HUNTINGTON BEACH, Calif. – Joao Ricardo Vieira meticulously brushed off his bull rope in the silent and empty locker room inside the PPL Center during Round 2 of last weekend’s Cooper Tires Take The Money and Ride event.
Beyond the quiet sound of Vieira’s brush grazing his rope, a roar could be heard echoing from out in the arena. Yet the current world leader was not even fazed by the silence being broken. He just continued to work on his rope and prepare his gear for the Built Ford Tough Championship Round following 84.5 points aboard Frost Bite.
Once he was done, the 30-year-old then took off his cowboy hat and held it to the side briefly before saying a concise prayer with his bull rope gently in his hand. He then put his hat back on and headed out to the arena for the remainder of the second round.
Just as stoic as he was during his run at the 2013 Rookie of the Year title last season, Vieira has become just as robotic this year. Vieira climbs aboard his bull, nods his head, receives a score and walks back to the locker room like a mint truck coming off the production line in a Detroit factory.
Vieira’s rise to the top of the world standings has been slow and methodical, but it has worked through 26 BFTS regular-season events thus far. He has one more chance this weekend at the Monster Energy Bulls on the Beach 15/15 Bucking Battle to build on his 511.63-point lead over No. 2 Fabiano Vieira before heading to Las Vegas with an eye on winning his first world title.
“I think about being a World Champion a lot,” Vieira said with the help of Renato Nunes translating. “I want to try and get on my bulls and see what happens at Finals.”
It is easy to forget that Vieira is a highly-experienced, second-year rider on the BFTS. The Itatinga, Brazil, native arrived in the United States last year with eight years of seasoning as a professional bull rider in Brazil, and he even won a championship at the university level in 2004 while at Escola Superior de Agronomia de Paraguacu Paulista.
It is partially why during the 2013 World Finals, Vieira expressed almost more disappointment rather than joy when he was crowned the Rookie of the Year.
Yes, he was happy to have won such a prestigious honor, but he had his dreams set higher.
He wanted to win the world title.
He finished seventh in the event average at the World Finals and concluded the season third in the world standings. Most importantly, he proclaimed he would return to the top of the standings in 2014 and make a push for that coveted world title and the $1 million bonus that comes along with it.
He has done just that this year with victories in St. Louis and at Dr Pepper Iron Cowboy V. He leads the BFTS with four 90-point rides and 10 Top-5 finishes. He has also ridden seven of his last nine bulls in the past three events to raise his riding percentage to 45.35 percent.
Vieira overtook Guilherme Marchi for the world lead five weeks ago. Marchi is now fourth in the world standings and sits 1,019.19 points behind his fellow Brazilian.
“He is always so calm,” Marchi said. “I’ve known Joao for two years and since I met him he is the same. He rides so good and he rides easy. He is so focused on his rides every time and I think he has a good feeling for this Finals and the title. He has lots of potential to finish strong.”
Robson Palermo admits he doesn’t know too much about Vieira since missing significant portions of the past two seasons because of shoulder injuries, but he did put Vieira in an elite class with another rider who has been known to have ice in his veins at times.
“He is going to be fun to watch at the Finals because Silvano and him are really cold guys,” Palermo said. “He looks he is really focused right now. He is trying to be a World Champion.”
Vieira says he has always been a focused, determined and relaxed bull rider since he got on his first bull at 16 years old.
He says he doesn’t feel any pressure, and he has yet to show much of any sign that maybe he does.
“Since I first started getting on bulls, I have always been like this,” he said. “I have a lot of experience here already and that is why I don’t feel pressure. So many years I have gotten on bulls and my whole life has been experienced with bull riding.”
Some have questioned if Vieira can indeed win the title despite his struggles away from his hand. Vieira is aware of the criticism, but points out that two of his 90-point rides have been away from his hand. The left-handed bull rider added that he is confident heading into Finals because he is more familiar with the bulls this year. Vieira always can be found studying video of bulls prior to a championship round draft and he says he is a fan of having the opportunity to pick his bull. However, that will only be the case for two rounds in Las Vegas.
“Now, I know how the Finals work with the draw and the draft,” he said. “I know a lot of bulls this year, so I can make a better choice.”
Vieira, whose wife, Mara, and daughter, Maria Clara, are now living with him in the U.S., also knows there is much to be decided in the next 10 days until a champion is crowned.
“I just try to do the same thing everyone tries to do and that is to be a World Champion,” he said.
Follow Justin Felisko on Twitter @jfelisko.
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