By: Justin Felisko March 30, 2015 @ 04:15:00 PM
PUEBLO, Colo. – Valdiron de Oliveira was the No. 4 bull rider in the world standings last year heading into the final Built Ford Tough Series event before Easter weekend.
Oliveira went 1-for-3 in Fresno, California, and – to the shock of many – it was the beginning of a treacherous slump that saw the talented bull rider go 4-for-36 on the BFTS for the next seven months before he won the BFTS event in Biloxi, Mississippi, in September.
Because of his career-worst slump, 2014 was the second consecutive year that he finished outside of the Top-15 of the world standings following 2012 back surgery for a herniated disc.
He could never pinpoint what exactly led to such a disastrous 2014 campaign. Yes, there were days when his back was sore and would give him fits, but there were other days where he felt fine. Yet, even on the good days he still couldn’t record an 8-second ride for the life of him.
He was left clueless, frustrated and deeply saddened.
Now, the 35-year-old heads into this year’s Easter weekend as the No. 3 bull rider in the world fresh off his 510-point, 3-for-3 victory at the Seattle Invitational.
The question becomes, which Valdiron de Oliveira will reemerge in two weeks in Nampa, Idaho at the DEWALT Guaranteed Tough Invitational: the consistent World Champion contender from 2012 or the wore-down Oliveira from the past two years?
“I need to believe,” Oliveira said. “If you say you are going to do it, you care more and try more.”
Prior to his surgery, Oliveira finished in the Top 5 of the world standings five straight seasons.
Oliveira knows Father Time is working against him. He knows he is running out of time to fulfill the only goal remaining on his bucket list as a professional bull rider.
“I believe more because I know I am almost 36 years old,” explained Oliveira, who turns 36 on June 13. “I am getting close to retiring. At the start of this year, I told my wife I know I want to ride either one or two more years. If this is my last year, or next year, I want to go hard. I want to win a World Championship. Then when I retire, I can say I completed my dream.”
Oliveira says he took this past offseason much more serious than years past.
He competed in two BlueDEF Velocity Tour events before the start of the 2015 BFTS to try and fine-tune his riding following last year’s collapse, and he has been working out with a personal trainer three to four times a week in Decatur, Texas.
The Aparecida De Goiania, Brazil, bull rider had quietly been hanging around the Top 10 of the world standings before breaking through with his first win of 2015 in Seattle.
He went 3-for-3 and earned a total of 510 points to move from seventh in the world standings to third. Oliveira trails No. 1 Joao Ricardo Vieira by 431.67 points.
Oliveira used a trio of 86.75-point rides to win the event average and 400 of his 510 points. His 86.75-point ride on Big Cool clinched the victory for him, while he placed third in Round 1 on Long Haired Outlaw and second in Round 2 on Say I Won’t Playboy. His round placements garnered him an additional 110 points.
“Well, I am feeling great this year,” Oliveira said. “I feel stronger and this year I feel more focused. I try and changed some things to ride better. I took it more serious and worked better than a couple of years ago. I did not have a problem before the back surgery. Now, I need to work out because I need to get my back strong to support me.”
Oliveira said he felt no pain or stiffness in his back this weekend and his ride aboard Big Cool gave everyone a glimpse of who he was prior to the surgery when he was able to handle Big Cool’s redirection while being banged up against the bucking chutes.
According to Oliveira, this is the best he has felt since the surgery, and two-time World Champion and CBS Sports commentator Justin McBride agreed that Oliveira has not looked this strong in a long time.
“Man, I love the effort,” McBride said. “This weekend he looked to me like the pre-surgery Valdiron that I used to see compete for World Championships. Now, if he can carry this on for the rest of the season, I don’t know.”
Oliveira’s riding stats back up his claim that this is the best he has felt since the surgery.
He has the third-highest riding percentage on the BFTS (57.5 percent) and he is currently on pace for his most qualified rides since finishing fourth in the world standings in 2012.
He has won three BFTS rounds in 2015 and has placed in the Top 5 of 12 rounds.
McBride thought that Oliveira should have won Round 1 on Long Haired Outlaw.
“Valdiron was awesome,” he said. “I ain’t kidding you. I thought he should have won the first go-round for starters. He made the best ride.”
McBride added that he was further impressed with Oliveira’s ride in Round 2 on Say I Won’t Playboy, “That bull he rode, they never get by. The guys have all sorts of trouble with him. He rode him so good. He used those muscles that he got because he is a big, strong guy. That was the kind of bull where he needed to use them and he had to have that big core strength.”
Oliveira is the third rider to conquer Say I Won’t Playboy in 12 outs on the BFTS.
2008 World Champion Guilherme Marchi understands how tough it can be to contend for a world title as one of the older bull riders in the locker room.
Marchi, who is currently seventh in the world standings, was the No. 1 bull rider for 11 weeks during the first half of the 2014 season before finishing the year ninth in the world standings.
“The more confidence you have, the better,” Marchi said. “It is hard when you mess up with your confidence. When you don’t have confidence then everything goes away from you. He is one of those guys that wants to be a champion so bad. He tries so hard every year. He has struggled at the Finals before, but I think this year will be good for Valdiron.
“He is 35 right now, but I think he feels like he is 26 or 27.”
Oliveira said there was many times where he thought he may never return to form following his surgery in Brazil, especially in 2013 when he was first trying to make his comeback.
“Yes, I lost confidence,” he said. “The first year was very hard for me. I lost everything. Sometimes I would stop and cry and my wife (Andrea) would say, ‘Hey, get up. You need to believe and believe in yourself. You can do this.’”
He finally believes once again.
“This is my dream, to come to America to win the World Championship,” Oliveira concluded. “I do not have much time. Right now, this is my time.”
Follow Justin Felisko on Twitter @jfelisko
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