RALEIGH, N.C. – On two-time World Champion J.B. Mauney’s right hand is one of the most important pieces of jewelry he owns.
The gold PBR World Finals ring that he first earned in 2006 shined brightly inside PNC Arena on Saturday night as Dr. Tandy Freeman and PBR Sports Medicine Program Director and Head Athletic Trainer Rich Blyn analyzed and worked on Mauney’s recently reconstructed right shoulder.
Following the check-up with Freeman, and some treatment from Blyn, Mauney later asked the question that has been on his mind for the last month or so after he began to slowly regain minimal motion in his free riding arm.
“I asked (Freeman) on the back of the chutes, ‘Could I come ride at the Finals?’ Mauney revealed Sunday afternoon.
“He said, ‘It is up to you. I can’t suggest it. It is not what I would suggest for you, but it is not your head or neck, so it is up to you.’”
It didn’t take Mauney long to decide.
The 30-year-old PBR legend will be returning to competition on Nov. 1 less than four months after undergoing a nearly six-hour operation in which Freeman inserted 13 anchors and a screw to repair Mauney’s shoulder.
Mauney’s surgery on July 18 involved Freeman repairing torn ligaments, his rotator cuff, a transplantation of Mauney’s bicep tendon and removal of bone fragments after Mauney was injured during a gruesome wreck attempting to ride Cowahbunga at the Calgary Stampede.
The Mooresville, North Carolina, cowboy’s reasoning has less to do with going after a record-tying third world title, but rather the streak that is attached to that ring around his finger.
Mauney has ridden at 11 consecutive World Finals and finished inside the Top 10 of the world standings 10 straight years.
“I made 11 in a row, so I am not going to stop now,” Mauney said. “I am going because of that same stat – 10 years in a row I have been in the Top 10, so I intend to keep that going.”
Mauney is currently 13th in the world standings. He trails world leader Eduardo Aparecido by 2,231.26 points with one regular-season event remaining before the start of the 2017 PBR Built Ford Tough World Finals.
Historically, any rider within 2,000 points has a realistic shot at winning the world title.
“I know I can’t probably win it,” Mauney replied when asked if this decision was about a last-second push at the word title. “They will all have to have a really bad Finals for me to catch them.”
Mauney says he will not ride for Team USA at the PBR Global Cup or in San Jose, California, next weekend for the BFTS regular-season finale.
“I will get on those six bulls and then go home until January,” Mauney said.
Mauney understands the risks involved in his decision to ride at the Finals.
While the choice is not a matter of life or death, returning too soon to competition can lead to him potentially sustaining a career-ending injury if he wrecks out his recently repaired shoulder.
“There is risk every time you nod your head,” Mauney replied. “I didn’t get this far by (playing it safe), so I am not going to start now.”
One should never be surprised by Mauney, however his decision to return does raise some eyebrows.
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According to Freeman, Mauney is currently “behind the game” in his recovery when it comes to stiffness in the shoulder. When Freeman first performed the surgery, he explained to Mauney he would be out for at least six months, but that he could also potentially not regain full motion in his shoulder until more than a year.
It will only have been 107 days since he had surgery when Mauney nods his head during Round 1 of the PBR World Finals.
“His shoulder is much stiffer than it should be at this point in his recovery,” Freeman said. “He still has a significant amount of weakness, which is not surprising given what he had wrong with him, so I expected him to be weak at this point. It would be surprising if he wasn’t stiff, but he is much stiffer than he should be even under the circumstances. He is behind where he should be at this point. That is not necessarily his fault. He had a bad injury and is prone to a lot of scarring.”
Freeman added that “without a doubt” Mauney could severely reinjure his shoulder and ruin the results of the surgery.
“I don’t believe J.B. is physically ready to compete at the Finals with his shoulder, but as we have discussed with other athletes and injuries, this is not a potentially life-threatening injury, so he can make his own decision,” Freeman said. “If that is what he decided, we hope everything goes well.”
Mauney was ranked fifth in the world standings at the time of his injury in July. He is two qualified rides away from becoming the third rider in PBR history to record 500 or more rides on the Built Ford Tough Series.
With a little more than two weeks to prepare, Mauney will begin rehabbing immediately with Blyn in North Carolina.
“Work the hell out of it,” Mauney said of his plan. “I am going to Rich’s this week instead of the therapist at the house and I will let him work on it all week. I don’t have as much rotation and movement as I should, so I am going to go to Rich. Rich won’t sweet coat it. He is going to put it where it needs to be. It feels good, but it just feels real weak and stiff.
“I am going to try and get as much movement and everything we can it before we go.”
Blyn lives about an hour away from Mauney and he has gained access to Appalachian State University so that he will have all resources available to try and restore more of Mauney’s range of motion.
They will begin immediately on Monday.
“We are going to work on him every day,” Blyn said. “He has done a pretty good job, but he still lacks where he needs to be. According to J.B., he is going to try and ride in the Finals. In the grand scheme of things, he is probably not ready in terms of it being fully healed. He is behind schedule in terms of range of motion.
“The type of surgery he had was a very significant surgery. It is a surgery that with the amount of anchors that were put in to hold him back together, and the nature of the actual injury, is that guys typically become stiff with. It is not easy to get it back. We have to do what we can. Unfortunately, there is a not a miracle type thing. It is not like he is going to come back with 100 percent more motion there.”
Mauney knows he is not anywhere near 100 percent healthy, but Mauney began to think he could be competitive at the Finals in recent weeks once he started getting on his drop barrel every day.
The 12-year veteran has been rehabbing with Clint Serafino Monday-Thursday at Taylor Rehab in Mooresville, North Carolina, which has given him additional confidence he could return.
“It has changed a lot in a months’ time,” Mauney said. “I could barely get it away from my side then. I was at home working it too. Watching bull riding, my wife, Samantha, couldn’t find me and I was in the shop riding that drop barrel. Seeing if it would be alright.
“I thought, ‘Shit, I can do this.’”
Toughness has never been a question with Mauney, but his return to competition will also have to involve a dedicated adjustment to his riding style.
Mauney has historically been able to throw his free arm at will and make 90-point home run kind of rides.
However, the rider with 72 career 90-point rides will have to ride similar to how Fabiano Vieira did in past years by keeping his free arm tight and low to his body when he nods for the gate inside T-Mobile Arena.
Mauney said he has practiced adjusting his riding style on a drop barrel every day prior to making his return public knowledge.
“I told my wife, I know I can ride them,” Mauney said. “It is not I think. I know I can ride those bulls with my arm low like that. If I think I can, I am going.”
Blyn said Mauney’s belief that he can successfully adjust is key.
“He feels he can get his arm to where he needs to have it, which is the important thing,” Blyn said. “The question is, ‘How is he going to hold up if or when he lands on it? If he has to make a big move, is he able to do that?’
“The nice thing about J.B is he is a very talented bull rider. If anybody has the ability to adapt and make it work, he is probably the guy to have that ability.”
Mauney said he will get one or two practice bulls a few days before heading to Las Vegas to knock some of the rust off and get real-time experience.
Meanwhile, confidence shouldn’t be a factor for the future Ring of Honor inductee.
“It is mind over matter,” Mauney concluded. “If it don’t mind, it don’t matter. I’m going to win the Finals. I can ride them.”
Follow Justin Felisko on Twitter @jfelisko