An Inside Look at the Top Title-Race Contenders

LAS VEGAS, Nev. – The Built Ford Tough World Finals begin in three days and the World Championship is far from decided with 5,500 points up for grabs this week at the Thomas & Mack Center.

Nine-time World Champion and CBS Sports color commentator Ty Murray caught up with to break down some of this year’s world title contenders heading into Las Vegas.

Joao Ricardo Vieira 420x250

No. 1 Joao Ricardo Vieira

World Championships: 0
Best World Finals Finish:
7th (2013, 3-for-6)

2014 BFTS Stats:
: 39
Attempts: 86
Riding Percentage: 45.35 percent
Wins: 2 (St. Louis & Dr Pepper Iron Cowboy V)
Top 10: 14
Top 5: 10
90-point Rides: 4
High Score: 90.75 points on Smackdown (St. Louis, Mo.)
Last 10: 7-for-10

Noteworthy: Vieira has the lowest riding percentage among the Top 4 riders in the world standings, however, he leads the BFTS with 14 Top-10 finishes and 10 Top-5’s.

Murray’s Take: “He bucked off a bull (this weekend) that jumped and kicked straight away. So if you talk about confidence being up here, J.R.’s has to be down here. He bucked off arguably one of the worst bulls out (in Huntington Beach), so we’ll have to see what happens at World Finals. I think he rides good. He does a lot better with bulls that spin into his hand, and to me that is going to be a hindrance somewhere. That is going to show up somewhere. Chances are he isn’t going to get six bulls that go left, so we will see. The guy rides good. Do I feel like he is a complete bull rider? No.”

Fabiano Vieira 420x250 px

No. 2 Fabiano Vieira (511.63 points back)

World Championships: 0
Best World Finals Finish:
19th (2012, 2-for-5)

2014 BFTS Stats:
: 41
Attempts: 71
Riding Percentage: 57.75 percent
Wins: 3 (New York, Sacramento, Calif., and Allentown, Pa.)
Top 10: 11
Top 5: 8
90-point Rides: 1
High Score: 90 points on White Lie (Albuquerque, N.M.)
Last 10: 5-for-10

Noteworthy: Vieira heads to Las Vegas with a right shoulder that been unstable since he dislocated it and tore his rotator cuff during the first half of the Built Ford Tough Series.

Murray’s Take: “He is the best guy in the race this year, but the shoulder is a major thing. That is the equivalent to a running back having a knee or a pitcher having an elbow. He needed it (in Huntington Beach) and he rode good, despite not having it, and that speaks to the level of talent that he has. That guy is very, very talented. Your free arm is the pilot for everything. It is what creates your counter moves. It is what gets your body from point A to point B and that is what this sport is all about – being able to put your body where it needs to be. He is at a huge disadvantage not being able to. We’ve seen him make some great rides with his shoulder like this, but I felt like his shoulder took him out of it (this weekend). The type of bulls he gets on at the Finals will play a big part in this race. If he was healthy, I would put all my chips on him.

Silvano Alves 420x250 px

No. 3 Silvano Alves (516.19 points back)

World Championships: 2 (2011, 2012)
Best World Finals Finish:
2nd (2x, 2010/2013, 5-for-6 & 5-for-6)

2014 BFTS Stats:
: 43
Attempts: 85
Riding Percentage: 50.59 percent
Wins: 0
Top 10: 12
Top 5: 7
90-point Rides: 1
High Score: 92.25 points on Rango (Nashville, Tenn.)
Last 10: 7-for-10

Noteworthy: Alves leads the Top 5 with 11 rides of 80 points or lower, but leads the BFTS with 43 rides overall.

Murray’s Take: “He is doing what he always does. I don’t know how a guy can be 80 points or less 11 times. I don’t know how that happens on the Built Ford Tough Series level. I don’t know what is going on there. I know his strategy is he would like to be 70 points on every bull. He is right there. He is lurking and he is still definitely in the conversation even with his strategy, because we don’t have a J.B. Mauney this year. I will say this: even though Silvano’s bull wasn’t that good (in Huntington Beach), he got in a really bad position and he did not quit. He did not give up and he kept gutting it and going for it. That is what I like to see and that is something that also helps your confidence.”

