POULSBO, Wash. — Blog by Race Chaser Online Managing Editor Jacob Seelman — Monster Energy Kawasaki photo — I have to admit, I was a little stunned this morning when the news broke that Ryan Villopoto would be leaving Monster Energy Supercross to compete overseas for the FIM Motocross World Championship in 2015.
This was a move that was extremely well-guarded despite the knee injury that kept Villopoto from competing in the outdoor Motocross season earlier this year — until about 48 hours ago, there were no rumblings, no signs, save for a few travel photos on Villopoto’s social media from a trip that he and his wife took to Europe over the summer, that the overseas journey could become a reality.
But here it is, right in front of us.
In some ways, it’s shocking — Villopoto was on the cusp of history; there was no doubt in anyone’s mind that he could have become the first rider in history to win five straight Supercross titles. Why stop now? Why not chase the mark?
Villopoto somewhat gives us the answer in the statement he made during the announcement this morning.
“I’ve never been one to look at the record books so when an opportunity like this comes around, to race against the best in the world and represent USA, I have to see it through,” Villopoto said. “It will be a major change of pace and this will be the last chapter in my career win or lose, I am extremely excited about the opportunity and also to be joined by a former champion like Tyla (Rattray). He knows what is needed to succeed on the world championship stage and I know I can learn a lot from him.”
Two things stand out to me in that statement: “I’ve never been one to look at the record books,” and “This will be the last chapter of my career, win or lose.”
The first thing that tells me is the obvious — the history never mattered to RV2 to begin with. It wasn’t about the numbers or the wins or even the championships, per se. It was about doing what he loves to do and enjoying the sport he’s passionate about through the success he’s had over the years. He’s certainly done that with the accolades he’s racked up, and there’s no doubt that whether Villopoto looks at them or not, his name will be in the record books for years to come.
The second point is the more interesting one — the way I read that quote is that Villopoto is planning to retire at season’s end.
In a way, that’s not surprising after all of the injuries that RV2 has suffered over the past couple of years; knee surgery in 2009 that put him out of the Motocross season, a broken tibia and fibula in 2010 that cut short his Supercross season and forced him to miss the Motocross season again, a knee injury after he clinched the 2012 Supercross title that put him out of the Motocross season a third time, and a third knee surgery earlier this year that sat him out of the outdoor season for the fourth time in six years.
So, with those points in mind, let’s look at this from an overarching perspective — because in my mind, the move to Europe is the only logical decision for Villopoto to make at this stage in his career.
SX Champ to World MX — It’s Never Been Done.
We know Ryan says that the records don’t matter to him, and they may not — but no one has ever gone from Supercross champion to World Motocross champion in the history of the sport. RV2 is never one to back away from a challenge and though he says the records don’t matter, I can bet you that’s a gold star that the four-time reigning Supercross champ would like nothing more than to have alongside his name.
Racers like to be the first to do something — deep down, I’m pretty sure that there’s a part of Villopoto’s drive that is itching to stamp his name next to that little piece of history.
He’s Accomplished Everything Necessary in the U.S.
I know there’s a lot of people that wanted to see RV2 supplant Jeremy McGrath’s record with a fifth straight Supercross title, but what’s the point?
He’s already beaten the most talented and deepest group of riders to sit on a Supercross bike that the U.S. championship has ever known — and he’s done it four years in a row. Not to mention, the only two times he completed a full outdoor Motocross season (2011 and 2013), yeah, you guessed it. He won those titles too.
The proof is in the pudding: RV2 is the best pro motorcycle rider the U.S. has ever seen because he’s consistently beaten the deepest field in two-wheel racing and he’s set winning percentages and championship marks that, if he were to continue his American career and remain healthy, would easily be on pace to match or even break Jeremy McGrath’s all-time Supercross record of 72 career premier class victories and seven premier class titles. Why should he have to play the cards out to prove any more than he already has?
There’s nothing more for Villopoto to do here in the States. It’s time for him to step up to the ultimate level — that’s how he’s going to prove his true ability versus the greats (McGrath and Carmichael).
He Wants to Go Out On Top — As the Greatest In the World
It bears repeating that if this is Villopoto’s final professional riding season — it’s been a stellar career.
Four Supercross titles, two Motocross titles, 41 career 450SX victories in just six seasons, winner of the inaugural Monster Energy Cup (which netted him a million dollars in prize money), four Motocross of Nations wins for Team USA and AMA Rookie of the Year honors in 2006 — the year he began a streak of three straight MX Lites titles — I’d call those numbers first class.
The only thing missing from those statistics is a world title.
Villopoto has already proven that he’s the best in American riding (as stated above) and we know he said this looks to be his final season on the bike — what better way to cap a Hall of Fame career than with the most prestigious motorcycle accolade in the world?
If this truly is RV2’s final season, it looks as if he wants to go out just as he’s raced the rest of his illustrious ride — on top of the heap.
With all of those points being said, I have to say I’m excited about being able to watch Villopoto’s move for the 2015 season — even while I’m still trying to process that it’s happening. Let it be known that I’m not the only one, even FOX Sports Supercross commentator Ralph Sheheen admitted this morning he was surprised at the move.
But, at the end of the day, it’s the only decision for Villopoto to make if he wants to place his career one cut above all of the other greats who have come before him.
McGrath never won a world title. Neither did Carmichael. Stewart hasn’t attempted it either. The only two riders currently competing in U.S. action who have experienced any level of success in the World Motocross Championship are Marvin Musquin (2009-2010) and Ken Roczen (2011), who won the MX2 class championship (the undercard to MXGP, similar to the 250 class in America), and neither of them have been able to come close to what Villopoto has done here in the U.S.
Will RV2’s American dominance translate overseas to another title run? I don’t know — he has to dethrone a six-time reigning World MX Champion in KTM’s Antonio Cairoli in order to make it happen. But I do know this much after watching Villopoto race for the last six years:
If nothing else — he’s up to the challenge.
Ryan Villopoto celebrates after notching his fourth consecutive Supercross championship at Sam Boyd Stadium in Las Vegas, Nev. in May. (RV2 Racing photo)