By: Justin Felisko
May 11, 2016
PUEBLO, Colo. – Joao Ricardo Vieira was riding at full throttle a year ago under the nighttime sky in Las Vegas before things took a very different turn.
Vieira had just ridden Percolator for 90.75 points in Round 3 of the 2015 Last Cowboy Standing and the No. 1 ranked bull rider in the world felt poised to run the table and ride off with a victory.
Then his left arm began to hurt. Then he felt the muscles in his legs began to pulsate as he tried to position himself on top of Walk Off in Round 4. Once the gate of the bucking chutes swung open, every muscle in his body was beginning to twitch in soreness and pain.
Suddenly, Vieira learned the true meaning of Last Cowboy Standing.
Vieira had easily won the 2015 Iron Cowboy title by riding all three of his bulls, while the rest of the field in Arlington, Texas, bucked off. The almost too-easy victory saved Vieira’s 2015 season. However, Vieira was being tested by Stetson Lawrence in Las Vegas after Lawrence had just riddenI’m A Gangster Too for 86.5 points in Round 3.
The two riders failed to record a ride in Round 4 or in the fifth and final round of the competition.
Vieira earned the Last Cowboy Standing victory and $188,400 because of a tiebreaker (round points), but he also grew to respect what it takes to win a Last Cowboy Standing formatted event when it does go the distance.
“You have to ride your bulls in this crazy event,” Vieira said this past weekend in Uvalde, Texas, at the BlueDEF Tour event. “Good riders can win Last Cowboy, but it is still crazy. I (attempted) four bulls in one day. That was very hard. My arms and legs hurt.
“My whole body. Everything was very tired.”
Vieira heads into this weekend’s Last Cowboy Standing event second in the world standings. He trails world leader J.B. Mauney by only 125 points.
The 31-year-old has the most qualified rides (10) among active riders at Last Cowboy Standing formatted events. Vieira says the biggest challenge for riders to overcome is the fact that the bulls get tougher the father you advance while you get weaker as exhaustion sets in.
“I drink a lot of Gatorade, but it is very hard,” he said. “One bull is fresh and every bull is fresh, while my body is tired. After the second one, the bulls can score 45-46 (points). They are more difficult to ride and you are more tired.”
Walk Off was marked 44.75 points, the fourth-highest bull score at Last Cowboy Standing last year, and Who Dey (44.25 points) posted the eighth highest.
Vieira begins his Last Cowboy Standing title defense Friday night against Mr. Clark (13-3, BFTS).
Even though Vieira is right on the cusp of the world No. 1 ranking, 2016 has been different for the Itatinga, Brazil, bull rider than 2015.
Vieira leads the BFTS with 27 qualified rides and is second to Mauney (54.76 percent) in riding percentage (49.09 percent), but he has yet to win an event or 15/15 Bucking Battle.
At this point last year, Vieira had won a PBR Major and one 15/15 Bucking Battle and was 29-for-56 (51.79 percent).
“This year is my best year, but I feel I have good confidence like the best riders,” Vieira said. “I have not won in the PBR and I don’t know. No wins. That is OK. I don’t need the wins now. I need to win after the summer.”
Vieira knows better than anyone that early season success does not guarantee a World Championship at season’s end.
Last year, Vieira’s Last Cowboy Standing victory helped him take a 1,002.5-point lead in the world standings over No. 2 Matt Triplett into the summer break.
He has finished inside the Top 3 of the world standings in each of his first three seasons, but has been unable to finish the job and win that elusive gold buckle.
Normally Vieira will head home to Brazil for the summer break, but this year he is deciding to stay in the United States. He will compete in seven or eight BlueDEF Tour or Touring Pro Division events, as well as the 2016 Calgary Stampede in July.
He believes staying in the U.S. will help him maintain his momentum compared to previous years where he struggled to re-adjust to American-bred bucking bulls.
“This can be very good,” Vieira said. “I will ride bulls in the Americas. It is good practice for after the break. I will not have to adapt to the bulls in the Americas like if I went to Brazil. In Brazil, during the break, you ride the bulls and they are slow. You return form the break and the American bulls are fast and fresh. It takes you two or three events to adapt.”
Before then, Vieira has some business to tend to in Las Vegas. He bashfully refused to agree that he should be considered a favorite at Last Cowboy Standing because of his past success there.
“I am no favorite and I need to ride bulls,” Vieira responded. “It is very hard. There is good competition at Last Cowboy. J.B. (Mauney) and Fabiano (Vieira) are contending. I love these events. Iron Cowboy and Last Cowboy. They are very hard, but I love them.”
Follow Justin Felisko on Twitter @jfelisko
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