When Mooresville native J.B. Mauney joined the Professional Bull Riders Tour in 2006, he was a little star-struck.
“It kinda hits you all at once,” Mauney said. “I was like, ‘Holy cow, here I am with guys that I watched on TV my entire life and looked up to them; now I’m out here riding bulls with them.’
“It takes you a while to get the confidence and everything, but once you figure out you can ride and compete with those guys, that’s when things all turn around.”
Nine years later, it’s Mauney who’s now the star.
The 28-year-old Mauney won his second career PBR Tour world championship in the past three years last month, and became the tour’s all-time money winner.
“It’ll never take the place of the first one, but it’s right there at it, I promise you that,” said Mauney, whose first PBR world title came in 2013.
Mauney clinched his second world title Oct. 24 even before making his ride during the fourth round of the PBR World Finals in Las Vegas.
But Mauney, bidding to win the PBR World Finals for the third time, rode anyway – and posted a 92.75-point ride atop Bruiser, one of pro bull riding’s top steers.
It was Mauney’s tour-leading eighth 90-point ride this season, and the 64th of his career, third-most in PBR Tour history.
“I’ve always said if you’re going to be the best, you’ve got to ride the best,” Mauney said. “Saying that is one thing, but then you have to back it up.
“I don’t mean for it to sound cocky, but I’m a 140-pound guy matched up against an 1,800-pound bull. You better be confident you can ride that son of a gun. If you’re not, then you might as well not get on him.”
Yet thinking about winning the title was the furthest thing from Mauney’s mind earlier this season. A torn ACL and MCL in his left knee forced him to miss five events, and left Mauney more than 1,600 points behind.
“That’s the first time I actually really worked at getting back healthy to ride bulls,” Mauney said. “In the past, I was hard-headed and just pushed through the pain. But I’m getting a little older and a little smarter.
“I took a month off, opted not to have surgery and worked at it really hard – I went to physical therapy twice a week. It feels good now, like there’s hardly anything wrong with it, but I do have to wear a knee brace.”
Mauney went on to win four events this past season, making up the lost ground and more – he finished 2,082.5 points ahead of second-place Kaique Pacheco, one of the biggest margins in PBR Tour history.
While Mauney may consider his first PBR Tour championship more special, this year’s title win may be more memorable and more historic.
For starters, Mauney became just the fifth rider in PBR Tour history to win more than one world title – the other four are Adriano Moraes, Silvano Alves, Justin McBride and Chris Shivers.
“Yeah, it’s a good group of guys to be in,” Mauney said. “I grew up watching pretty much all of them, and to be compared to them, I guess I’ve done my part riding the bulls.”
The $1 million bonus for winning the PBR title raised Mauney’s season earnings to $1,540,942. That, in turn, upped his career earnings to just over $6.7 million – pro bull riding’s first “$6 million man.”
“I want everyone to remember me as one of the best bull riders ever,” Mauney said. “You’ve got to have that mentality if you want to be the best, because it’s a competitive sport. Not everybody get a trophy in this sport.”
As for how much longer Mauney intends to pit himself against bulls that are 12 to 15 times his body weight, he said it depends on how competitive he feels he is – and how healthy he remains.
Injuries are a constant in a sport where the bulls average 1,500 pounds to 1,600 pounds. In addition to the knee injury, Mauney has a plate in his left hand, has suffered a broken jaw, ribs and leg, and will likely need surgery on his hip and elbow after he retires.
“That’s the hard part about riding bulls – trying to stay somewhat healthy,” said Mauney, who also suffered a sprained sternoclavicular joint (where the collarbone connects to the clavicle) during his World Finals ride on Bruiser. “It takes a toll on your body. Your body gives out before your mind does in bull riding. You can only take so many beatings for so many years, and finally you can’t take anymore.
“People always ask me when I’m going to retire, and I always tell them one of two things will happen – I’ll show up and think there are bulls there that can throw me off, or my body will give out. Either one of those two things happen, and they’ll never see me again.”
Bill Kiser is a freelance writer: firstname.lastname@example.org.