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Derek Kolbaba rides Dakota Rodeo/Chad Berger/Clay Struve/H&C Bucking Bulls's Don't Tread On Me for 85.25 during the second round of the San Jose Built Ford Tough series PBR.


Oct 252017

For the first time in his career, Derek Kolbaba is the No. 1 ranked bull rider in the world. When the 21-year-old from Walla Walla, Washington, arrives in Las Vegas for the PBR World Finals, this year’s world title is his to win.

He doesn’t have to worry about anyone other than himself. The rest of the field are the ones who will have to work that much harder to take the title away from him.

Kolbaba Is Taking This One Ride At A Time


If Kolbaba continues to ride the way he has been during the second half of the 2017 season, he will likely become a World Champion. Only five days and six bulls stand between him and the gold buckle. And the $1 million bonus that comes with it.


“Damn right, man,” he said, Sunday evening after winning his fifth regular-season event. “That’s an awesome way to put it."


“It’s awesome to be able to ride with them guys. I know they aren’t going to weaken at all.”


Kolbaba concluded the regular season with another 3-for-3 performance. This one came in San Jose, California, and it put him atop the world standings by 102.5 points.


He was not entirely aware of where he was in the world standings this past Sunday. He was simply focused on getting two more bulls rode and having a “good shot at winning the event” if he made the whistle in the Championship Round.


He’s dreamed of next week’s opportunity since he was a kid.


And this young gun has the mindset of a crafty veteran.


“It’s not a bad time to be riding good,” Kolbaba said. “It’s pretty awesome and pretty special, but, at the end of the day, it doesn’t really count until it’s all said, done, and over with. We still have a lot of work ahead of us.”


He’s solely focused on riding one bull at a time.


And he’s waiting to celebrate.


“That’s when it counts and that’s when they’re handing out that gold buckle,” Kolbaba said. “It’s great that we were able to move up there this weekend, but we’re going to go home and put the work in and be firing on all cylinders come Vegas.”


He added, “As cold and as terrible as it was last season, this makes it so much more fun. It’s been an awesome second half with some lows, but a lot of highs. That’s what’s fun about the sport. One weekend you can be cold as ice and the next weekend you’re on top. It’s been pretty darn fun. Bull riding is a very humbling sport and, I guess, that’s why we love it so much.”


And the “we” Kolbaba refers to whenever he talks about his bull riding career are those who have unconditionally supported him.


As aware as he is of what’s important, he’s equally aware of who is important. Suffice to say, Kolbaba has a strong support system.


“It’s not something I talk about much—me,” Kolbaba said. “I have an awesome support team back home … so it makes it nice when you have a support team like that. I don’t know, it makes a little bit more than just I, but, at the end of the day, it’s up to you and it’s on your shoulders.”