It was 10 months of competition without a single round off.
“You have to have everything right,” said Kolbaba, who learned there are no freebies when you’re competing among the Top 35 riders in the world. “If you don’t have the right mindset, it’s definitely not going to go your way.”
Kolbaba was among a handful of young guns who emerged this past season.
He surprised everyone but himself early on when he won a 15/15 Bucking Battle in front of a national television audience on CBS, in Anaheim, California, and then everyone certainly took notice a few months later when he won the event in Des Moines, Iowa.
“That was a pretty big accomplishment – for sure – and to have those buckles on the wall and to have those achievements,” he said, without pausing, “makes you feel like you belong there.”
Yeah, he belongs all right.
Hell, there are top riders who have yet to win a 15/15 Bucking Battle.
And even more of them who have never won an elite PBR event at any point in their careers.
Kolbaba, who was 19 at the time, earned both victories within the first few months of 2016.
“It didn’t quite finish as well as I would have liked it to,” he admitted, “but we’ll just take from it and be that much more ready in 2017.”
Unlike this time last year, when he was yet to secure a spot among the top riders, Kolbaba knows he has entire season right in front of him.
The Monster Energy rider will be in New York in January for the Monster Energy Buck Off at the Garden and looking to improve on his 17th place finish from this past season.
He’s proud to have been among the Top 20.
But among the takeaways from 2016 is the focus and concentration it takes coupled with the preparation every single round.
“And not getting wrapped up in the small stuff,” Kolbaba said. “Taking it one bull at a time and knowing no matter whether you won the weekend before, rode your bull the night before, you still have to come out and give it your all.”
It’s about not feeling overmatched.
Even if the cards are seemingly stacked against him as sits atop a World Champion caliber bull.
Though he’s had a lot of early-round success, Kolbaba learned the importance of not getting discouraged after a first-round buckoff and seeing how often riders can find themselves back in the final round with a great effort in Round 2.
It’s also about converting qualified rides in the Championship Round.
“Getting those short round bulls rode is huge,” said Kolbaba, who also learned how to manage his confidence. “You have to go out there and try your ass off to get the whistle. … By taking it one bull at a time, you feed off the good and you feed off the bad. And learn from it.”
He added, “That’s the main goal.”