By: Justin Felisko
February 19, 2016
KANSAS CITY, Mo. – Paulo Lima fought his way to the front of Cochise immediately out of the bucking chutes inside Madison Square Garden last month and then began to loosely throw his free arm with every ounce he had as Cochise helped carry him to a 90-point ride.
Lima didn’t always ride with that same loose, floating style that helped him rise to the No. 1 ranking in the world standings and win a career-high $129,500 last month at the Monster Energy Buck Off at the Garden.
In fact, it was a broken right elbow that may have actually led to his professional career blossoming.
Lima was 19 years old when he broke his right elbow attempting to ride a bull in Brazil. The Bezerros, Brazil, native wasn’t the first bull rider to ever break his riding elbow, and he certainly will not be the last. However, what makes Lima’s broken right elbow so unique is that it led to a decision that forever altered his career.
Lima didn’t want to miss the next couple of months with the injury. He wanted to keep practicing and continue to compete at various bull ridings within Brazil. Therefore, Lima hopped on his practice barrel with his father, Paulo, and decided to give it a whirl with his opposite hand.
For the next few months, Paulo Jr. would practice on the barrel with his father’s guidance and continued to compete as a professional with his opposite hand.
“My daddy helped me with the (drop) barrels,” Lima said with Guilherme Marchi translating. “I started with the right hand and I broke the elbow and I switched to the left hand. That is when I kind of learned how to stay to the front.”
After six months, Lima realized he was riding bulls more successfully with his left hand instead of his right hand – the same hand he spent the first 10 years of his life riding bulls with.
He noticed instead of riding with a pull down style based on strength similar to that of current three-time World Finals event-winner Robson Palermo and Marchi, Lima was now pushing himself up on his bull rope and floating near the front of his opposing bulls. The new style let him have a more free flowing sense of control every time a bull would switch direction or turn back.
“It took like six months to re-learn,” Lima said. “For me, it wasn’t that hard. It was easy. I just started staying to the front more when I was learning again.”
It wasn’t like Lima began riding with the wrong hand either. He writes with his right-hand and swings a baseball bat with his right. It seemed natural as a kid that he would attempt steers with his dominant hand.
Except, his dominant hand for riding bulls was actually the opposite.
Marchi, who was baffled mid-translation, paused and said it kind of made sense after the one time he tried to switch riding hands in August 2010 because of a wrist injury.
“It is true,” he said. “I tried one time. When I hurt my wrist I switched my hand and you don’t want to pull too much (with the new hand). You are more relaxed. Like he says, he rides different than us. He rides easy. He pushes more probably.”
Still, for Lima make that kind of switch so late in his development is not a common habit in professional bull riding or sports in general.
Three-time World Champion Silvano Alves shook his head and laughed while rosining his rope in the locker room when he overheard the conversation.
Alves said he once tried to switch riding hands during a bull riding in Brazil.
How did it go for one of the sport’s top superstars?
“No good,” Alves said with a smile. “Never again.”
Fellow superstar and two-time World Champion J.B. Mauney once made remarkable 89-point rides on Gunpowder & Lead and Bad Blake in 2012 using his opposite hand because of an injury to his riding hand. Mauney went 3-for-11 during that experiment.
For the most part, Lima’s early professional career full-time switch is a rarity in the sport.
During this week’s CBS Television Network production call, nine-time World Champion Ty Murray was impressed when told of Lima’s switch.
“That is impressive,” Murray said. “It is a hard thing to do.”
J.W. Hart then added, “I switched one time and about died.”
Lima has been the No. 1 ranked bull rider for the last five weeks, but he does have defending World Champion J.B. Mauney breathing down his neck. Both are expected to compete in this weekend’s 15/15 Bucking Battle on Saturday night following Round 1 of the Built Ford Tough Kansas City Clash.
The 28-year-old has drawn Brutus (9-3, BFTS), while Mauney (23-5, BFTS) takes on Wicked.
Lima is 11-for-19 on the BFTS compared to Mauney’s 12-for-21 (57.14 percent) start.
The top two riders in the world are separated by only 7.5 points in the world standings
“I will feel really good if I finish the year like that,” a bashful Lima said when asked if being No. 1 in the world has sunk in just yet. “I don’t care about that right now. I just care about riding those bulls and making some points and make some money.”
Follow Justin Felisko on Twitter @jfelisko
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