OKLAHOMA CITY ― J.B. Mauney looked across the shark cage and smiled as his stone-faced brother-in-law Shane Proctor made his way down the ramp moments after a one word answer when asked which bull he wanted in the Built Ford Tough Championship Round.
Proctor, whose third pick in the bull draft was one spot ahead of Mauney, left no doubt in the minds of his fellow Top 35 riders, stock contractors and PBR fans inside the Chesapeake Energy Arena that a week after winning in Winston-Salem, N.C., he had the confidence to come from behind for his second win.
Mauney was only kidding when he said, "He stole my glory."
"Yeah, I think Shane went in there and kind of stole J.B.'s thunder," said Kent Cox, who hauls and handles Bushwacker for Julio Moreano and Richard Oliveira. "J.B. was definitely planning on picking him and Shane got to him before he did."
Instead it was Proctor, who has ascended all the way to second in the world standings - one spot behind Silvano Alves and one ahead of Mauney.
Cox had said he was afraid Bushwacker, who won the World Champion Bull title in 2011 and finished second behind Asteroid for the title last year, would be somewhat rusty after being laid off for the past three months following the World Finals.
However, he was anything but rusty.
Bushwacker made quick work of Proctor, bringing him to the ground in 2.48 seconds after his first turn and kick to the left. He was every bit of the 46 points the judges marked him.
It was the 36 consecutive buckoff for Bushwacker at a Built Ford Tough Series event, which is an all-time PBR record.
"I thought he looked pretty sharp and pretty special," Cox said. "He brought his A-game today. I was real proud of him."
Bushwacker has long since established himself as one of the top bulls in PBR history.
His career PBR average score is 45.929 points, and in a rare show of just how spectacular he is with the top-ranked riders, his career average at BFTS event is 46.116 points per out. He's now been the high-marked bull 37 times at BFTS events.
After seeing the way he performed this weekend, Cox confirmed that Bushwacker will compete in St. Louis, Mo., and again in Kansas City as well as Arlington, Texas. He'll keep his prized bull in Missouri the week between St. Louis and Kansas City, said Cox, who added, "Our plan is to get as many outs as we can with as little travel."
Bushwacker behind the chutes in Oklahoma City.
Asteroid competed a week ago in Winston-Salem, N.C., in advance of his two-week trip west for the next two events in Sacramento, Calif., and Anaheim, Calif.
Both Asteroid, who is the reigning World Champion Bull, and Bushwacker are scheduled for the Iron Cowboy Invitational in Arlington, Texas.
WILLINGHAM 'BRINGS IT' IN OKC: Sean Willingham has been around the sport of professional bull riding long enough to know that when he arrived in Oklahoma City he was something of an underdog for everyone, but himself.
However, three days later and his first Built Ford Tough Series event win in two years, and he's among the contenders for a world title.
Willingham, who earned an alternate position after winning a Touring Pro Division event in Austin, Texas, a week earlier, covered three of four bulls to beat out the likes of Agnaldo Cardozo, Proctor, Mauney and Ty Pozzobon for the win.
He was the only rider to cover three bulls.
Willingham, who was born in nearby Norman, Okla., and lived there until he was 5 years old, rode Bring It On in Round 1 for 87.5 points followed by Party All the Time for 86 points in Round 2 and then impressed two-time World Champion Justin McBride, who gave him little chance in Round 3, when he commandeered Rockie Smooth for 87 points and a one bull advantage over the rest of the competition.
"I was going to those Touring Pro (Division events) and getting my confidence up," said Willingham, who had been faring well of late as he awaited his opportunity.
To say that he took advantage of the moment would be an understatement.
"In my mind, I was riding at the top of my level, my A-game," he said, "and I brought it this weekend."
Willingham had last ridden at a BFTS event in March 2012 when he was cut from the tour following the event in Glendale, Ariz.
He had ridden only 5 of 25 bulls, including a buckoff streak of 12 in a row at one point. His hand and wrist were injured, and from the standpoint of a professional athlete, he was overweight. As result, he was cut from the BFTS for the first time since debuting 10 years earlier in 2003.
This weekend, he spoke with McBride and told him he felt as though he was finally down to fighting weight ― 165 pounds ― and felt like he could compete with the younger riders. The 31-year-old ― he turns 32 in May ― said riders need to be agile and quick on their feet to have any chance of consistently riding BFTS-caliber bulls.
"I'll go home now and get back in the gym on Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday," Willingham said, "and get ready for the weekend."
Willingham added that he feels his latest win ― he's won six previous times ― made a bold statement that, "I'm not too old."
It's been a long, grueling 10 months back.
