PUEBLO, Colo. – Robson Palermo still remembers the moments leading up to the championship round draft in St. Louis during the 2008 Built Ford Tough Series event.
He and Renato Nunes were joking back and forth about how each of them was going to use a 90-point ride to win the event title.
They both were a perfect 3-for-3 and Nunes, the more vocal of the two, was telling Palermo he would have no chance of out-doing him on that evening.
“Renato wanted Chicken on a Chain, and I said, ‘Well, I have to ride better than you to make a bigger score,” Palermo recalled on Sunday afternoon before the start of the final round of the Built Ford Tough World Finals.
However, Palermo wasn’t expecting to see what happened later on that day in St. Louis.
Nunes scooted up his bull rope and threw his free arm every step of the way in flamboyant fashion against Jeff Robinson’s bovine athlete and put forth one of the most memorable rides in not only Nunes’ career, but PBR history.
The ride was scored 95.75 points – the 11th highest-score in PBR history – and it left Palermo speechless.
“I said, ‘Oh my God, I can’t make a 96,” Palermo recalled on Sunday afternoon before the start of the final round of the Built Ford Tough World Finals.
Palermo went on to ride Nervous Waters for 92.75 points to finish second in the event, while fellow Brazilian Guilherme Marchi rode Spitfire for 90 points.
The three friends and Brazilian comrades finished first, second and third in the event.
“That year is special,” Palermo said. “I cannot forget. It was a great ride. I am going to miss him a lot.”
Marchi added, “We are going to miss him. He was one of those guys that fought with me and (Robson) Palermo all the time to win.”
Nunes announced on Saturday night following his 1.69-second buckoff against Gangster’s Wildside that he was retiring from professional bull riding.
He plans on packing up things in Texas and returning to Brazil on Nov. 5.
“I already knew from the start this year that this was going to be my last year, but I didn’t want to tell nobody because it is pretty hard when you ride in all 26 events in the year and feel the emotion to retire.”
Nunes went on to ride Chicken on a Chain four more times in his career, all but one were marked 90 points or higher.
The one that wasn’t marked 90 though, is one of the most important rides of his career as it helped him eventually win the 2010 Built Ford Tough World Finals and 2010 World Championship.
Nunes rode Chicken on a Chain for 89 points in the second round for the second of five consecutive rides to begin the World Finals.
He then went on to ride Closet Gangster for a Round 3 winning 89.25-points.
“When I rode my third bull in the Finals I knew it was over,” Nunes said. “I knew the next two picks I have the choice of what bull I am getting on. I was riding so good that there was no way anybody could catch me.”
Nunes began the Finals third in the world standings.
At the time, Nunes was just the second rider in PBR history to win the World Finals event title and World Championship in the same season.
Mike Lee first accomplished the feat in 2004.
The 2004 World Champion said he was always amazed by Nunes’ unique bull riding style that many times had him leaning very far back.
“He would get back, but he was so small at the top of his body that he would scoot to his rope,” Lee said. “That is when he would ride just about anything. They would get him strung back and he would scoot his butt to the rope and he was right back forward again. Then there were times he would just stay back and rather than rocking forward a little bit. He was really strong in his core and he could control his body left and right really well and he could keep his feet down most of the time.”
It was a style that many in Brazil believed wouldn’t work for Nunes in the United States.
The Buritama, Brazil, bull rider was committed to riding in the PBR though, and he made his Built Ford Tough Series debut in Tulsa, Oklahoma, on July 29, 2005, – less than three months after his first Touring Pro Division event in Benton, Texas.
He won his first BFTS event two years later in Tacoma, Washington, by riding Far North for 90 points.
The 34-year-old concludes his career with 308 qualified rides and a 44.25 percent riding average. He won 10 BFTS events, posted 37 90-point rides and qualified for the World Finals 10 times.
He earned $2.9 million over the course of 11 years, which is the ninth most in PBR history, and he will likely be a future PBR Ring of Honor inductee.
“A lot of people said, ‘You are going to get hurt down there. You better not go,” Nunes said. “I came and I made my first Finals in 2005. In 2010 again, another big name said you could not win. Then I got fired up and I win again. Some people don’t believe. If you believe and you try and give your blood, you can do it. Don’t let anybody say you can’t do it.”
Believing in yourself and remaining committed to being successful against all odds was something Nunes preached to the Thomas & Mack Center crowd when he stepped onto the shark cage to confirm he was retiring.
Nunes, who became a fan favorite in part because of his celebratory back flip following a qualified ride, took the microphone from in-arena announcer Brandon Bates and thanked all of his fans for being his biggest supporters when others doubted him.
“I am so happy about my career,” he said. “I did so good in the United States and I rode really good in Brazil. I appreciate you guys very much for everything, all of the support you guys do, not just for me or the Brazilians, but for the riders from all over the country.
“You have to give your blood. Don’t worry if someone said you can’t do it because I hear this a lot in my career.”
Marchi said Nunes’ veteran leadership will be missed inside the locker room.
Nunes often stood up for his fellow riders and helped be a line of communication for new Brazilian bull riders competing in the PBR that could not speak any English.
“He could get on the toughest bulls,” Marchi said. “Every time he get on the bulls, he get on for a ride or to try his best and win. He gave his heart, his blood, everything. We are going to miss him because he is so much fun. He encourages us all the time. He had a lot of dedication and a lot of passion for the sport.”
One of the riders that benefitted from Nunes’ veteran guidance during his transition to the United States was Silvano Alves.
The three-time World Champion has begun to take on a greater mentorship role in the past two seasons and credited Nunes for taking him under his wing at times during his 2011 rookie year.
“He was very important for me,” Alves said. “He helped me all the time and was a good friend. He was a good bull rider in the world and won a championship too. He did not just help me, he helped all of the Brazilian bull riders. He helped with the judges, the rules and the PBR. He was very important for the sport.”
Nunes finished this season ranked 24th in the world standings, which caused some to question why Nunes wouldn’t continue to try and compete in the PBR despite a career-low 28.99 percent riding average.
However, he said the timing is right and he no longer has the drive to get on the rankest bulls in the world.
“When I started riding bulls, I gave everything I got,” Nunes said. “When I started, I just wanted to get on bulls. I didn’t want nothing. No matter if I was rich or a billionaire, I wanted to get on bulls. I loved it. I don’t feel it that way anymore. I am so proud of everything I did. PBR (was) so good to me. I don’t want to say nothing bad about PBR. I have had a hard time with PBR sometimes, but everything I got is here in the PBR. The PBR supported me when I got hurt. They would call me to ask if I am good or not or if I need some help. The PBR has done so great to me. I think everything I got is from the PBR.
“It is easy to say you could still win a lot of money in the PBR. I am not worried about that. I have earned plenty of money for the rest of my life.”
Follow Justin Felisko on Twitter @jfelisko
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