Cody Hancock learned the hard way that there's a price to pay for earning a gold buckle.
The 2000 world bull riding champion discovered that once you win a world title, you're expected to re-win the title at each rodeo you enter.
"Every rodeo they think I'm the world champion," said Hancock, 29 (Taylor, Ariz.). "They've seen me ride [Diamond G Rodeo's] Mr. USA for 96 points [a Wrangler National Finals Rodeo record Hancock set in 2001] and they expect to see a 96-point ride every time out. There are only a handful of bulls you can do that on."
Hancock conceded it was a while before he was able to accept the heightened expectations.
"It took me about six months to get used to it," Hancock said. "Now it really doesn't bother me."
At the Dinosaur Roundup Rodeo in Vernal, Utah (July 7-10) the third stop on the 12-city Wrangler ProRodeo Summer Tour Hancock didn't have to deal with falling short of those expectations. He produced a 95-point ride aboard Andrews Rodeo's Rompus to win the Wrangler Tour round. That ride also propelled Hancock to the aggregate title with a two-head total of 179 points. The victory was worth $5,240 to Hancock.
"I hadn't seen that bull before," Hancock said. "That's barely a 4-year-old bull. He was outstanding. When I came back and saw what I had, I didn't even know it was that bull. When I realized what I had drawn, I got excited."
That's because Hancock knew he had a chance to win if he could stay on Rompus for eight seconds. The veteran bull rider did, but it was a battle the whole way. The bull jumped, twisted and turned, doing everything in its power to throw Hancock to the ground.
"That bull was just a lot of action," Hancock said. "He got in the air and changed it up every jump."
The win in Vernal helped Hancock make up for a slow Fourth of July run.
"My season has been good," Hancock said. "I feel like I've been riding consistently. It was really good until the Fourth and I had a terrible Fourth."
All Hancock is seeking is a berth in the Wrangler NFR. He knows just getting there is the hard part. After that, anything can and often does happen. Hancock, himself, proved it.
In 2000, he entered the Wrangler NFR ranked No. 15 in the world bull riding standings and rode his way to the world title becoming the first roughstock cowboy in history to make the leap from No. 15 to No. 1 at the Finals.
One way to earn a ticket to the Wrangler NFR is to qualify for the Pace Picante ProRodeo Series Championships. The next is the $500,000 Pace Picante ProRodeo Challenge (Sept. 25-28) in Omaha, Neb.
Hancock has thrived on the format before, having won three of the Tour championships.
"I love the Tour finals," Hancock said. "I've won three of them, but it's been a little while since I've done good at one. I'm excited to get back there in good shape and win the big money."
Hancock didn't hurt himself in Vernal, where he racked up 27.5 Tour points to put himself in the thick of the race for one of the 12 bull riding berths in the Pace Challenge.
Although Hancock sits No. 8 in the Jack Daniel's World Bull Riding Standings with $55,600 about $41,000 behind current world No. 1 Dustin Elliott (Maxwell, Neb.) it would be foolish to count out Hancock at this point.
He's been one of ProRodeo's most consistent bull riders over the past five years and is a threat to win at every rodeo he enters. Plus, his knack for winning at the bigger rodeos means he could close that gap quickly.
That's not to mention that Hancock feels like he's riding as good or better than he ever has.
"I feel like I'm back and focused," Hancock said. "I've got the support of my family. I feel like I'm back riding good again, just like the year when I won the world."
There's plenty of time for Hancock to make up ground on those ahead of him.
"Half the year still to go and a lot of the best rodeos still to come," Hancock said. "I'm excited."
Fans should be excited, too. With Hancock in the mix, this year's race for the world bull riding title could be one of the most interesting in years.
As far as expectations go, Hancock has one: qualify for the Wrangler NFR. If he does, it's anybody's guess who will be the next world bull riding champion. And that champion just might be Hancock.