Richie Champion calls first WNFR ‘a surreal experience’

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Richie Champion

By BRAD KEITH

TheFlashToday.com

(December 12, 2014) — Life can change fast. Just ask Texas bareback rider Richie Champion.

After claiming the biggest single payday in rodeo history earlier this year, Champion, who turns 22 next Tuesday, has gone on to win two go-rounds in his first Wrangler National Finals Rodeo at the Thomas & Mack Center in Las Vegas.

Champion won $1.1 million on March 2, scoring 90 points on Rafter G’s Assault at RFD-TV’s first The American, a challenge featuring up-and-comers such as the Tarleton State University cowboy trying to out-perform legends finishing 2013 in the top 10 of the PRCA.

Nine months later, Champion is fourth in the average at the WNFR, where he’s earned $50,877.39 through eight rounds. Round nine is Friday night and can be seen on CBS Sports beginning at 9 p.m. CST.

After missing the money with scores in the 70s in the opening three rounds, Champion shared sixth-place money in the fourth go-round. He finally broke through in Monday’s fifth performance, scoring 88.5 points aboard Carr Pro Rodeo’s Dirty Jacket, the PRCA 2014 Bucking Horse of the Year.

Champion won again in Wednesday’s seventh go-round, scoring 86 points on Three Hills Rodeo’s Angelo Eyes. He placed third in the eighth round Thursday.

“I wouldn’t really compare the two,” Champion said of his million dollar ride versus winning at the WNFR. “They’re both unreal experiences for different reasons. It’s definitely a pretty unreal feeling making that victory lap around the Thomas & Mack at the finals.”

Richie Champion is fourth in the average entering Friday's ninth go-round. || Dudeley Barker, dudleydoright.com
Richie Champion is fourth in the average entering Friday’s ninth go-round. || Dudeley Barker, dudleydoright.com

With eight successful rides, Champion is still in the running to win the average, which pays more than $48,000. He enters round nine fourth in the average with 646.5 points (an average 80.75 points per round), just five less than leader Austin Foss.

“It’s been a dream come true,” Champion said of his first WNFR experience. “It’s had its ups and downs. There were opportunities to get down in the early rounds, but I stayed focused and got back on track.

“It’s a surreal experience just to be here,” he added. “It’s a goal reached, and once I qualified, as long as I went out did my job each night, I wasn’t going to get down. I’m having so much fun.”

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Amidst the run of success, Champion, who reached the College National Finals Rodeo with Tarleton, has decided to spend 2015 focusing solely on his professional career.

“I’m not going back to rodeo in college,” he said. “I’m going to focus on the professional events and on my progression.”

He says his time at Tarleton has played a monumental role in his success.

“Shoot, I’ve been there for there years, and college rodeo meant more chances to ride and compete and to get better at it,” Champion said. “Mark Eakin is such a good coach, and they provide a great support system for me. Tarleton plays a big role in where I am now for sure.”

Born in Orange County, California, and graduating high school in The Woodlands, north of Houston, Champion is now looking to remain close to Stephenville.

“Do I want to settle there? Well I hope to,” said Champion. “I’m looking for places now.”

A pair of wins and a shot at winning the average at the finals hasn’t changed the cowboy’s strategy, not that he’s had a lot of time to think about it.

“It’s all been such a blur. I’m just focused on being consistent and doing my job,” he said. “I’m sticking to that game plan and trying to have fun.”

Easy to do when you live up to a last name like Champion.

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