PUEBLO, Colo. – Cooper Davis had a snarl on his face as he packed up his gear bag on the final day of the 2017 season a month ago.
For the first time in his career, Davis was left departing T-Mobile Arena in Las Vegas with no plans of celebrating. Davis had just fallen short of repeating as PBR World Champion after finishing the year 579.17 points behind 2017 champion Jess Lockwood.
As he made his way to Edmonton, Alberta, for the inaugural PBR Global Cup a few days later, Davis reflected about his championship shortcomings.
“If I can take anything away from losing this, it is I am hungrier for next year than I ever have been,” Davis said in Edmonton. “I have a little bad taste in my mouth from losing.
“I hate losing.”
It was an unusual set of emotions for Davis.
So far in his brief PBR career, Davis had walked out of T-Mobile Arena every year with a belt buckle.
In 2015, he went 4-for-6 at the World Finals to win the event average as a rookie. Last year, he rode Catfish John for 91 points and the 2016 world title.
2017 was far different.
Davis went 2-for-6 in Las Vegas, including three consecutive buckoffs to end the season.
He was still very much alive for the world title before bucking off Bad Moon Rising in 1.81 seconds during Round 4. The buckoff time then resulted in him being stuck with the last pick of the Round 5 draft, which resulted in him getting left with Losing My Religion.
Losing My Religion bucked off Davis in 3.04 seconds, which ultimately sealed his fate.
Davis next bucked off High Chaparral (2.25 seconds) in the championship round.
The 23-year-old was so frustrated because he knew how close he had to come to becoming only the second rider in PBR history to repeating as World Champion.
“I never thought it was over because I knew going into the last two days all I had to do was just stay on my bull and I didn’t do that,” Davis said. “That is what made it more frustrating for me, knowing all I needed was to make the whistle and I didn’t do it.”
Not only that, but Lockwood bucked off his final three bulls of the Finals, which had kept the door open for Davis.
“It sucked,” Davis added. “Even if I could have stayed on those last two bulls, I could have done the deal. But as aggravating as it is, it is over with. It is a moot point. There is no need to hang my head now. I had a good season. I didn’t get the world title, but it happens.
“I hate losing, but I couldn’t have lost to a better guy. Jess deserved it. I just lost.”
Davis didn’t waste any time channeling his frustration either.
The Jasper, Texas, native went 2-for-3 in Edmonton to lead Team USA to the Global Cup championship less than a week after he left T-Mobile Arena amidst a sea of frustration and anger.
Davis knows that he still had a good season overall despite the lack of a gold buckle around his waist.
Davis finished the year 38-for-87 (43.68 percent) in 26 events with two 15/15 Bucking Battle victories, an event win (Springfield, Missouri,) eight Top-5 finishes and 17 Top-10s.
The Texan was also one of the most consistent bull riders as he failed to earn world points in only five events.
“I had a good year,” Davis said. “I put myself in a position to win another world title. I rode good and there were times at the beginning of the year I didn’t want it and I didn’t care. I think going into next year I will care and want to win and not be in this same position.”
Davis will make his debut when the PBR’s 25th Anniversary Tour begins on Jan. 5 at Madison Square Garden in New York.
There is arguably no better place for Davis to begin the year than New York, especially when it comes to remembering his 2017 shortcomings.
Davis struggled in the first half of 2017 as he tried to ride through the burdens of being the reigning World Champion. Interview requests, internal pressure he put on himself to live up to the expectations that come with being a champion and just the overall mental hangover that sets in after finally reaching the penultimate in the sport wore him down.
There was also the mental anguish of his son, Mack, being rushed to the hospital in February and being diagnosed with transient erythroblastopenia of childhood .
Cooper wasn’t able to regain his 2016 championship form until July, and he simply ran out of time in his late-season push at the 2017 title.
His 15-15 Bucking Battle and event wins came in September and two of his five events where he earned no world points came at the PBR Major events Iron Cowboy and Last Cowboy Standing during the first half.
In hindsight, Davis admitted that being a reigning World Champion was much harder than he expected it to be.
“Absolutely,” Davis said. “Going into New York, golly, I hated that. It was rough. The first half of the year I was lost. I didn’t care to be at the bull riding. That was tough. The beginning of the year wasn’t very fun. The second half was like something clicked and I was back to where I needed to be again.”
The third-year pro did offer up one thing he was certain of.
The 2018 group of world title contenders is likely going to involve another strong – if not stronger cast – than the five or so riders that chased after the 2017 gold buckle.
Davis knows he needs to get back to having an aggressive mindset at the start of the year.
“I will show up with a different attitude this year than I did last year,” Davis concluded. “Whether I win it, I don’t know. I will have to see. This next year there is going to be a group of guys that are sure going to be tough to beat and I hope I am in a position like I was this year.”
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