PUEBLO, Colo. – With five days remaining until the Built Ford Tough Series resumes in Tulsa, Oklahoma, PBR.com will take a look at the Top 5 riders in the world standings before the stretch run to the 2014 Built Ford Tough World Finals officially begins.
Today, we look at 2004 World Champion Mike Lee, who is currently fifth in the world standings.
FIRST HALF RECAP: Lee finished the first half ranked fifth in the world standings with 22 qualified rides, a riding percentage of 44 percent and positioned himself for his best season since finishing fifth in the world in 2010. His five Top-5 finishes and seven Top-10’s this year have already surpassed his totals from 2013. He competed in 16 of the 18 BFTS events this year and missed the events in Albuquerque, New Mexico, and Fresno, California, because of a torn right meniscus that he had arthroscopic surgery to repair in March. Lee spent three consecutive weeks in the No. 1 spot in the world in January and four times overall this season. However, he has yet to win an event, round or 15/15 Bucking Battle so far.
BEST FIRST HALF PERFORMANCE: The 31-year-old posted third-place finishes in Oklahoma City and St. Louis, Missouri, in January and February. In St. Louis, Lee rode I’m a Gangster Too for 88.5 points and Who Dat for 87.5 points. The third-place performance in St. Louis pushed him back into the No. 1 spot in the world for one more week. Lee went 3-for-4 in Oklahoma City, which was highlighted by his 86.75-point ride on After Party.
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FIRST HALF TOP RIDE: 89.25 points on Who Dey at the Dr Pepper Iron Cowboy V.
SUMMER LOVING: Lee has been a man on a mission during the three-month break away from the BFTS and has competed at multiple Touring Pro Division events across the United States. He has been able to slash Guilherme Marchi’s lead in the world standings in half and trails the No. 1 bull rider by just 1,078 points.
Lee has made up for a lack of victories and bonus points on the BFTS by entering, double-entering and sometimes even triple entering at these summer events. He won four TPD events and even claimed first, second and third at the Lancaster, California, Touring Pro Division event. He also won the J.W. Hart PBR Challenge in Decatur, Texas, and the Jeff Robinson Invitational in Asheville, North Carolina, to notch a $15,000 bonus along with the event winnings.
Hart came away impressed with Lee, who rode Bruiser for 91 points and also took home first and second place. Additionally, he was in attendance when Lee nearly rode Bushwacker at the Salinas, California, Touring Pro Division event in July.
“I ain’t real sure Mike Lee ain’t the guy to watch,” Hart said. “He has been on fire (during) this summer run and he seems to be in shape and he is getting on three, four, five bulls at each bull riding, and I think he may have the stamina to beat them.”
Nine-time World Champion Ty Murray said, “He craves getting on bulls and that’s how you need to be. Mike Lee is a guy that rides bulls because he likes to ride bulls. He is a veteran you don’t ever count out and when he gets on a roll he is about as solid as anybody going.”
Two-time World Champion Justin McBride said that even though Lee’s summer success has come on the TPD level against lesser competition at times, you can’t take away the overall success he has earned.
“He has cut that lead in half over the summer, but the thing about going to Touring Pros is you are not going against all of the guys when you’re at that particular event and the bulls are watered down to an extent,” he said. “Some of the bulls are pretty juicy, but the majority of the bulls are a little bit less, but he is riding great too and there is no denying it.”
DURABILITY: After pushing himself throughout the three-month summer break, one can only wonder if Lee’s body can stay healthy enough to remain in contention. Though if history is any sign of things to come then Lee may be in good shape. He has competed in 20 or more BFTS events in 12 of his 13 years on tour.
Murray was quick to credit Lee’s sturdiness as a veteran bull rider.
“He is a very durable guy,” Murray said. “He is a guy that stays in great shape. He is naturally in great shape and is naturally built to be a bull rider.”
Hart said it could go either way after a long summer of getting on bulls.
“There is always that catch-22. The more times you do it, the greater the odds are of getting hurt,” he said. “It’s a gamble you have to be willing to take and as of right now it has paid off.”
McBride saw firsthand in Bismarck, North Dakota, Lee’s fearlessness and relentless commitment to getting on multiple bulls.
“I think at times he is his own worst enemy,” McBride added. “I’d seen him over the break in Bismarck get drug around, stomped around. He is not going to quit on that. I think health is a major issue for him. For Mike, the key is going to be staying healthy.”
Regardless, all three former bull riders and commentators believe Lee has put himself in a great position for the second half, and Hart says that Lee’s desire to get on multiple bulls may give him an added advantage come World Finals.
“His stamina runs deep,” Hart concluded. “He is one of those guys that can get on four or five of them and then ride David’s Dream or one of them rank bulls and that could be a big factor coming into Las Vegas.”
Follow Justin Felisko on Twitter @jfelisko.
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