Fresh from a stint on Broadway, J.B. Mauney and the Professional Bull Riders are in Las Vegas for the 17th annual PBR World Finals, which begin at 6 p.m. today with a new five-day, championship format.
For the first time in five years, the World Finals have been condensed to one five-day run with all competition taking place at the Thomas & Mack Center. The event had been split over two weekends between the Mandalay Bay Events Center and Thomas & Mack until moving all performances to the UNLV campus last year.
The previous format left riders with a three-day break in the middle of the Finals, which determine the season champion and a $1 million bonus.
The change is one that Mauney welcomes.
"This is way better than having a break in the middle," he said. "Now we start it and finish it. It's good if you get on a roll."
That's exactly what Mauney did last year. But so did eventual champion Kody Lostroh.
Mauney, 23, was the hottest rider a year ago when he earned $348,000 and won the Finals event title, but it wasn't enough to catch Lostroh, who has qualified 25th this year after missing 18 of 31 events with injuries.
Last year, Mauney became the first Finals rider to complete all eight of his rides while Lostroh rode 7 of 8 to win the closest ever points race. It was the second straight year Mauney finished runner-up to the champion after placing third in 2007.
Mauney will compete in his fifth straight Finals. He trails points leader Austin Meier of Kinta, Okla., by 241.25 points.
"I'm closer to first place starting out than I was last year, but from my perspective I didn't have a good year," said Mauney, a Mooresville, N.C., native.
A 10-day hospital stay in May after catching a bull horn in the chest from Jawbreaker kept Mauney out of action for six weeks with a collapsed lung. He missed only one event because most of his recovery occurred during a break in the PBR schedule.
"I didn't think anything was wrong," Mauney said of the injury, "until I got back up to my room and could hardly breath."
Mauney was one of the top-10 riders able to warm up for the Finals by competing Saturday in New York City's Times Square, where he finished second to Travis Briscoe.
All riders will compete in the first five rounds before the field is cut to the top-15 who will return for a sixth and final round.
Contact reporter Jeff Wolf at firstname.lastname@example.org or 702-383-0247.