By: Keith Ryan Cartwright May 06, 2014@ 11:40:00 AM
LAS VEGAS ― There’s a heightened sense of energy and excitement when it comes to riding bulls in Las Vegas.
This week, the 2014 Built Ford Tough Series winds up its first half at the Mandalay Bay Events Center for the annual Last Cowboy Standing event, which features the Top 50 riders in the world in a progressive-elimination format.
The Top 50 riders, who are healthy, in the world standings will compete in the opening round. Everyone with a qualified ride will return Saturday night for the remainder of the event until there is one rider left standing.
This will be the third time in four years in which this particular event will be held in Las Vegas. In 2012, it was held at Ford Field in Detroit.
Sean Willingham referred to Las Vegas as a big stage.
“I just love being in Vegas and always have, especially for an event where you have a chance to win $100,000 dollars,” Willingham said. “That always motivates a guy a little bit more to encourage you to stay on and give it that second and third effort that it takes to make a qualified ride.”
Stormy Wing has ridden his first-round bull in three previous trips to the Last Cowboy Standing.
“There aren’t many chances bull riders get to ride for money like that,” Wing said. “The PBR allows you to do that and you’re talking about going in with the Top 50 bull riders in the world and they’re all gunning for that No. 1 place to win that prize money.”
Silvano Alves has been the Last Cowboy Standing champion the past two years, while Luke Snyder resurrected the later part of his career by winning inaugural event in 2011.
Willingham finished second that year. He and Snyder had ridden a pair of bulls coming into the decisive third round along with Pistol Robinson and Aaron Roy.
Robinson and Roy were the first two out and bucked off when Willingham climbed into the chute on the back of Slim’s Ghost.
Moments later, judges initially said the Georgia native had lost the tail of his rope less than a second shy of the whistle, but Willingham challenged the call and asked for a review. While it was determined he still had the rope in his right hand, replays showed he actually slapped the bull with his free hand at 7.99 seconds.
Snyder followed with 90-point effort – his second of the night – on Wild N Out to win.
“That’s what’s so special about that event, if you ride you advance,” Willingham said. “If you stay on you keep advancing. If you just do your job and stay on your chances are going to be very high to win that event.
“I ride better the more bulls I get on. If I can start off hot and keep the rhythm going I think I have a great chance.”
However, Renato Nunes, who has won the past two BFTS events – Des Moines, Iowa, and Colorado Springs, Colorado – quantified Willingham’s comment by adding that it also comes down to which bulls are drawn.
Renato Nunes puts up 90 points on Modified Clyde in the Built Ford Tough Championship Round of the 2014 PBR BFTS Rumble in the Rockies in Colorado Springs, Colo.
“Whoever draws hard ones is going to be eliminated,” Nunes said. “It’s just 8 seconds.”
Unlike Willingham, Wing and others, Nunes does not favor the format, calling it “a good TV show,” but he fancies the payday for the event winner.
Nevertheless, he said, “I’m ready to go.”
Nunes added that having ridden six of his last seven bulls the past two weeks gives the 2010 World Champion some added confidence in what was turning into a disappointing 2014 season.
“It means everything,” he said. “It proves your confidence is back. I’m mentally really good and I draw good bulls too. That’s important. If you draw bad ones you’re never going to win.”
Then again, confidence makes bulls he would have otherwise thought were bad feel as though they’re good.
Nunes has three Top-5 finishes, including the back-to-back wins, compared to failing to make the 8-second mark five times earlier this season.
“Now I know I can ride,” he said. “I know what I can do now. Before when I get in the bucking chute I didn’t know what I can do. I was lost and confused.”
That said Nunes would rather have finished second in Colorado Springs.
“I thought I was going to win second for sure because Fabiano (Vieira), that bull (didn’t) have a chance to put him on the ground,” Nunes said. “I’m so surprised he got bucked off before 8 seconds and I’m so upset about him. I could be happy with second.”
Vieira reclaimed the top spot in the world standings for the first time since briefly being there the first two weeks of year. However, he dislocated his right shoulder Sunday when he was slammed to the ground by Cowtown Slinger at 7.85 seconds.
Instead of his third win, Vieira finished fourth in Colorado Springs.
More importantly, he’s still listed as questionable for the Last Cowboy Standing.
On Monday morning, when he was asked what he thought his chances were of competing this week, the 32-year-old merely shrugged his left shoulder with uncertainty. However, he has since indicated he’ll try competing this weekend.
GALLERY: Check out photos from the 2013 Last Cowboy Standing HERE.
He’s had ongoing issues with it for much of the season.
Eduardo Aparecido (groin), Emilio Resende (groin) and Douglas Duncan (thumb) were also listed as questionable this week, but all three have initially indicated they will compete. A confirmed list of riders will be released Tuesday afternoon.
Robson Palermo (shoulder), Nathan Schaper (leg) and Reese Cates (shoulder) are definitely out of the event, while Chase Outlaw (pelvis) is listed as week-to-week and has yet to indicate whether he’ll be in Las Vegas.
For those who are in the Last Cowboy Standing, success is dependent on being able to channel the energy and excitement of being in Las Vegas.
Wing said it’s important to “pump the brakes” and use his head to slow things down.
In other words, it’s important to remain calm, cool and collected.
“Don’t waste (your energy) at the event getting too hyped up,” Willingham offered. “You have to put it together once you’re there on the back of your bull and ready to nod your head. Then feed off the energy that’s out there in Vegas and the bull riding itself.”
Wing added, “We were talking about that the other day. This sport has a lot of camaraderie amongst the riders and I love seeing my buddies do good. It makes me want to do better. I look forward to it and, I think, it’s a great deal.”
Follow Keith Ryan Cartwright on Twitter @PBR_KRC
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