TULSA, Okla. – A year ago, J.B. Mauney accomplished the near-impossible when he rode Bushwacker for 95.25 points inside the BOK Center to halt the World Champion Bull’s record of 42 consecutive Built Ford Tough Series buckoffs.
At the time, no one had any clue that Mauney was about to begin the most historic comeback in PBR history to overcome a 3,056-point deficit in the world standings and claim his first world title.
Mauney was quick to point out last year in Las Vegas after winning his first World Championship that there was nothing like conquering the legend.
“Winning this world title means everything to you,” Mauney said, “but the highlight of this year was riding that bull,”
It all goes back to Aug. 17, 2013, in Tulsa, Oklahoma.
SETTING THE SCENE
Prior to arriving in Tulsa, Mauney had talked to his wife, Lexie, about how he was planning on selecting Bushwacker in the Built Ford Tough Championship Round.
“Oh yeah,” Mauney recalled this past Thursday. “Hell, I knew I wanted to get on him when I even came here. We had talked about it before we left to fly out. I just knew all I had to do was get to the short round because they weren’t going to pick him.”
He would begin things at the BOK Center with an 84-point performance on American Gangster in Round 1 and follow that up with 89.25 points aboard Razorbuck in Round 2.
As he made his way to the top of the shark cage in the middle of the arena, Mauney sat second in the event average.
Only one man – Brendon Clark – stood in the way of Mauney and his desired matchup.
Clark selected Showboat.
It’s all Mauney needed to say.
Without blinking an eye the Mooresville, North Carolina, rider leaned in to Brandon Bates and announced his pick to the roar of the crowd.
Mauney vs. Bushwacker take nine was about to happen.
On the other side of Bates stood Clint Adkins.
“Obviously, we didn’t know that day going into the championship round that we were going to see that matchup,” he recalled. “The potential was there, and that is the norm at every Built Ford Tough Series event. You can never tell what fireworks are going to happen.”
BFTS rider Markus Mariluch looked on as Mauney walked toward the shark cage.
“When a man goes up there that confident and picks him – thinking you are going to ride him – you have a better shot. He had rode Asteroid and said it was time to ride that big red.”
Director of Livestock Cody Lambert figured Mauney would select Bushwacker if given the chance.
“I thought he was going to choose him,” Lambert said. “I don’t remember if we talked about it before or anything like that, but I figured he was probably going to choose him because that is the way J.B. goes about it. He is an inspiration to so many bull riders and that is why he is a fan favorite.”
PBR Entertainer Flint Rasmussen remembered watching Mauney a month earlier at the Calgary Stampede when the then 26-year-old bull rider went a perfect 6-for-6 to win the Stampede and its $100,000 bonus for the second time of his career.
Mauney looked infallible in Calgary.
Rasmussen began to wonder, would this be the year?
“If he is going to do this, it is going to start here,” Rasmussen thought. “I really want him to ride, but I don’t know if he can.”
A SPECIAL AURA IN THE AIR
After watching all 13 riders before him buck off, Mauney approached the bucking chute where his nemesis awaited.
Mauney admits he was kind of quiet in the waning moments leading to him nodding his head. He didn’t say a whole lot and was focused on tying his hand in and leaving the gate as soon as possible.
“When you are getting on a caliber bull like that, your motor is running a little more than normal,” Mauney said. “You are a little pumped up. That is where I try to stay calm like it is another bull, but it is hard to do when you are getting on one like that and you know what he is about to do.”
Mauney was near silent and the rest of the BOK Center was boiling in anticipation. The soon-to-be historic moment was growing before the eyes of the unknowing beholder.
Bushwacker was 8-0 against the fan favorite, but something felt different.
Mariluch, who was one of two previous riders to ever make the 8-second whistle on the fierce bovine, had insisted on being the man to pull Mauney’s bull rope.
“I kind of a had a feeling,” Mariluch admits. “There was a feeling in the air that kind of felt like he was going to ride him. It was time. He had been on him so many times. He had been close a bunch of times and I figured this might be the time for him to do it.”
