NEW YORK – Matt Triplett had a big check mark on his calendar this past offseason for Jan. 4.
The PBR’s Unleash The Beast was kicking off once again in New York City, and Triplett could not have been more excited to be returning to Madison Square Garden after having to miss the prestigious PBR Major last year while recovering from offseason left shoulder surgery.
Triplett, though, was composed and poised in New York this past weekend. The continuously-maturing Triplett showed he is ready to make a return to the Top-10 of the world standings in 2019.
The 27-year-old began the 2019 season with a 3-for-4 and fifth-place performance at the Monster Energy Buck Off at The Garden, presented by Ariat, this past weekend.
The Columbia Falls, Montana, bull rider bounced back from his Round 2 buckoff against Rough & Ready (2.02 seconds) to make the 8-second mark aboard Pennsylvania Bandit (86.5 points) and Wicked Hou (88.75 points) on Sunday afternoon.
“I didn’t know that bull at all,” Triplett said of Wicked Hou. “That is what I need to start doing. Picking bulls I don’t know. That way I don’t make stupid mistakes and set a trap for anything. It is really nice to just get on a bull you know nothing about so you can just do your job and not think about anything.”
Triplett began New York with 86.25 points on Bone Tomahawk. All three of his qualified rides inside Madison Square Garden resulted in fourth-place finishes in the round.
He also nearly rode Peep Show in the 15/15 Bucking Battle but came down in 7.42 seconds.
Earlier in his career, Triplett would struggle at times with a mid-event buckoff.
Triplett’s championship round ride was the latest capitalization of the evidence building toward his return to the world title conversation.
Triplett finished third in the 2014 title race and then fifth the next year before an onslaught of injuries, including two reconstructive left shoulder surgeries in three years and a surgery on his riding elbow after the 2015 World Finals, derailed his gold buckle journey.
After missing the first four months of the 2018 premier series because of offseason left shoulder surgery, which forced him to miss the inaugural Global Cup event in Edmonton, Triplett returned last year to post the highest-riding percentage of his career.
Triplett went 16-for-33 (48.48 percent) with a victory, three Top-5 finishes and seven Top-10s in 11 premier series events.
He concluded 2018 ranked 13th in the world standings.
“It is the best I ever rode,” Triplett said. “A lot of it has to do with the different training deals I have done. Just staying hungry and knowing that I could actually get that world title if I stay healthy.”
Two-time World Champion Justin McBride announced last week that he selected Triplett to ride for him at the upcoming 2019 WinStar World Casino& Resort Global Cup USA on Feb. 9-10.
“He had flashes of being really good,” McBride said before New York. “Triplett really hasn’t hit his full potential yet. I think he has been a little bit of an underachiever for what he can do. I know he has had some major injuries and that has been a big cause of it.
“Triplett is supposed to be a Top 5 guy.”
Triplett believes his trials and tribulations the last few years have helped him become a much stronger bull rider.
He is better suited to handle the choppy waters he will encounter in 2019.
“Oh yeah. I look at it as a positive,” Triplett said. “The surgeries and everything. It has been up and down. It has been a rollercoaster ride my whole career. So now being thrown those different curveballs, I will be able to react a lot better to what is thrown at me instead of it being an all of a sudden a new thing in my life. I will just be able to react different and be able to keep moving forward. If I don’t do good one weekend, I know I can redeem myself another weekend and keep rolling.”
Triplett joins 2017 World Champion Jess Lockwood, 2016 World Champion Cooper Davis, 2012 PRCA champion Cody Teel, Cody Nance, Chase Outlaw, Derek Kolbaba and two-time World Champion J.B. Mauney (alternate) on the squad.
This will be his second stint on Team USA. Triplett rode both of his bulls at the Sydney Global Cup in June.
“Heck I am pumped,” Triplett said. “It doesn’t get any better than that. I definitely wanted to be there to defend the home soil, especially due to the fact the last time I was on the team we didn’t get that W. We are going to be coming in with one of the stronger teams the USA has ever seen. It will be a fun experience and a fun team.”
Triplett, 27, is the third oldest rider on Team USA behind 31-year-olds Cody Nance and J.B. Mauney.
McBride noticed last year that Triplett was evolving into a well-rounded rider in multiple areas.
“It is different for every guy, but there is a point in their career where their mind catches up to their body,” McBride said. “It is a short time because once their mind gets there, their body starts leaving. Hopefully they intersect for a while before the body starts going and I think Triplett is there right now. He has always had the ability.
“There are certain bulls that fit him better because of his riding style, but he doesn’t have to be able to ride every bull. If he can ride 50 percent of them, he is going to be in the hunt. That is just the way it is in this era. Fifty percent puts you in the hunt. If he can ride in the mid-50s, there is a good chance he is the World Champion.”
Triplett left New York with 225 world points, and he heads into the Chicago Invitational ranked 10th in the world standings.
Fans can watch Round 1 of the Chicago Invitational on RidePass at 7:45 p.m. ET and on CBS Sports Network at 10 p.m. ET.
He trails Lockwood – the world No. 1 bull rider – by 752.5 points.
“Everyone looks forward to New York,” Triplett said. “To start the year with a Major and jump ahead is always good.”
Follow Justin Felisko on Twitter @jfelisko
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