PUEBLO, Colo. ― Fans of professional bull riding will have their eyes and focus set on Decatur, Texas, on May 31, when J.B. Mauney squares off against J.W. Harris at J.W. Hart’s PBR Challenge in a winner-take-all $25,000 challenge.
It is simply one of the most-anticipated summer showdowns in recent PBR history. The event can be seen exclusively on PBR LIVE here.
However, Mauney and Harris are both quick to say that the marquee matchup of champions is less about them and more about the two champion bulls – Shepherd Hills Tested and Asteroid — that they will be attempting to conquer.
“I don’t look at it as a match between me and him,” Mauney said. “He has a job to do and that is to ride Tested and I have a job.”
Harris had almost a nearly identical response.
“I don’t look at it as me going against J.B.,” he said. “I am going against Tested and J.B. is going against Asteroid.
“Shoot, I hope we both stay on our bulls.”
But is that really likely?
Asteroid, the 2012 PBR World Champion Bull, will enter Decatur having bucked off 24 consecutive riders at Built Ford Tough Series events and Shepherd Hills Tested, the reigning PRCA Bull of the Year, will leave the bucking chutes having been ridden only twice in his last 35 BFTS outs.
Asteroid has been marked an average of 45.81 points in 45 career BFTS outs, while Shepherd Hills Tested has been marked an average of 44.68 points in 38 outs, according to probullstats.com.
Both bulls are in contention for the World Champion Bull title this season and have proven to be two of the rankest bulls in the PBR. Shepherd Hills Tested has bucked off eight riders this year, but was ridden by Kasey Hayes for 91.5 points in Colorado Springs, Colorado, and Asteroid has taken care of three riders in limited action.
The more likely result at the Touring Pro Division event may be that both championship-caliber riders end up lying flat on their backs in Decatur with the two bulls reigning supreme.
It is not a knock against the talented Mauney and Harris, but more of a tip of the hat to the two bovine athletes.
Mauney has successfully ridden Shepherd Hills Tested twice in six attempts and conquered Asteroid once in three tries.
Harris has yet to attempt either bovine.
Both riders agreed that out of the two bulls, right now, they would prefer to take on Asteroid, despite the bull’s proven track record.
“I’m not going to lie,” Mauney said. “I was glad to draw Asteroid out of the two.”
Mauney was the last man to cover Asteroid, when he made the 8-second mark in San Antonio at a 2012 BFTS event for 93.5 points. During that out, Asteroid bucked, swung and spun all he could to try and toss off the Mooresville, N.C., native by riding him up over the front end to no avail.
“Asteroid has a lot more up and down to him, a lot more kick,” Mauney said. “They’re both rank in different ways. It is harder to stay forward on Tested then it is on Asteroid. Asteroid kind of kicks and sits you where you need to be.”
Harris believes Asteroid’s bucking style can potentially help a rider.
“Truth be told, he would be the one to have,” Harris said. “That bull has a lot of kick and bucks hard and he kind of helps you ride him.”
Asteroid is also coming off a close-call with Silvano Alves during the Rumble in the Rockies in Colorado Springs, in which the two-time World Champion nearly rode him before getting bucked off at the 7-second mark. It was only the second time in his last 24 BFTS outs that a rider surpassed the 5-second mark.
Although, that same weekend, Shepherd Hills Tested couldn’t escape defeat and was ridden by Hayes for 91.5 points inside the Broadmoor World Arena. Hayes was able to hold on around the five-second mark when Tested tried to shake him loose with a large leap that normally takes care of most riders.
“Shepherd Hills Tested is one of the rankest bulls in the PBR, and I knew that,” Hayes said. “I knew J.B. was the only guy to ride him twice, and I knew if I wanted to get by him, I would have to put out a lot of try and be on my A game and definitely do everything right, or I was possibly going to get my head knocked off.”
Hayes had attempted Asteroid in September 2011 in Milwaukee and was bucked off in 5.24 seconds. The Liberal, Kansas, native explained that what makes Asteroid so tough is that he “kicks straight over his head” and can turn back to the left really hard.
After facing two of the PBR’s rankest bulls, he believes the matchup between Harris and Mauney may just come down to who doesn’t make the slightest mistake.
“They are both phenomenal riders,” Hayes said. “I would say whoever stubs their toe is going to lose. I hope they both ride their bulls and whoever gets the highest score wins.”
Harris is confident about his matchup against Shepherd Hills Tested.
“I think he will fit me,” he said. “I tend to ride bulls better away from my hand than I do into my hand. Shoot, I like getting on the bulls that (riders) just don’t ride.”
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It won’t be easy, and you can be rest assured that Shepherd Hills Tested is still not happy with the fact that Hayes made 8 seconds aboard him.
At Last Cowboy Standing, the bovine made sure to prove that he wasn’t going to let Hayes’ performance haunt him by bucking off Renato Nunes in 5.92 seconds.
It’s the kind of rebound performance that demonstrates a bull’s psyche, says stock contractor and hauler H.D. Page.
“When you get beat, and you have that desire to win, it pisses you off,” Page said. “I am sure he felt like he didn’t do his job. He knew he got beat and the next week he was coming.”
After Mauney rode him in McAlester, Oklahoma, last October, Shepherd Hills Tested bucked off Josh Koschel and Trey Benton at the National Finals Rodeo on the way to earning his PRCA championship.
In 2012, following Mauney’s 92.5-point ride on him in Springfield, Missouri, the then 3-year-old bull came right back the next week and bucked off Brant Atwood at a rodeo in Oklahoma City and received a bull score of 46.5 points.
Atwood remembers many riders passing on the opportunity to attempt the bull after Mauney’s monster ride the week prior.
Still, Atwood wanted a chance to see if he could duplicate Mauney’s success.
He could not.
“He shot out about 20 feet and he just had me on the end of my arm in that first jump, and he was around that left and left me sitting there on the ground,” Atwood recalled.
“Some bulls, when they get beat, they get their feelings hurt, others strive to get better,” Page said. “That is what separates the great ones from the average ones.”
Atwood said it was a similar buckoff to when Asteroid, who Atwood called one of the strongest bulls he had ever been on, took care of him in 3.36 seconds at the BFTS event in Thackerville, Oklahoma, last August.
“They are both famous athletes and they both have a huge heart and a desire to win,” Page said. “When you are looking at those caliber bulls day in and day out, one is going to be better one day and the other the next.”
Ten days from now, the safest bet may be to simply flip a coin to see which bull or rider will come out on top.
“When those four athletes are on top of their game, they are hard to beat,” Page concluded. “It will be interesting to see how it plays out.”
Follow Justin Felisko on Twitter @jfelisko
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