In addition to recovering and rehabbing from injuries, he felt frustrated last summer when he was riding bulls at TPD events, but not placing high enough in the average to win a check. While he was confident in making the whistle, he was discouraged with his lack of winnings.
This year, the new point system rewards riders like Willingham, who are making the whistle.
Twenty-five percent of the points earned at TPD and international events are carried over to the world standings. Prior to the Oklahoma City event, Willingham had already ridden his way into the Top 35 and had his eye on Anaheim, Calif., but got a head start after winning the Austin event.
In recent years, he's played catch up early on.
At the start of the season, his goal was to get back on the BFTS. However, now that he's ranked sixth in the world he's already re-evaluated the situation.
"Everything has changed," Willingham said, "for the good, though.
"This is where I belong and this is where I want to be as a bull rider and I'm just thankful to be back."
INJURY UPDATE: Although the sports medicine staff was busy treating a laundry list of existing injuries, only two new significant injuries were reported this weekend. Jared Farley suffered a concussion on Friday and missed the remainder of the event. He is questionable for next week. Luke Snyder aggravated his sciatica nerve on Friday, but was able to continue competing on Saturday and Sunday. Snyder initially had trouble with his lower back and legs. However, the muscles loosened up after receiving treatment Friday night and again on Saturday.
THIS, THAT & THE OTHER: Saturday night, prior to Round 2 of this weekend's event, Guilherme Marchi admitted that he was beginning to feel as though he was "clamping down too hard." That's a term riders use when they essentially feel as though they're trying too hard. Marchi had bucked off seven in a row ― a first in his PBR career ― and was becoming frustrated, so just as he climbed into the chute Pure PBR viewers would have heard bullfighter Shorty Gorham walk up to the front and reminded him to "loosen up." Marchi rode Strokin for 85 points and then in Round 3 he covered Push It for another 85 points. On Saturday, he patted Gorham on the back and said, "Thank you."
Austin Meier, a mainstay among world title contenders for the past four season, is currently ranked 59th in the world standings. The Oklahoma rider has had issues with his bull rope all season. He competed in New York and Chicago with a new rope before switching back to his worn out rope because he felt the handle was braided too tight. He used the old rope in Winston-Salem, N.C., and Oklahoma City, but had another new rope delivered this weekend. He said he'll work on breaking it in this week with the intention of using it next weekend in Sacramento, Calif. Meier has used a Brazilian style rope since he was 14 years old.
Friday night, after bucking off Shepherd Hills Tested at 5 seconds, Jory Markiss shook his finger and proclaimed that next time they met up he would spur him. Markiss matched up with Tested on Friday as a bonus bull for winning the opening round in Oklahoma City. Two days later they met up again in the Championship Round and the result was more of the same. Markiss didn't have any chance to spur him on Sunday. In fact, he came down off last year's ABBI Classic bull champion in 2.6 seconds.
L.J. Jenkins, who is recovering from a dislocated right shoulder and is expected to return to competition next week in Sacramento, Calif., was in Oklahoma City as a stock contractor. Friday night he had a bull ― Maximus ― competing in the ABBI Classic competition. He bucked off Mike Lee and finished fifth in the competition for 3- and 4-year-old bulls. Afterward Jenkins said, "That right there is more stressful than getting on Asteroid for the world title." Asked how that could even compare to getting on the World Champion Bull for a chance to win $1 million bonus and the gold buckle of a World Champion, Jenkins replied, "Because I don't want him to run off."
Given the longstanding tradition of bull riding in the state of Oklahoma, it was no surprise to see bull riding royalty in attendance. On Sunday afternoon, Sharon Shoulders was on hand to watch the conclusion of the event. She is, of course, the widow of bull riding legend Jim Shoulders and the namesake of the annual Sharon Shoulders Award. Also in attendance were Elsie and Clyde Frost, the parents of the late Lane Frost. Lane was inducted into the PBR Ring of Honor in 1999.
WHITE ANNOUNCES DATES: Mike White, who was inducted in the PBR Ring of Honor this past October, has announced the dates for his annual pasture roping and bull riding event, which will take place March 29 and 30. This year's event will take place in Texarkana, Ark.
The bull riding event, which is sanctioned by the PBR as an official Touring Pro Division event for the first time, is set for Friday night and will be preceded by an all-girls roping competition that day. The pasture roping will take place from sun up to sundown on Saturday and will feature upwards of 400 roping teams. All proceeds will benefit the Ropin Dreams charity.
For more information, log onto www.mwroping.com or search "Mike White's Annual Pasture Roping and Bull Riding" on Facebook.
Follow Keith Ryan Cartwright on Twitter @PBR_KRC.
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