LAS VEGAS – In his first World Finals as the world No. 1 bull rider, Derek Kolbaba answered the call in a big way during Round 1 of the PBR Built Ford Tough World Finals.
Just minutes after his best friend on tour, and No. 3 ranked bull rider, Jess Lockwood set the tone with 90.25 points on Big Dutch and 2016 World Champion and No. 4 Cooper Davis rode Power Plant for 85.25 points, Kolbaba said to the fellow world title contenders to back off.
Kolbaba rode RJ for 87.75 points to finish Round 1 in third place (125 world points) and remain in the No. 1 ranking heading into Round 2 on Thursday evening.
The 21-year-old leads No. 2 Eduardo Aparecido, who was the only rider to buck off in the Top-4 of the world standings, by 252.5 points.
“It is huge,” Kolbaba said. “This is the first stretch. You have to go at it as one more bull. One more bull.”
Kolbaba said seeing Lockwood – the Round 1 winner – and Davis pick up qualified scores only fired him up rather than put any pressure on his shoulders.
“Oh yeah, watching your buddies ride like that fires you up,” Kolbaba said. “Watching Jess go 90 is just something you feed off. Whether it is him or me, we are happy for each other.”
After Lockwood rode, he made sure to make his way up to Kolbaba to tell him to go be 91.
It wasn’t 91, but the third-place finish was important not just for the world title race, but also for Kolbaba’s confidence.
Kolbaba and Lockwood both went 0-for-5 in T-Mobile Arena last year and Kolbaba began this year’s World Finals 1-for-11 in his first two trips to the PBR’s largest event of the year.
“Vegas is huge,” Kolbaba said. “That is what it comes down to. Showing up here and doing your job.”
Lockwood agreed getting that goose egg from last year off his back was important, even though he admitted earlier in the week that he had moved on from last year’s disappointment long ago.
“Heck, just breaking the ice especially on the first one,” Lockwood said. “Winning the round and being 90 gets no better than that. That is the best way to start it off.”
Lockwood’s ride on Wednesday started roughly with Big Dutch giving the Volborg, Montana, bull rider fits inside the bucking chute. If not for Brennon Eldred giving him a strong spot, Lockwood’s face could have easily been smashed into the front panels.
“He bucked harder in there than out in the arena,” Lockwood said. “I knew that bull was going to be terrible in the chute, but as soon as you nod, he is just going to be awesome. I was going to do whatever it takes to get out on him. He was just great.”
Lockwood moved up to No. 3 in the world standings and is only 277.5 points behind Kolbaba.
Meanwhile, Davis showed nerves of steel standing one chute to the right of Lockwood and looking down onto the dirt as Lockwood threw his helmet into the air in jubilation following his qualified ride.
The Jasper, Texas, cowboy then put his mouthpiece in and went to work on Power Plant.
“It is important to get the first, second, third, fourth, fifth and sixth one down,” Davis said. “That is the start to the week and what we needed.”
Davis finished the round in 11th place for no world points and is 284.17 points behind Kolbaba.
The 2015 World Finals event winner went 4-for-6 at the Finals the last two seasons.
This year he believes he has to be perfect if he wants to leave T-Mobile Arena as the World Champion again.
“Absolutely,” Davis said. “That is what it is going to come down to.”
Davis heads into Round 2 284.17 points behind Kolbaba.
The Top-4 riders are separated by less than 285 points. No. 5 Kaique Pacheco (-602.5) and No. 6 Chase Outlaw (-1,245.84) bucked off in Round 1, but remain very much in world title contention.
Aparecido got on three bulls in the final 10 minutes of Round 1.
He was first awarded a re-ride attempting to ride Striker. He then accepted a second re-ride after riding Cooper’s Comet for 77.25 points.
The 27-year-old decided to accept another re-ride after seeing Lockwood, Davis and Kolbaba pick up qualified scores.
The decision didn’t pay off as Fire Rock bucked off Aparecido in 3.84 seconds.
Aparecido took a step back in Round 1, while Davis and Lockwood are one step closer to making history.
A second consecutive championship would make Davis the youngest bull rider in PBR history to win multiple world titles.
Lockwood would become the youngest champion (20 years old) if he follows through in his pursuit of a gold buckle.
The 20-year-old said he may be young and a tad bit inexperienced, but that it don’t matter at this point.
“I am young, but I feel like I am riding good,” he said. “I feel like when I am healthy I am one of the best so I just have to believe that and it will carry where it needs to be.”
ROUND 2 MATCHUPS FOR TOP 4 IN WORLD STANDINGS
Kolbaba vs. Cracker Breaker (6-3, BFTS)
Aparecido vs. Freak of Nature (4-0, BFTS)
Lockwood vs. Breaking Bad (0-0, BFTS)
Davis vs. Smooth Operator (44-3, BFTS)
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