By Justin Felisko EBS Contributor
PUEBLO, Colo – The 2017 World Championship race has developed into one of the most exciting and intriguing races in PBR history. With the top five riders separated by 655 points heading into Las Vegas, the championship race is wide open.
At the PBR World Finals, one rider can earn a maximum of 3,300 world points in the six-round competition. While any rider within at least 2,000 points of the world lead is mathematically alive, Derek Kolbaba, Eduardo Aparecido, Cooper Davis, Kaique Pacheco, Jess Lockwood and Cooper Davis are the clear frontrunners heading into the 2017 PBR Built Ford Tough World Finals at T-Mobile Arena in Las Vegas.
“This is the best world title race I have ever seen,” said two-time World Champion Justin McBride. “I don’t want to take anything away from the [previous] races, but usually you got one guy or you got a two-man race that is really strong. Last year we got to see a three-man race, which doesn’t happen very often.
“This year, I thought it was down to four, and Kolbaba made it five. Then if Chase (Outlaw) has a big weekend it is six. I don’t know. It really is anybody’s ballgame.”
Aparecido spent the majority of the season in the No. 1 ranking and is looking to join 16 other riders with a PBR World Championship to their name in the circuit’s 24-year history.
But Kolbaba’s torrid run through September and October, which featured back-to-back walk-off victories, and three 90-point or more championship round rides, has vaulted him to No. 1, on the doorstep of a gold buckle and a $1 million champion bonus.
At No. 3, Davis, the reigning World Champion, may be the most seasoned among this year’s world title contenders despite not having sat atop the world standings since clinching the 2016 world title on the final day of the World Finals last year.
The rider Davis usurped last year, Kaique Pacheco, now fourth in the world, is laser focused and technically gifted; the Brazilian has remained in contention for this year’s world title despite a series of nagging injuries, let alone the mental fatigue of finishing runner-up in the 2015 and 2016 world title races.
“It is hard to pick a favorite,” PBR Director of Livestock Cody Lambert said. “An injury will take any of them out of it. Even with the injuries, Kaique and Jess are still there.”
No. 5 Lockwood, a heralded 20-year-old from Volborg, Montana, has not let a torn groin, broken ribs, a punctured lung and a lacerated kidney get in the way of him possibly becoming the youngest World Champion in PBR history.
“They have all had hiccups and had big moments,” Lambert said. “It has been real exciting to watch and any one of them can win it. Those guys are so good that they are role models to everyone, and it doesn’t matter who wins it. I will be proud of what all of them have accomplished.”
The 2017 PBR World Finals are shaping up to be one of the year’s best sports events. Tickets can be purchased at axs.com or the T-Mobile Arena box office. For a complete schedule of PBR World Finals events, visit pbrfinalsweek.com
Justin Felisko is Senior Writer/Editor for Professional Bull Riders. He has contributed to SiriusXM Radio, 120 Sports, The New York Times, USA Hockey, the Colorado Springs Gazette and the Emmy-nominated documentary series, “Fearless.” He would name a bull “Caffeine-a-holic” if he were given the chance.