as he sat at his locker inside Madison Square Garden. He had never competed at MSG until this season.
The reigning World Champion finished the Monster Energy Buck Off at the Garden tied for ninth place following his 86-point ride on Gucci Galore.
“That was my first bigger Touring Pro event to go to, and I really didn’t want to mess it up,” Davis recalled. “I think a lot of times when you put yourself in a position where you know you got that much on the line, and got a lot to prove, it kind of makes you come out of your shell and work harder.”
This year’s Denver event begins on Monday night at the National Western Stock Show. The Real Time Pain Relief Velocity Tour event runs Monday-Wednesday and will feature 23 riders that competed in this past weekend’s Built Ford Tough Series opener in New York.
Some of the top riders tentatively expected to compete in Denver include Alves, Marchi, 2004 World Champion Mike Lee, 2015 Rookie of the Year Kaique Pacheco, four-time PRCA champion J.W. Harris, Fabiano Vieira, Matt Triplett and Marco Eguchi.
However, the past two winners of the Denver PBR event have actually been unknown young guns that eventually became BFTS superstars later that year.
Derek Kolbaba won the Touring Pro Division Finals event in Denver last year to help solidify himself on the BFTS for good and wound up finishing 17th in the world standings.
“Going into that event, it is a big event,” Kolbaba said. “There is a lot of money to be won. You can fill your pockets pretty well full. You got great bulls to get on and you are going against the top guys. For somebody that is coming in that is maybe not on tour yet, to win an event like that can just boost your confidence more.”
Davis and Kolbaba each won over $20,000 in their victories.
It was also a chance to compete against idols that they looked up to as kids or watched on television when they had dreams of one day riding on the world’s greatest stage of professional bull riding.
The two riders said that opportunity only helped them focus even further in Denver.
“Absolutely,” Davis said. “When you are an 18-year-old kid and you walk into the locker room and nobody knows who you are, but you know who everybody else, you have to make yourself heard. When it is J.B. or whoever, and you walk into the locker room, you don’t want to be a sissy.”
Kolbaba added, “You can let it get to you or you can just kind of use it to your advantage. A lot of us know you are going to draw a good bull. It is a little different then some Velocity events so you kind of have to go in there with a not really care attitude or who you are going against.”
There are two groups of riders competing in Denver this week. One group rides Monday night and the other will ride on Tuesday. A minimum of 30 riders will then compete in Wednesday’s long round. Ten riders will advance to the championship round based on their combined ride scores.
The winner of this week’s Velocity Tour event will receive an exemption to compete at the next PBR Major – Iron Cowboy. The winner of Iron Cowboy on Feb. 18 will take home at least $100,000.
“You then get that invite to the BFTS too,” Kolbaba said. “It gets your confidence high and gives you that mental edge.”
Kolbaba is competing in Denver on Tuesday, while Davis is unable to ride in Denver because of a prior commitment.
The Walla Walla, Washington, bull rider ended a streak of 24 consecutive BFTS buckoffs this weekend in New York with an 86.5-point ride on Grave Digger. He finished the season-opener tied for 11th place.
Kolbaba has no qualms about following in Davis’ footsteps and winning the world title in 2017.
“That is the goal,” he concluded. “That sounds great to me. That is what we are here for. We just need to take it one bull at a time and get it knocked out there and we are good.
Follow Justin Felisko on Twitter @jfelisko
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