By: Justin Felisko
March 03, 2016
PUEBLO, Colo. – Three years, over $350,000 in earnings.
That is how much money Joao Ricardo Vieira has won inside AT&T Stadium since first riding there in 2014, where he won the first of two consecutive Iron Cowboy titles.
Despite coming up short of a record-setting third consecutive Iron Cowboy victory this past weekend, Vieira simply went and made up his deficit in earnings by winning the bull riding championship, and its $100,000 purse, at the next day’s RFD-TV’s THE AMERICAN.
“It is very special for me,” Vieira said with the help of Guilherme Marchi translating. “Everybody wants to be the champion here at THE AMERICAN on this big stage. Riding at this big of arena makes it more special. Everything is different to be here. The energy here is positive. I feel like this is my home. I am calm and relaxed.”
Vieira rode Al Capone for 81.25 points in the long round and Red Moon for 81.75 points in the Final 4 Shoot Out Round.
He is the first non-PBR World Champion bull rider to win THE AMERICAN. He joins the winning company of three-time World Champion Silvano Alves and two-time World Champion J.B. Mauney.
Coincidentally, those are the two riders that have ultimately prevented Vieira from winning an illustrious PBR World Championship and its $1 million payday.
Then, of course, there has been the much-talked about struggle Vieira has riding bulls away from his hand.
However, maybe it is time to say it’s a non-issue.
Vieira made two forceful bull rides away from his hand at the Iron Cowboy, including an 89.25-point ride on Who Dey to win Round 3, that left PBR Director of Livestock Cody Lambert and two-time World Champion Justin McBride impressed.
Both PBR Ring of Honor inductees believe Vieira, the No. 3 bull rider in the world standings, may indeed finally be evolving into a true world title contender in his fourth season. Vieira has finished inside the Top 3 for three straight years.
“Joao made some really special rides away from his hand on two good bulls,” Lambert said. “One was really nice (88 points on Jack Daniel’s After Party) and one (Who Dey) was a real bucking bull, like a championship-round type World Finals bull away from his hand, lots of speed and he did it. He made me eat my words because I told everyone on television he couldn’t do it. I had to tell him too, I had to explain he wasn’t very good away from his hand and he proved me wrong.
“When you ride them with authority like that, it is going to happen again and again. He is now in my mind a real contender for a World Championship.”
McBride called Vieira’s decision to turn down his re-ride option in the Final 4 Shoot Out Round at THE AMERICAN a gutsy one, but it doesn’t take away from Vieira’s strong start to 2016.
“I do like how Joao is riding,” McBride said. “I thought at the Iron Cowboy he turned a corner for me. I said it in our early meetings that day he would ride that bull After Party and that bull gave him a feel of, ‘that is what it feels like to ride away from my hand.’ Then he comes back and rides Who Dey. That is a step better bull than After Party.”
McBride added he wasn’t concerned about Vieira being bucked off by Stanley FatMax away from his hand.
“He was bucked off one away from his hand, but that is a big strong bull that nobody rides,” McBride said. “He was doing a lot of things right before he was bucked off.”
Vieira heads into the Ak-Chin Invitational leading the Built Ford Tough Series with 19 qualified rides.
The 31-year-old is one of three riders, including No. 2 Mauney and No. 7 Robson Palermo, inside the Top 10 of the world standings who have yet to win a BFTS event this season.
“Yes, they were good bulls,” Vieira said about his Iron Cowboy performance. “I feel good to ride to the right again. I came here relaxed and concentrated to ride bulls to the left or to the right. (Who Dey) was fast, fast, fast to the right. I was in perfect position.”
The fourth-year pro is on pace to finish inside the Top 3 of the world standings for a fourth consecutive season.
He has drawn Soldier’s Pride (8-2, BFTS) for Round 1 on Saturday.
“I’ll tell you what is different. He can ride a bull away from his hand,” McBride said. “That is the only thing that has been stopping him because he has been so tough into his hand. I am not going to say he is a great bull rider away from his hand, but now he is going to start riding the ones he is supposed to ride. The rank ones he might still have a little of trouble with right now. Not saying he won’t get to where he is riding them too away from his hand, but them long rounders.
“I look for him to turn a corner and that is going to keep him in the race, if not at the top.”
Follow Justin Felisko on Twitter @jfelisko
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