When Joao Ricardo Vieira stepped foot inside the Columbus Civic Center on Jan. 11, 2013, the Brazilian bull rider knew very little English and had more doubts than confidence in his abilities.
It had taken 11 years for the aspiring World Champion to make his way to the United States after only beginning to ride bulls at 17 years old.
Vieira wasn’t sure what to expect as he prepared for the Touring Pro Division event, but the Itatinga, Brazil, native had heard plenty of stories from other bull riders back home that had attempted to move to the United States only to see the fruits of their labors in Brazil slowly disappear.
He had heard how expensive traveling from bull riding to bull riding in the United States could be. He had also heard stories and seen videos of the rankest bulls on the Built Ford Tough Series.
Most of all, he had seen the defeated looks on some of his fellow Brazilian bull riders that had failed in the pursuit of their dreams.
“I knew it was expensive to be here and it takes up a lot of money, especially in the rodeo business,” Vieira said through translator Miriaham Contreras last season. “You go and show up and you don’t win any money, so you lose all of your money. That has happened to a lot of Brazilians – good riders – that have come over and they just can’t ride and run out of money.”
Regardless, Vieira also knew that success was a possibility. There were plenty of Brazilian World Champions in the United States, such as Adriano Moraes, Ednei Caminhas, Guilherme Marchi, Renato Nunes and Silvano Alves.
His doubts eventually evolved into curiosity once he started competing as a professional in PBR Brazil. Until 2012, Vieira hadn’t competed at PBR Brazil events and as he began to find success on the PBR Brazil tour, he started to save his money.
“Once I started riding there, I became curious,” Vieira said. “I wanted to come see the United States. I put money aside and I told myself once I get there, once that money runs out, and I am not winning, then I am going back.”
The eventual 2012 PBR Brazil Rookie of the Year arrived in the United States with $15,000 dollars to his name.
He would go 3-for-4 at the Wichita Falls, Kansas, Touring Pro Division for his first victory on American soil and would then make his BFTS debut a week later in Oklahoma City.
Despite only needing four TPD events to qualify for the BFTS, Vieira still had his doubts.
It wasn’t until he went 4-for-4 to win the Ty Murray Invitational in Albuquerque, New Mexico, for his first career victory that his doubts came to a rest.
He rode Smackdown for 92.25 points in the Built Ford Tough Championship Round for his first of now 12 90-point rides and sealed the deal for a $44,543.33 payday.
It was then that all of his doubts were erased from his mind.
He would go 3-for-4 two weeks later to win the Billings, Montana, BFTS event, and he won his third event another two weeks later in Des Moines, Iowa.
“When I won my first event in Albuquerque that is when I knew I belonged,” Vieira said.
He had pocketed $133,324.33 with just those three wins.
Not bad for a $15,000 invest, right?
Vieira then shifted his sights toward his main goal, which was to win the 2013 World Championship.
He wound up coming up just short of that goal and he finished third in the world standings. Vieira would be crowned the 2013 Rookie of the Year and he was the highest rookie finisher in the world standings since Zach Brown in 2004.
Three seasons later, Vieira is still in search of that elusive first world title despite coming oh so close.
He followed up his 2013 third-place finish with a second-place finish in 2014 before finishing in third again this season.
Vieira was in prime position to win the PBR’s prestigious gold buckle and its $1 million bonus this past season before he crumbled during the stretch run to the Built Ford Tough World Finals.
The 31-year-old won a combined $383,233.33 with two PBR Major (Iron Cowboy and Last Cowboy Standing) victories and headed into the summer break with a 1,002.5 point-lead on No. 2 Matt Triplett – the largest lead of any No. 1 ranked rider this season at that point.
He was the No. 1 rider for nine consecutive events until an 8-for-26 performance (30.77 percent) over those final events, combined with 2015 World Champion J.B. Mauney’s second-half surge, led to Vieira coming up short by 2,305 points in the final standings.
It was a 3,307.5-point swing for Vieira, and a crushing defeat.
“It was disappointing,” Vieira said during the World Finals, “but I will be ready for next year to try again.”
Vieira concluded 2015 40-for-87 on the BFTS with nine Top-10 finishes, six Top-5 finishes, five BFTS round wins, three 90-point rides and a 15/15 Bucking Battle victory (Seattle).
Many experts pointed out Vieira’s flaw of failing to conquer bulls away from his hand as a potential kryptonite in his pursuit of a world title and that wound up being the case.
PBR Director of Livestock Cody Lambert explained last season that Vieira’s struggles were certainly fixable.
He even recommended for Vieira to reach out to a former PBR legend.
“Joao should reach out to Adriano (Moraes) to learn how to ride a bull away from his hand,” Lambert said. “Adriano had the strength and sort of Joao’s riding style to an extent.”
There was also the fact that without his two PBR Major wins, Vieira wouldn’t have even been in the world title race seeing as 46.78 percent of his points came via the two wins.
Regardless, Vieira thrived under the PBR’s new points system when it came to winning major events, but it ended up not being enough.
As they normally do in the sport of professional bull riding, injuries may have also played a factor in Vieira’s second-half downfall. Vieira had injured his right knee/shin at the PBR Brazil Finals in August, and also injured his riding wrist, sprained his left MCL, and bruised his left thigh during the final three months of the season.
Vieira now looks back at his doubts of whether or not he could compete in the United States and can laugh about them.
In fact, he believes he would have already been a World Champion by now if he would have come to the United States sooner.
“I do think I would have been a champ by now if I came earlier,” Vieira said. “I didn’t come earlier because I didn’t think I would do well here.”
Only time will tell if Vieira can make that belief a reality in 2016.
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