Frank Newsom was positioning himself in the arena, while Mauney was preparing for the ride.
“He had an aura about him when he rode him that day,” Newsom said. “There was no doubt anywhere in his body that he was going to ride him.”
Against the arena fence was longtime PBR photographer Andy Watson, who at the time had shot thousands of PBR rides over the course of the organization’s 20 years. Five years ago, Watson was snapping away when Mike White rode Troubadour in Tulsa for 95.75 points.
The same thought began to echo throughout his mind as Mauney finished up his pre-chute procedure.
“Here we go again, here we go again,” Watson recollected. “He picked him so many times and tried him so many times and you knew he had it in him and he could ride him, but it was getting the right day and the right trip and everything to work out.”
Just before Mauney nodded his head for the gate, Adkins exclaimed to the crowd, “J.B. Mauney, looking to do it tonight! Can he do it?”
HISTORY BEGINS TO UNFOLD
Once that gate flew open, so too did a powerful Bushwacker and within three seconds he had turned back completely towards the chutes where almost every one of Mauney’s fellow bull riders was teetering forward looking on.
Half-a-second later and a thought began to pop into Adkins mind.
“I was like ‘Oh boy, he has a shot at him,” the in-arena announcer said. “You could just see it at that point. Everybody was on pins and needles, but I don’t think I was the only one thinking, ‘Whoa, this is going to happen.’”
Mariluch added, “When he was matching him for the first few jumps, that is mainly when (Bushwacker) gets everybody down. Once he made it through that I was like ‘OK he is going to get him.’
“But you never know with him.”
Photo by Andy Watson / BullStockMedia.com.
Bushwacker next turned to his right with one of his infamous long jumps before trying to thwart Mauney with another elongated jump that nearly shed Mauney off to the side.
Watson normally tries to get his main photo of Bushwacker’s outs during the bovine’s long jump and when he turns back. It is usually a safe bet for Watson to get a good photo in that instance just before a rider is sent flailing to the dirt.
“The guy comes off and he has a real big explosive jump and I can get that in there,” Watson said. “He made that corner and I was waiting for that big explosive one for him to buck him off and (J.B.) was still there.”
Lambert remembers how J.B. wasn’t going to quit in that moment.
“There were finally several big jumps in there and it looked like Bushwacker almost choked him down,” Lambert remembers. “I was hoping J.B. would ride him, but with every jump Bushwacker was getting tougher. When he finally went around to the right and J.B. made the round I thought he was going to ride him.”
Mauney miraculously bounced back on top of Bushwacker in a moment that normally saw so many riders falter. He had repositioned himself on the 2012 World Champion Bull’s back with not much more than two seconds to go.
“He was blowing way up in the air and had me reared back a couple of times,” Mauney said. “I was out of position a few times and I just wouldn’t turn loose.”
Could this finally be it?
“He was getting it done, getting it done and the tension was rising,” Newsom remembered. “He was sitting so good on him, that kind of made the bull confused all during the ride.”
Rasmussen began to jump up and down from the arena dirt.
“I saw what a seat he had and Bushwacker pulls the move where J.B. is clear over to the side and pops back up,” Rasmussen said. “I know it is me in the video going crazy, jumping. I was into it like it was a football game.”
There was pandemonium beginning to build up on the chutes and throughout the BOK Center, as well.
With the roar of the crowd came one last desperate attempt from Bushwacker and he throttled Mauney to the BOK Center floor.
He had not even landed before Adkins was hollering, “Look at this. He’s got it!”
“When I hit the ground and looked up and that clock said 8, I knew I got it,” Mauney recalled. “I jumped up on the bucking chute and I kind of looked up. When I had seen it said 8, that’s when it hit me.
“We finally conquered his ass.”
Photo by Andy Watson / BullStockMedia.com.
Mariluch was with Douglas Duncan on the back of the chutes as all of the riders and stock contractors erupted in celebration.
