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Bull riding star injured during frightening NFR spill

Updated December 4, 2021 - 5:25 am

After splitting first-place money in his long-anticipated National Finals Rodeo debut Thursday night, legendary bull rider J.B. Mauney spoke at length about experiencing the thrill of victory on his sport’s biggest stage.

Less than 24 hours later, he was dealing with the agony of defeat.

Mauney was helped from the arena after being bucked off a bull called Johnny Thunder during Friday night’s second go-round.

A capacity crowd watched in stunned silence as the 34-year-old former two-time Professional Bull Riders champion lay motionless in the Thomas & Mack Center dirt following the frightening incident. Mauney was bleeding from a facial cut as he climbed to his feet.

According to an initial report, his only apparent injuries were facial lacerations that required stitches. Mike Rich, program director for the Pro Rodeo Cowboys Association Justin Sports Medicine team, said Mauney would return to the Thomas & Mack Center for further evaluation Saturday, when his status will be determined.

Making his name

It was a stunning reversal of fortune for the North Carolina native who first came to prominence by riding Bushwacker — the Mike Tyson of bucking bulls — in Tulsa, Oklahoma, in August 2013.

Mauney was one of only three cowboys to best the “Baddest Bull on the Planet” — and he did it wearing a cowboy hat instead of a helmet. It was the crowing achievement of a career that had seen him accomplish just about anything a man could while competing on the rival PBR tour.

The only thing missing was the thrill of competing at the National Finals Rodeo.

But after riding a bull called Cocktail Diarrhea for 87.5 points to split the first-round win with Australian Ky Hamilton Thursday, the soon-to-be 35-year-old superstar was feeling his oats.

Raring to go

“Sixteen years of riding bulls professionally and that is probably only the second time I’ve been nervous in my entire life,” said the two-time PBR champion and its all-time money winner.

“When I was in elementary school I can remember setting my alarm clock for five minutes before the bull riding started at the NFR,” he said with a toothy grin. “I wasn’t allowed to stay up all night to watch the NFR, so I’d watch the bull riding and go back to sleep.

“My childhood goal was to make the NFR. That was it for me.”

Mauney said he could have used exemptions to remain on the jet-setting tour with his many PBR rivals and pals. But he was having too much fun traveling the rodeo circuit with his wife and little boy — Jagger Briggs Mauney was born holding the umbilical cord as if it were a bull rope, J.B. says — in the family RV to end pursuit of his NFR dream.

No better feeling

“I had a great career in the PBR, but I’m getting older. As a bull rider, it just doesn’t last,” he said of staying healthy in the rodeo discipline that makes most men old before their time. That would prove to be an eerie bit of foreshadowing.

But when the time arrives to look back at his yesterdays, Mauney said ending the mighty Bushwacker’s record buck-off streak at 42 and making it to the NFR at an age when most bull riders are thinking about riding off to greener pastures will rank hand in glove.

“I accomplished a lot riding bulls. But one thing I wanted to do was nod my head in those yellow bucking chutes,” he said about the subtle gesture a bull rider makes before hell breaks loose for eight seconds or fewer at the National Finals.

As it did again on Friday night.

Contact Ron Kantowski at rkantowski@reviewjournal.com or 702-383-0352. Follow @ronkantowski on Twitter.

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