NEW YORK – Guilherme Marchi was walking toward the locker room on Sunday afternoon inside Madison Square Garden following his 86.25-point ride on Imagine That when he let out a jubilant yell:
“Away from my hand! Wooo!”
Marchi then picked up his bull rope and joyfully skipped his way through the tunnel with the smile and confident swagger that was on full display last season before a devastating second half cost him a chance at winning his second world title.
If there was one takeaway from Marchi’s 4-for-4 performance and event victory at the Monster Energy Buck Off at the Garden this past weekend, it was the evidence that Marchi still has the talent and ability to go head-to-head with the Built Ford Tough Series toughest riders.
He also still has what it takes to ride away from his hand.
“Everybody talks about that and they get on me all year long and (for) a couple years, but I rode more than 500 bulls. I don’t think I rode 500 bulls into my hand,” Marchi said. “I have started pretty good this year and feeling great and work hard at home to fight with those young guns. I am lucky this week and I rode great bulls away from my hand and into my hand.”
The 6-foot-3-inch bull rider may have some rust on his gears following 528 career rides and 12 years of service on the BFTS, but he is not ready to give up his place among the sport’s best.
His ride on Imagine That set him up to select KISS Animalize with the first pick of the Built Ford Tough Series Championship Round bull draft, which only led to more pressure by the time Marchi readied himself inside the bucking chute for the final ride of the weekend.
Marchi had just watched Shane Proctor continue his hot start to the season by riding King Buck for 87.75 points to jump into the event lead. It was the seventh ride of the championship round, and Marchi had no choice but to make the 8-second mark if he hoped to win for the first time in his career inside MSG.
“In the short go, that tests you a lot because the riders covered a couple of bulls today in the short go and I knew I needed to cover my bulls to win this event too,” he said.
He did just that and earned 86.75 points on KISS Animalize to earn the victory.
“Guilherme almost messed him up there at the end and got bucked off,” said stock contractor Jeff Robinson. “The bull puts forth an effort and put him in a position to win and he rode him to win the event and it was all good.”
However, his celebration was placed on hold as the judges wanted to review whether Marchi had kept hold of the tail of his bull rope before hitting the ground.
Once the green light from the review booth appeared, so too did Marchi’s celebration.
“I am happy to cover my bulls here this week,” Marchi said. “At the beginning of the year, everybody want to make up points and just to make the cut. I have started pretty good this year and I’m feeling great and work hard at home to fight with those young guns. I am lucky this week and I rode great bulls away from my hand and into my hand.”
His 21 wins on the BFTS are second among active riders. J.B. Mauney has the most with 22.
Marchi rode Justified for 87.25 points in Round 1 and Pandemonium Gold for 80.75 points in Round 2. His only slip-up on the weekend came in the 15/15 Bucking Battle when Percolator dumped him in 2.24 seconds.
The event victory moved Marchi to fourth in the world standings with 530 points. He has ridden 7-of-10 bulls through three BFTS events, which is the third most on tour.
Longtime friend Robson Palermo was proud to see Marchi smiling and on top of the shark cage once again. He said that he could see Marchi’s disappointment in the weeks following the 2014 World Finals.
Marchi went 1-for-5 at the Finals and ended the season 8-for-28. It was one of the most difficult stretches of his career and Marchi could sense his world title aspirations slowly slipping away with every buckoff.
The bull rider that sat on top of the world standings for 11 weeks last season ended up finishing the year eighth overall. It was only the third time in his career that he didn’t finish inside the Top 5.
“I know Guilherme was really disappointed because I have known him for a long time. I know how he feels,” Palermo said. “For him, he (felt) real bad because something happened. I don’t know what.”
Marchi said it was a combination of his health and mental strength that proved costly in Las Vegas, and ultimately at winning a second gold buckle.
“That is part of the game,” Marchi said. “I came close to the title at the Finals and I rode my first bull (Flyin’ Crazy) real good and I thought I was going to make it a great Finals, but something broke in my head. I didn’t do pretty good, but this year I try to keep my eyes on each event I go to first and prepare myself at home too with family and my kids.”
Inside the locker room on Sunday afternoon, Marchi and Palermo sat against the wall while the latest generation of Brazilian bull riders – Silvano Alves, Eduardo Aparecido and Kaique Pacheco – began to prepare for Round 3.
“He told me in the locker room today he feels really good on the bull away from his hand and into it too,” Palermo said. “It was good seeing him come back and get on all those rank bulls and do this, riding away from the hand and into it. It is awesome to see. It is going to be good for him to come back next week and ride strong.”
Marchi understands that if he wants to remain a title contender throughout the season it is going to start with conditioning. While his mental confidence will need to remain high as well, he said the harder challenge will be remaining healthy for the entire season.
“It is a hard thing because when you get older you need to do more exercise every day,” he explained. “That is no fun anymore, but right now, today, I feel great and I will go back home, rest and run a little bit.”
Follow Justin Felisko on Twitter @jfelisko.
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