“We were all hoopin’ and hollering,” Mariluch said. “Me and Douglas were back there and took our hats off and threw them in the air. We were just as pumped as he was because when somebody rides one of these rank bulls, and it is one of your buddies, we all get pumped.”
Lambert said, “I remember my wife jumping up and down and cheering and everybody else doing the same thing.”
Over 1,000 miles west of Tulsa, Julio Moreno was flanking Mr. Feiger, Bushwacker’s half-brother, for Gage Gay at a Touring Pro Division event in Prescott, Arizona.
Just as he was about to reach down he heard the announcer exclaim, “Oh my God, Bushwacker just got rode!”
Moreno at first thought the announcer was messing with him.
“I didn’t even look down to flank the bull and looked up at the announcer and hollered, ‘Hey is that true?’ Kindra then came over and said, ‘Hey I just got a text from Kent (Cox). They rode Bushwacker.”
Julio then asked who rode him and Kindra replied, “J.B.”
“I hope he got 95 or higher,” Moreno responded.
CELEBRATING A MONUMENTAL ACHEIVEMENT
Mauney jumped down off the chutes and was met with an emphatic hug from Cox, who passed away on Feb. 27 and could be heard saying to Mauney, “Great job, buddy.”
From the second Mauney’s knees hit the dirt, Watson continued to take photos in rapid fire. He would sure enough capture the exchange between Mauney and Cox in what has become one of the more symbolic photos of that Tulsa night.
Photo by Andy Watson / BullStockMedia.com.
“It is always fun when those big moments – those big rides – happen and to watch the guys come out and to wonder which guy is going to come out. Are they going to tackle him? Are they going to lift him up?”
In this case, there were hugs, smiles and jubilant exclamations.
After Cox, Mauney made his way to Newsom and hugged the man who has served as a father-like figure to his wife, Lexie.
“That was cool,” Newsom said. “If that was me, I don’t know if I would have enough presence about me to know anything. For him to come over and want to share that moment was cool.”
Rasmussen was next up and Mauney would later give him a signed photo from Tulsa.
“It is a picture of my back and his face hugging me,” Rasmussen explained. “It says, ‘To Flint, thanks for your support.”
A year later and Mauney’s 95.25-point ride still hits home to all of those that were a part of the historic moment.
Rasmussen: “It was the greatest moment of a ride I have ever seen. It just kept going and his performance at World Finals all started right there. To me, that is why it was such a great moment. It started everything. From that point in Tulsa to the last week of October when he rode that white bull in the final round that all ties together.”
Adkins: “I take that ride and I go back and look at some of the memories of the great rides in the PBR that I have seen since 2006 and no doubt about it, it is the No. 1 ride I will remember up to this point. You keep putting Muhammad Ali (Bushwacker) against the hottest young fighter (Mauney) in the world and eventually Muhammad Ali is going to get knocked out.”
Lambert: “It was just one of those cool things that the PBR was about. That is what we always have promised and delivered to our fans. The greatest bull riders in the world riding the greatest bulls in the world and it just confirmed to everybody that you don’t get to see that anywhere else.”
Mariluch: “It was one of the most exciting bull ridings I have ever seen. It runs chills down your spine.”
Moreno: “(Mauney) is the best right now. He gets on these bulls, and it is not just Bushwacker. He will go after the next best bulls and tries them all. His body takes a toll. Either he rides him or he gets thrown hard. His body has taken a toll, but he still keeps coming back for more. That goes to show you what kind of bull rider he is.”
Watson: “It is one of the greatest feats. J.B. is one of our most popular cowboys we have had and Bushwacker is our most popular bull and is as popular as anything in our sport has ever been. It was just a matchup of giants.”
Newsom: “Now that he has rode him, I don’t know if you are supposed to ride that bull twice in your lifetime or not. I won’t ever bet against J.B. It won’t surprise me if he rides him again.”
Follow Justin Felisko on Twitter @jfelisko
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