TULSA, Okla. – Robson Palermo had sweat oozing out the pores in his neck on Friday night following his 88.25-point ride on Sinful Nature.
“I am not going to lie,” Palermo said. “I had a little bit of butterflies here in my belly. Not because it is the Built Ford Tough Series. I have ridden here for 10 years. More the points.”
There is no doubting that when Palermo’s body and confidence are on the same page, the 32-year-old is easily one of the Top 35 bull riders in the world.
Though through the ups and downs of injuries and surgeries to both his shoulders and biceps in three consecutive seasons, Palermo has spent much of the past two years trying to adjust his riding style and calm his mind.
He also has spent two consecutive years fighting to stay on the Built Ford Tough Series and earn one of the final spots to the Built Ford Tough World Finals.
Palermo moved to 36th in the world standings with his second-place finish in Round 1 (60 points), and the Rio Branco, Brazil, bull rider is amid a thick battle at the bottom of the standings.
He trails No. 35 Tyler Harr by just 10 points heading into the second round of the Express Employment Professionals Classic on Saturday night, but things are even tighter with Harr and No. 41 Justin Paton separated by just 70 points.
“I have been working hard for it,” Palermo said. “When you come over here, you want to do well. I need to ride with a little more cockiness. I have been asking God to just to make me calm. Before I would ask, ‘Why this? Why that?’ Now let me calm down and ride my bull and make my confidence.”
While he has been humbled after being cut from the Built Ford Tough Series in February, Palermo added that he needs to ride with more confidence.
“I need to be a little cocky,” Palermo said. “It means a lot to be here. Touring Pro is not fun.”
Palermo has only six qualified rides this season – a career low.
Three-time World Champion Silvano Alves made sure to walk up onto the back of the bucking chutes and give Palermo a congratulatory hug on Friday night.
He knows how hard Palermo has worked to try and get back on tour.
Palermo went 2-for-3 with an 86- and 87-point ride last weekend to win the Cedar Park, Texas, Touring Pro Division event.
The win helped push Palermo high enough in the world standings to be an alternate for the injured Guilherme Marchi.
“I said it was a good ride tonight and that I was very happy for him,” Alves said in Tulsa. “He has been going to the Touring Pros, driving every week a lot and I like Palermo on the Built Ford Tough Series.”
Palermo qualified for the World Finals last year as the No. 35 bull rider in the world standings despite missing six months because of shoulder surgery.
His joy of qualifying for his eighth World Finals quickly evaporated when Smooth Operator stepped on his left ankle, causing a ligament tear.
“Oh my, don’t remind me of this,” Palermo said when asked about being on the fringe for the second year in a row. “Yeah, it has been hard. I want to ride good in the Finals this year. That is my plan.”
Palermo knows his pursuit of a first career gold buckle is most likely out of the question this year, but he does hope to add to his legacy of success at the World Finals.
He is the only man to win the World Finals event title three times and he has the goal of adding to that collection of victories this year.
Palermo has gone 32-for-52 (61.54 percent) at the World Finals.
Alves believes if everything is clicking for Palermo, he certainly can be a factor at the Finals.
“Yes, I think so,” Alves replied. “He is very talented and very strong. All the time he can ride bulls with focus.”
Of course, he will first have to qualify, but Palermo is already thinking about going after a fourth World Finals title.
“I have thought about it,” he said. “That is my plan. To catch those guys in front is not possible, but I am just going to play. I am going to come over here and ride my bulls and have fun.”
Follow Justin Felisko on Twitter @jfelisko
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