PUEBLO, Colo. – There may have been some first-time jitters when Cole Melancon initially stepped foot inside Rogers Place last month for the inaugural PBR Global Cup in Edmonton, Alberta, but by the time the 23-year-old left Edmonton it was clear that confidence was never going to be an issue for him.
Melancon will now once again embrace the underdog role fearlessly when he nods his head for the first time at the Wrangler National Finals Rodeo, presented by Polaris RANGER, on Thursday night at the Thomas & Mack Center.
Less than one month after being a last-minute substitution that helped lead Team USA to a prestigious Global Cup victory, Melancon once again finds himself looking to make an impact when many may not be expecting it.
Melancon heads into his first NFR ranked eighth in the PRCA bull riding standings, but he is a good $133,532.99 behind PRCA bull riding standings leader Sage Kimzey.
Kimzey is by far the bonafide favorite to win a fourth consecutive PRCA championship, but if Kimzey were to surprisingly struggle at the NFR, there is enough money up for grabs that Melancon could potentially make a run a run at the championship.
“For sure,” Melancon said. “For as much money that they have there at the Finals, it is really anybody’s game. Shane (Proctor) last year went from 15th to third. There is definitely a shot. It is hard to count Sage out, but it is possible. If he doesn’t have a good Finals and someone else does.”
One rider can earn potentially $329,576.93 at the NFR if he were to win every round (each round winner receives $26,230.77) plus the event average ($67,269.23) at the NFR. However, that is not including the possibility of ground money.
The PRCA is now counting ground money at the NFR this year toward the bull riding standings. Therefore, if say only one rider were to reach 8 seconds in a round, he could pocket $84,615.38. Or, for example, if only three riders reach the 8-second mark, they would split the remaining ground money.
The PRCA crowns its bull riding champion based on total money earned throughout the year, while the PBR World Champion is the rider who accumulates the most world standings points in PBR-sanctioned events.
Riders placing first through sixth per round at the NFR earn money toward the standings, as well as riders placing first through seventh in the average.
Instead of worrying about ground money or what Kimzey does, Melancon said it is a pretty simple game plan when you are over $100,000 behind the PRCA No. 1.
“You are going to have to ride everything you get on to have a legitimate shot. That is the main thing,” Melancon said. “If you ride eight out of 10, you would need that to have a shot at the world title. This year it has been weird. Everyone has been riding so good and there are a lot of new faces in the Finals for the bull riding.”
Melancon, who also won the 2017 collegiate bull riding championship, won four PRCA events this year.
The Texas cowboy also rode two-time World Champion Bull SweetPro’s Bruiser for 90 points in Caldwell, Idaho, in August.
Kimzey said during the 2017 PBR World Finals that it would be hard to turn down an opportunity to compete at Madison Square Garden and for $100,000, but that he was going to wait until after the NFR to make a decision on what his 2018 PBR plans may be.
Also competing at the NFR with Top 35 PBR ties is Brennon Eldred.
Eldred heads into his second NFR ranked 12th in the PRCA standings and is $144,161.35 behind Kimzey.
At the Global Cup, Melancon went 2-for-2 with qualified rides aboard Hand Burner (84.25 points) and Bourbon Oak (82.5 points).
His ride on Bourbon Oak, which consisted of him hanging off the side and winning an instant replay challenge, helped propel Team USA to a victory.
“People don’t know him coming into it, but they will after it,” Team USA coach Justin McBride predicted before the start of the Global Cup. “Like Brennon, he is a guy that can ride and he is also on his way to the NFR. My favorite thing about him before I saw him ride is his attitude. I told him he had to leave in the morning and he said he didn’t care if he had to leave that night to be on the team.”
Being able to compete, as well as contribute, at an event featuring 16 PBR World Finals qualifiers, three PBR World Champions and a PRCA champion only added to Melancon’s growing confidence.
“We are riding against a lot of the best bull riders in the world,” Melancon said in Edmonton. “I watched them on TV all week wishing I was there at the PBR World Finals. Watching all of these guys, making a living doing it, is a game-changer.
“It is going to be a little different (at the NFR), but I think I can be able to handle it and be alright.”
Melancon landed in Las Vegas on Monday afternoon and said he is ready to go.
He has spent the last month continuing to rehab his lower back, where he has had a herniated disc since April, and received an injection prior to leaving for Vegas to help deal with the pain during the 10 days of competition at the NFR.
“It’s been okay,” Melancon said. “I’ll be alright for the next 10 nights, but I’m sure I most likely I have to have it fixed when I get home.”
Follow Justin Felisko on Twitter @jfelisko
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