Better than two decades have passed since twenty bull riders broke away from the Professional Rodeo Cowboys Association (PRCA) to form the Professional Bull Riders (PBR). While no one can argue the impact on the sport of bull riding, there has been no end to the argument over which organization has the best bull riders. The argument has only been fueled with the announcement of the 100 Miles from Home Challenge at the J.W. Hart PBR Challenge, a winner-take-all match up between the reigning PBR World Champion J.B. Mauney and the reigning PRCA World Champion J.W. Harris.
The 'Bout Time match will be held during Hart's annual PBR Touring Pro Division event May 31, 2014 beginning at 8 p.m. CT in Decatur, Texas. PBR Live will present complete live streaming coverage of the event. The winner of the match wins $25,000.
“There has always been, I don’t want to say a rivalry between the PRCA and the PBR, because I don’t think neither one of the organizations has made it a rivalry," says Hart, the man behind the match. "I think the fans and the media have kind of made a rivalry of the two."
Unlike today, PRCA bull riders and PBR bull riders were essentially the same guys in the earliest years of the PBR, and a few matches in the early days drew interest from fans but those events fell off in the last decade. Then, in March, the PBR offered a three event exemption to Harris, drawing the four-time PRCA champion across to compete on the PBR's lucrative Built Ford Tough series. Harris earned a pair of top ten finishes, earning enough points to solidify his position on tour.
"I think if it had been any other guy I probably wouldn't of pursued it, but I think he is the guy that can compose himself with a guy on the PBR side. I think he is one of the only guys I've seen that rode good enough and I thought could really stand up against the best guys and against the best bulls in the world," says Hart of Harris.
“In Decatur, we are always looking at doing something to sell tickets, of course, and I think with J.W. coming across this year and him being the reigning World Champion in the PRCA and J.B. being the reigning champ of the PBR it was a no brainer that to give the fans what they want to see and that’s to see those two guys go head-to-head.”
Adding to the excitement of the match is the level of talent being brought in the bull pen. Mauney will match wits with Asteroid, the 2012 PBR World Champion Bull, currently ranked third with 24 consecutive buck-offs and a career average of 45.81 points per out. Harris fares no better, facing reigning PRCA Bull of the Year, Shepherd Hills Tested. Tested has been ridden just twice in his last 35 outs, most recently in May at Colorado Springs when Kasey Hays covered him for 91.5 points. Tested earns an average of 44.68 points from the judges in each of his outs throughout his career.
“I don’t have a favorite in the deal," continues Hart with a laugh. "I am going to let them guys and the fans to pick and decide because at the end of the day I probably need both of them to hit the ground so I don’t lose $25,000.”
Despite the incredible level of talent in the two riders, that possibility is not unlikely. Though Mauney has covered both bulls in past outs, including a 93.5 point effort against Asteroid back in 2012, the fact is that both cowboys come into the match at less than 100%. Mauney has battled wrist issues and was crushed in his last out at the Last Cowboy Standing in Las Vegas when his bull, Western Hauler, fell on him. Harris broke his foot in the previous event in Colorado Springs.
In typical bull rider fashion, both riders downplay their injuries.
"I shouldn't of been such a big baby," says Mauney. “I haven’t been 100 percent since my bull riding career started. I feel good. I have been riding a bunch of horses and got my hip loosened back up. I guess I am going to start wearing my old elbow brace again.”
“You don’t need a foot to ride a bull,” Harris simply says.
Both champions carry plenty of well-placed confidence, earned on the back of five world titles and better than $5 million in career earnings between them, but both acknowledge the task ahead of them to make eight seconds aboard the second and third ranked bulls in the world.
“Last time I got on Asteroid he threw me over his head, so hopefully it goes a little different this time," says Mauney, noting that he has been aboard the champion bull three times with just one successful ride.
“I don’t change my game plan at all," Mauney says when asked if previous success gives him a mental edge. "I actually don’t pay attention to bulls a whole lot because once you get into that bucking chute you got to have that mentality like you have never seen a bull before because you will try and set a trap for him and when you set a trap you get caught in it. Once I get there and I put my rope on him he is a bull I have never even seen before.”
“You can’t really say there is one easier than the other," he continues, noting that the bulls, while both rank, have very different styles. "Tested has a little more forward movement. He is bigger, stronger. Asteroid has a lot more kick, kicks higher and is a little faster than Tested."
"I am happy with what I got and hopefully we don’t do what I did last time."
Meanwhile, Harris was thrilled to have Shepherd Hills Tested, a bull he has seen at the rodeos for several years but had not yet drawn.
“He is a kind of bull that I have always wanted to get on. I think he kind of fits my style. I ride bulls better away from hand better than I do into my hand.”
“I crave getting on them bulls that nobody else rides and frankly, nobody else wants to get on," says Harris. "That is why you ride bulls, to ride them unrideables.”
The match will be held at the Wise County Sheriff's Posse Arena, an outdoor venue. While Harris is very accustomed to competing outside at the rodeos, nearly all PBR Built Ford Tough series events are held indoors. Neither cowboy felt the venue would be an advantage or disadvantage and clearly Mauney has had success outdoors including a pair of wins at the Calgary Stampede. What affect, if any, the heat and humidity will have on the riders, their ropes and the bulls remains to be seen.
Despite the media build-up--and resulting social media debates--neither champion views the match as one against another nor as one organization against the other.
“It ain’t really we are pitted against each other," says Mauney. "I have a job to do when I get there and he has a job to do. It ain’t like we have the easiest bulls to get on. We have a tough road ahead of us. Each one of us, to ride either one of them bulls, but it just adds some excitement. We still have to ride the bull we have to get on and then the scores will fall into place.”
“J.W. rides rank bulls. I have watched him for a long time going to the NFR,” says Mauney. “He has a gold buckle around his waist for a reason and I do too. The fans want to see it, so you give the fans what they want. J.W. Hart called me and he offered $25,000 to the winner. One bull for $25,000? I’m in.”
“It’s not that I am going against J.B.," Harris agrees, noting that he sees himself as a bull rider, not a representative of either organization. "It’s going to be another bull, another day. We always compete against the bull and I hope J.B. rides his bull and I ride my bull. We’ll let the judges sort it out after that.”
“I guess really the whole headline of it is me versus J.B., but that is what people want to see and so that’s what they are going to get. But, it’s not me going against J.B. I can’t control anything he does. He has to go out and control his own destiny and I control mine.”
No matter the outcome of Saturday's match, the debate will likely continue for years to come. For their part, the riders say it's just another bull riding.
"The rules are the same; ride eight seconds and get off," says Mauney.
"You've just got to keep a leg on each side, your hand in the rope and hang on for eight," agrees Harris. "It's the same every time."
The winners are the fans, who get to witness a historic match-up not only between champion riders but between champion riders and champion bulls, and the charities who benefit from the J.W. Hart PBR Challenge.
In fifteen years, event organizers WC Challenger Charities has helped raise more than $700,000 for local charities. The group has also donated five houses in the last year to wounded veterans including two that will be given away during the 2014 event.
“If that is what the fans want and enjoy and we will do something every year to make it special, that is one thing we will guarantee. Whether it be a match between the PBR and the PRCA or the PBR world champ and the PBR champion bull we will do something, we will do something big,” Hart promises.