- Bob Welch
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SAN ANTONIO He didn't win the first Dodge Xtreme Bulls event in San Antonio last week and suddenly the rumbling started.
Matt Austin's knee is hurting him worse than he's letting on. Maybe the pressure of being the world champ and all the media attention has gotten to him.
After scoring 179 points on two bulls and winning $16,215 Monday night during the second stop of the '06 Ride Hard Tour in San Antonio, Texas, Austin showed why he's the defending world champion.
"If I get bucked off it ain't the pressure. It sure ain't the media. It ain't the title of being a world champion. It's my fault. It's something I didn't do," said Austin.
There wasn't much he didn't do this time around in San Antonio. In the semifinal round he rode Smokey Mountain of the Frontier Rodeo string for 88 points, matched only by newcomer J.W. Harris' reride on Sammy Andrews' Jumbo.
Several other cowboys stepped up in the semifinal round and proved that they might have staying power.
Travis Sellers showed he could be a contender for the rest of the Dodge Xtreme Bulls season. At the previous San Antonio stop he finished third. In the semifinal round the second time, he scored an 87 on Andrews' Erks Me.
Last week's champ, Jarrod Ford, who, amazingly was matched up against Final Dose of the Cervi herd in the semifinal round for the second time in a row, scored 86 points. That score vaulted him to the final round in the fourth hole, matching him up with Andrews' Fender Bender for the second week in a row.
This time, though, the outcome was scary rather than spectacular. He rode the bull for eight seconds, but was out of control at times. When the whistle blew and he released his hand, he didn't come off. Instead, his spur hung in the loop of his bull rope. He was windmilled around the bull before bullfighters Shorty Gorham and Eddie Hatfield came to his rescue. He still scored 85 points and wound up tied for third.
The cowboy who finished second, Jerry Shepherd, was probably more excited than Austin.
After a breakout season in 2004, Shepherd was sidelined by injuries for much of 2005. In the long-go, he scratched 82 points out of a dogfight with Frontier's Faithful Light. Then in the final round, his light shone brightly as he spurred Powder River's Leroy for 91 points.
The most anticipated match up in the final round was probably Travis Sellers versus Mossy Oak Mudslinger of the Powder River String a renowned bull every PRCA bull rider was salivating over. He appeared to have him ridden, and maybe seeing dollar signs he stubbed his toe to buck off about five seconds in.
"The pen of bulls tonight was way better than the first one," Austin said. "Everybody who put their hand in the rope tonight tried until their head hit the ground. The caliber of guys here in the PRCA try their hardest every time. You can match them against anybody and they'll dang sure try."
Austin drew David Bailey's Smokin' Gun, and the bull didn't give him a clean shot and the suspense and drama built. By the time he was ready for the bull, Austin had become determined to ride him.
"I've seen that bull a few times," he said. "They ride him about 40-50 percent of the time and I know he's a good one to come back on. He'll go out there and go either way. He was really long out there, blowing in the air. Then he turned back to the left most guys like them into their hand, but I like them away from my hand and that's what he did. I got around there and he kept blowing and bucking and he jumped out of it at the end and he just felt great."
Indeed, it looked great and Austin's officially back on track if he was ever off it.
"At the first bull riding I came in and I was too tight and I wasn't having fun. It's just something that you learn not to get too serious. Even though I won the world, I still want to do good every time. If I take it too seriously it's more like work and all the fun will be out of it."
Bob Welch has covered rodeo for six years and in addition to writing for ESPN.com ProRodeo, is the managing editor of Spin to Win magazine and serves as an associate producer onsite for the Xtreme Bulls and Wrangler ProRodeo Tour telecasts. Welch lives with his wife, Kristen, and 2-year-old son, Tate, in Black Forest, Colo.
16hTristan H. Cockcroft