Guilherme Marchi 420x250px

No. 4 Guilherme Marchi (1,019.19 points back)

World Championships: 1 (2008)
Best World Finals Finish:
1st (2005, 7-for-8)

2014 BFTS Stats:
: 40
Attempts: 84
Riding Percentage: 47.62 percent
Wins: 1 (Last Cowboy Standing)
Top 10: 15
Top 5: 6
90-point Rides: 2
High Score: 90.5 points on Palm Springs (Sacramento, Calif.)
Last 10: 4-for-10

Noteworthy:  After being atop the world standings for 11 weeks in the first half, Marchi enters World Finals trailing by 1,019.19 points and ranked fourth in the world. It is the second-largest deficit of the season for Marchi.

Murray’s Take: “I don’t know with Guilherme. I feel like Guilherme’s age is a factor. It just is. Father Time is undefeated in sports and that is just how it goes. It doesn’t matter how great you are. You can look at the greatest boxers of all time and at some point Father Time wins. I feel like Guilherme is on the verge of that. I feel like he is still a good bull rider, but I don’t feel like he’s close to what he used to be. That being said, we are also talking about being a year where it doesn’t seem like anybody wants to step up.”

Mike Lee 420x250 px

No. 5 Mike Lee (1,433.44 points back)

World Championships: 1 (2004)
Best World Finals Finish:
1st (2004, 7-for-8)

2014 BFTS Stats:
: 29
Attempts: 70
Riding Percentage: 41.43 percent
Wins: 2 (Thackerville, Oklahoma, and Laughlin, Nevada)
Top 10: 9
Top 5: 7
90-point Rides: 0
High Score: 88.75 points on I’m a Gangster Too (Oklahoma City)
Last 10: 2-for-10

Noteworthy:  Lee’s two BFTS victories mark only the third time in his 13-year BFTS career that the Decatur, Texas,  cowboy has recorded more than one victory.

Murray’s Take: Mike Lee ability-wise is still capable. He has done it before and you are talking about he is 10 years removed (from a world title) and he is still very capable. You don’t see World Champions come in any sport 10 years apart, but I think Mike Lee is still very capable. But he is going to have to get that killer attitude and do the same thing that he did the last time he won a World Championship.”

Matt Triplett 420x250

No. 6 Matt Triplett (2,026.67 points back)

World Championships: 0
Best World Finals Finish:
9th (2013, 3-for-6)

2014 BFTS Stats:
: 29
Attempts: 79
Riding Percentage: 36.71 percent
Wins: 0
Top 10: 11
Top 5: 4
90-point Rides: 1
High Score: 90.5 points on Mr. Bull (Billings, Mont.)
Last 10: 6-for-10

Noteworthy:  Triplett could have easily been closer in the hunt for his first-career world title, but his 1-for-16 mark in the Built Ford Tough Championship Round this season has cost him a significant amount of points in the world standings.

Murray’s Take: “We are not seeing any of the top guys nail it and they haven’t been. If you ask me where you were looking at a season where it would be prime for Matt, this has to be as prime of a season as there is. Right on the eve of the Finals to be Matt Triplett leaving (Huntington Beach) with a win right here and you feel like you rode good. He is going to have some momentum and confidence, and momentum and confidence is important in any sport, and especially in this sport. Matt does good in big-moment situations. I think he feeds off of it and that is an important tool to have in your tool box, because it can affect guys two different ways. The pressure can get to them and make them freeze up, or they can thrive on it. Matt Triplett is a guy that thrives on it. He is not out of the conversation.”

Follow Justin Felisko on Twitter @jfelisko.

© 2014 PBR Inc. All rights reserved.