BILLINGS — His first National Hockey League game.
His first National Basketball Association game.
His first NCAA Final Four, witnessed from a suite in the arena no less. “That was pretty awesome,” admits Jess Lockwood.
There was the appearance on “The Steve Harvey Show,” and a recent visit to Safeco Park to watch the Seattle Mariners from seats along the first-base side. “Pretty cool,” continued Lockwood of his first MLB game.
The new truck, a 2017 Ford King Ranch Platinum, is parked at the family ranch this day. He’ll use it this Friday when he returns to Billings.
And his face, it seems to be everywhere. In print ads, television commercials and billboards. Even on a sign hanging from a walkway over one of Billings’ busiest streets.
It’s good to be the world champion.
“I like it,” he said of the benefits. “I like it better when I have good company. When I can share it with a friend or Hailey (Kinsel, girlfriend). That makes it a blast.”
Lockwood has been enjoying some of the perks after becoming the youngest rider in history to win the Professional Bull Riders world title last November in Las Vegas.
The 20-year-old cowboy from the small southeastern community of Volborg – located between Miles City and Broadus on Highway 59 – has become the face of the world’s most dangerous sport.
“It still hasn’t sunk in yet,” said Lockwood, mature beyond his years. “In New York, when they presented me my buckle, it felt like it a little more. But it still doesn’t seem like it.”
Lockwood is sitting in the lobby of the Doubletree Hotel in Billings, his day coming to an end. He is wearing a black shirt covered in sponsored logos, jeans, black cowboy hat and comfortable boots. The gold 2017 PBR World Champion buckle centers the ensemble.
“I’ll never wear a different buckle in my life,” he declares.
Lockwood has been up since 3 a.m., driving from Volborg to be in Billings by 6:30 a.m. to begin a series of radio, television and print interviews, along with a visit to Billings Clinic. He made time for a massage – “To get the kinks out,” Lockwood said – and a quick work out.
He didn’t come to Billings alone. The young rancher – he has a herd of 30 cows now – also brought a bull from home to be used in promotion on Thursday morning. “He’s tame,” said the PBR’s biggest superstar with a smile. “He’s just a pet.”
Lockwood returns to Rimrock Auto Arena at MetraPark this weekend, the sight of the first of many career highlights. He won the PBR Billings event in 2016, his first top-tier event title.
“I remember everything,” Lockwood said of the win.
After a slow start, he has climbed to seventh in the PBR world standings and trails leader Ramon de Lima of Brazil by just 540 points.
“A world champion can’t think like that,” Lockwood said of worrying after finding himself looking up in the standings the first few months of the 2018 season.
“Winning The American, that was huge,” Lockwood said, becoming more animated. “That started my season. It’s a big check, a big rodeo. The American, they have that just once a year. I was super excited to get that.
“That happens in bull riding. There are times when things won’t go so well. After The American, it just clicked.”
He’s earned points toward a second world title in five consecutive events.
And make no mistake, Lockwood’s only goal is another world championship.
“You get what you dream about your whole life. There’s no better feeling,” he said. “And you remember that feeling.
“Why not do it every time?”
Like every bull rider on tour, Lockwood is a little banged up. He suffered a torn MCL in his left knee and has strained ligaments between the index and middle fingers of his riding hand. Last week, in Tacoma, he got hung up and stepped on, cutting his same index finger.
The stitches in the finger will probably be removed this weekend, Lockwood said.
After working out with the USA Wrestling National Team in December, Lockwood tinkered with his workouts, trying to add five pounds of muscle. “I’m pretty skinny,” said the 5-foot-5, 130-pound cowboy, but didn’t like how he felt with the added weight.
“I decided I liked being skinny and not to worry about strength. Just use balance and moving with the bull,” he said.
Lockwood worked out at home in a shed he built the day after he returned home from Las Vegas. “Just some stretching,” he said. “I’m pretty motivated about winning another world title.”
His plans Wednesday night included watering his bull and returning to the hotel. “I’m going to bed and sleep until 10 a.m. before I head back home,” said Lockwood who will help with calving season.
The ranch offers solace from the whirlwind of activities that come with his new title.
“I’m like an old man nowadays,” he said with a good laugh. “Just leave me alone. I keep to myself. As a long as I’m home, that’s good enough for me.”
And there, is a group that doesn’t care about his gold buckle.
“I wish,” Lockwood said with another big smile. “Working cattle would be a helluva lot easier.”