PUEBLO, Colo. – Two-time World Champion J.B. Mauney slid off his riding vest and slouched back in a folding chair inside the locker room at Verizon Arena.
Mauney leaned his head back and let out a grimacing exhale following his 3-for-3 event victory at the Bad Boy Mowdown.
“Finally,” he said before pausing.
An exhausted and exasperated Mauney had replaced the intense, hollering Mauney from 24 hours earlier following his 88.25-point ride on Hou’s Bad News.
“I feel like I’ve been run over by a truck,” he added with another gasp for air. “My leg still hurts like hell. My knee hurts.”
Quite frankly, Mauney’s injuries since his last premier series victory on April 9, 2017, in Billings, Montana, may make him wish he had been hit by a 40-ton 18-wheeler instead.
Mauney has sustained a slew of serious injuries in the 692 days between his two event victories.
July 14, 2017: Extensive right shoulder injury consisting of ligament tears, torn rotator cuff, bicep tendon tears and bone fragments (Calgary Stampede)
Jan. 7, 2018: Torn right groin (New York)
April 8, 2018: Broken T1/T2 in upper back (Sioux Falls, South Dakota)
Jan. 27, 2019: Broken left leg/torn ACL & MCL (Sacramento, California)
This does not include all of the other bumps, bruises and injuries that also come along with being a professional bull rider.
Mauney admitted that there were times during the past two years when he thought he might not experience the thrill of victory again on the premier series, or at all for that matter.
“Physically and mentally, this has been the hardest part of my career,” Mauney said. “I tore pretty much my whole right arm off. I had surgery on it and had to get it back to where I could move it again. Then I tore my groin, broke my back. It seemed like it was a domino effect and it wouldn’t stop.
“Then in Sacramento this year started the same way. I broke my leg and tore my knee up again. I was thinking, ‘Man, I can feel 2020 is going to be my year.’”
Mauney could have very easily never tied fellow two-time World Champion Justin McBride for the most event wins all time (32) and second-most 90-point rides (74) before winning the Bad Boy Mowdown this past weekend.
Even during his victory in Little Rock, it was obvious that Mauney, who decided to take three weeks off after the Oklahoma City Unleash The Beast event to try and heal, is still far from a healthy spring chicken.
He is closer to expired milk than fresh eggs at this point in his career.
Regardless, Mauney, riding with a broken left leg and torn ligaments in his left knee, found another way to prove his doubters wrong. Mauney was first slammed to the ground essentially head first following his 84.25-point ride on Stone Cold Crazy in Round 2 to take over the event lead.
The 32-year-old had to crawl to the back of the bucking chutes before being helped off the dirt by the PBR sports medicine team.
Mauney, though, wiped the dirt off his lips, brushed off his bull rope and got things ready for the championship round.
He even winked when asked if he was OK.
In the championship round, Mauney recorded the 72nd 90-point ride of his career, covering Big Black for 90.75 points before being flung off onto his feet at 8 seconds.
Mauney could not even stand up at first following his winning ride and had to ask for assistance.
No need to be concerned.
Mauney expects to be in pain when he rides nowadays.
He just hopes the pain can be masked with a qualified ride more times than not.
“When I do my job, and my hand is tied in the way it is supposed to be, I am going to be beat up because I am going to hit hard every time,” Mauney said. “You aren’t looking to get off. You are trying to figure out how to stay on every time. When you do that, you are going to end being jerked up underneath them and are going to be hurt.
“You have to be a cowboy. You have to be tough. You have a job to do. No matter how bad you are hurt, you show up and you do it.”
All of the injuries have left Mauney a shell of his future Ring of Honor self in many ways.
Mauney is only 28-for-80 (35 percent) since he earned event win No. 31 in Billings in 2017 with a 94.25-point ride on SweetPro’s Bruiser.
In fact, it is the last World Champion bull Mauney, who has ridden every World Champion Bull since 2007, has successfully covered since then as well.
“I am not blaming it on the injuries, but when you are getting beat up year after year it takes a toll on your mental side of it,” Mauney admitted. “If you made the whistle and you are getting beat up a little bit then it is a whole different story. If you are getting beat all to shit and you aren’t making the whistle, it kind of takes all the fire out of you. You have to keep riding through it and eventually that light switch will flip the other way.”
Now he is tied for two of the most prestigious records in the PBR with a rider he looked up to when he made his debut in 2006.
“It is pretty cool to win that many events, but damn it has took me long enough,” Mauney said. “It is pretty cool because Justin held the most event wins. To be able to put your name in the hat with Justin McBride says something.
“That guy there was tough. Real tough. I watched how he went about things. No matter how bad he was hurting, injuries and things like that, he would come back early and he would say, ‘Shut up. I’m not too hurt to ride.’”
McBride says he eventually he expects Mauney to break his records.
“Nothing surprises me about J.B. at this point,” McBride said. “I have watched him since he was 18. It impresses me, but it doesn’t surprise me. You can see he is still as beat up as he is, but taking a few weeks off he wasn’t getting slammed. He had a little bit of time off.”
2002 World Finals event winner J.W. Hart said on CBS Sports Network that Mauney continues to find ways to thrive in the face of adversity.
“If he has doubters out there, he can prove them wrong any day,” Hart said on CBS Sports Network. “The guy’s got the grit.”
In Little Rock, Mauney earned 545 points toward the world standings and is now ranked No. 9 in the world.
The North Carolina cowboy trails injured world leader Jess Lockwood by 1,474.17 points heading into the U.S. Border Patrol Invitational in Duluth, Georgia.
Fans can watch Round 1 Friday night exclusively on RidePass at 7:30 p.m. ET.
Mauney (524 qualified rides) also has the chance to pass 2004 World Champion Mike Lee (525) for the second-most qualified rides on the premier series this weekend.
Mauney’s health will of course be a subject of conversation in Duluth.
“He can get another event win,” McBride said. “Especially depending on how he will manage his season. He was throwing his head against the wall last month trying to go here, trying to go there, trying to ride with a broke leg, jacked up knee. He is not going to be able to go all the time. He is going to have to try to manage it the best he can. I know he feels like he rides a lot better when he is getting on more, but at the same time, he can’t ride when he gets too beat up.”
Mauney says the plan this week is to keep rehabbing his knee as best he can.
He also expects to show up at the Infinite Energy Center with the same attitude that he had last weekend.
“My knee won’t bend all the way, but it bends far enough,” Mauney said. “I guess I was tired of sitting at home. I have come back wanting it more. I need to come do my job. I hadn’t really done it all year, and I didn’t do it a whole lot last year. I had to get my head out of my ass.
“This sport is all about pride. If you don’t take pride in riding bulls and you are not here to be the baddest son of a bitch going, then there is no point in getting on.”
Follow Justin Felisko on Twitter @jfelisko