By: Justin Felisko
March 28, 2016
PUEBLO, Colo. – Three-time World Champion Silvano Alves is in unchartered territory.
Alves began the season on a tear – riding his first five bulls – and appeared ready to bounce back from a 2015 season where he sustained the first major injury of his career (a broken left hip) that required surgery.
The season changed, though, when Alves went up against Cochise during the 15/15 Bucking Battle in New York. Cochise bucked off Alves in 5.09 seconds and nearly stomped on his skull on the way out, his mauled helmet served as a sign of what the worst could have been.
Since then, Alves has gone 5-for-27 on the Built Ford Tough Series and heads into this coming weekend’s First Premier Bank/Premier Bankcard Invitational with a 31.25 percent (10-for-32) riding average, a 15 percent drop from his 2015 conversion rate (46.77 percent).
At times, Alves, who said his recent struggles are unrelated to his close call with Cochise, has looked too stiff on the back of the bull. Other times, he has looked too loose. The perfect posture he rode to a record-tying three gold buckles has been difficult to replicate this season.
Wherever the root of Alves’ struggles in 2016 lie, it extends beyond physical riding flaws. For the first time since his BFTS debut six years ago at Nampa, Idaho, it appears as if his confidence has wavered.
Frustration, anger and confusion are just a few of the emotions that have been on display in the arena by the once stoic Alves.
“This moment is hard,” Alves said at the Ty Murray Invitational. “All of the bull ridings, I have seen the best moments, I have never seen these no good moments. But I feel good and I am very happy. In my career, this is the first time, this moment.”
It is why the primal scream following his 86-point ride on Rebel Yell in Round 3 of the Ty Murray Invitational could just as easily been seen as a sigh of relief.
“I am very happy because I covered my bull tonight,” the No. 32-ranked bull rider said, letting out a deep breath. “I feel good. My body is good. I am going to try and keep this going.”
The 28-year-old had bucked off eight consecutive bulls prior to the qualified ride in Albuquerque, four of those buckoffs came at 6.44 seconds or later, which had left Alves looking for answers.
He still may be searching for those answers, depending on how he does in Sioux Falls. The usually quiet Alves has spent the last month reaching out to trusted veterans Robson Palermo and Guilherme Marchi, as well as his other close friends on the BFTS.
Alves, at first, tried to keep to himself when it came to his struggles, but by the end of February he had started reaching out here and there.
“This conversation is about focus,” Alves said. “I try, but I don’t know. I have been riding good for 6,7 seconds and then he bucked me off sometimes.”
Both Palermo and Marchi have told Alves a big part of his struggles have been mental, which has led to some flaws in his normally solid bull riding technique.
For the most part, though, they have been acting as confidence boosters rather than critical analysts.
They know Alves will turn things around in time, even if it takes longer than what outsiders or even Alves himself expects.
“Silvano has been going into a slump now and it is kind of hard,” Palermo said. “I know it will pass because I passed everything. I just tell him what I think. He knows how to ride bulls. I told him you don’t need to worry about it. You don’t need to worry about or hear about everything that is talked about you. You just need to do what you do. You need to ride bull. You don’t need to think about why you fall. It is not the rope or this. It is all in your head. It is all there.”
Palermo can relate to Alves’ struggles. The Rio Branco, Brazil, bull rider was a World Champion contender from 2007-12 before a series of shoulder and bicep injuries almost completely derailed his career.
Despite missing the first nine events of 2012 because of surgery to repair a torn rotator cuff in the shoulder of his riding arm, he responded by winning a record-setting third World Finals event title.
So Palermo is uniquely placed to help Alves, who is well-known for studying tape. Palermo has recommended muting the video, a tactic he had used to eliminate the noise of what analysts said he was doing wrong. He also tried avoiding social media in an effort to avoid getting lost in criticism.
“It is shocking because you used to ride on the top there all the time,” said Palermo, who almost retired following last season. “You usually ride all the bulls you get on. When you are going down and you go into a slump and you start bucking off bulls you shouldn’t buckoff – an 82-point bull bucks you off –you start getting really embarrassed. When you fall off the bull, you don’t want to see anybody. You just want to run to the locker room and go home.”
Palermo has also made an effort to get Alves relaxed before a ride, something he started doing after noticing Alves tightening up inside the bucking chutes more often compared to when he first started competing on the BFTS.
“I have known him since he start riding,” Palermo said. “I know what he thinks. I know what he likes to do. I know the way he rides and the way he moves in the chutes. When he sits on the bull. When he ties his hand in, he shakes a lot. He didn’t do that before.”
Marchi has also gone through his fair share of ups and downs in his career, including currently competing with torn ligaments in both of his knees.
In 2014, Marchi saw his chance at winning a second World Championship evaporate after an 8-for-28 slump closed out his season. He was the No. 1 ranked bull rider for a combined 13 weeks that year before losing his grip on the world lead in September. That slump opened the door for Alves to eventually win his third gold buckle.
“You know that is something all athletes in any sport struggle with,” Marchi said. “Since he has had the surgery, he is not the same. He has not had the confidence like he had before. He is pretty strong, but he has never been in this position before. Hurt and in pain. Everybody has a struggle and everybody needs to be strong when this happens. You need to figure out what to do to get back to do good again.
“He has determination and I think he is ready to do good.”
Marchi has made a habit recently of reminding Alves how dominant he can be.
“It is hard to say something,” Marchi said. “We just try to stay with him and pass the confidence. We try to tell him, ‘You know you can do it. You are the best here in the PBR and you can ride any bull here in the PBR you want. Just don’t think too much about it. Go have fun.’”
Alves has found some peace in talking with his friends, something he is thankful for.
“It is good,” he said. “They are my best friends. Guilherme, Palermo,Fabiano (Vieira), Eduardo (Aparecido), Emilio (Resende), Kaique(Pacheco), Paulo Lima. They are my best friends and they help me a lot because this moment is hard.”
Alves made a point in explaining that any frustration he displays in the arena stays there and doesn’t follow him home.
“It is very important that I feel good and my family is good,” he said. “This moment, its time is past. I think I don’t need to prove nothing to anyone. I was hurt some because of my injury from last year. Right now, it will be one year in April. I want to finish this out.”
Alves attempted five practice bulls the week before Albuquerque and he plans to ramp up his practice routine now that the Easter holiday is over. He hopes that continuing to build his confidence in the practice pen will lead to greater results in the arena.
“Yes. It helped a lot,” Alves concluded. “I will keep getting on three to four bulls a week, and I will be ready for Sioux Falls.”
Follow Justin Felisko on Twitter @jfelisko
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