SEATTLE – Deep within the confines of the back bucking chutes at KeyArena, Joao Ricardo Vieira lifted his left leg onto a high railing and began stretching for his upcoming matchup against Cooper Tires Brown Sugar in the 15/15 Bucking Battle.
The No. 2 bull rider in the world was in his own zone of silent confidence as the rankest bulls at the Seattle Invitational were making easy work of the top bull riders on the Built Ford Series a couple feet away from him.
Every rider that nodded his head was greeted with over 1,500 pounds of frustration, while Vieira methodically got his bull rope ready.
Vieira’s confidence was on full display by the time he nodded his own head for the final out on Friday night.
The 30-year-old rode Brown Sugar for 89.75 points to win the 15/15 Bucking Battle, $21,000 and 150 points toward the world standings.
On a weekend where world leader Matt Triplett is out due to a torn left MCL, Vieira was the only rider in the 15/15 Bucking Battle to capitalize on the opportunity to gain ground on the 23-year-old, who was sitting in the front row on Friday night watching one of the hottest riders on tour chip away at his lead.
“The opportunity is there and he took advantage of it,” said two-time World Champion and CBS Sports commentator Justin McBride. “That was big. It looked like it was going to be a shutout and with Triplett being out it looked like no one was going to gain any ground when he was away and Joao stepped up.”
This weekend was the first of six consecutive CBS network television broadcasts.
Vieira had already earned 35 points earlier in the night when he finished Round 1 tied for fourth place with an 86.5-point ride on Bottle Rocket.
He has been practicing his English lately and briefly explained that he didn’t want to call this weekend a special opportunity because of Triplett being unable to compete.
“No, I don’t think this weekend is different,” Vieira said. “I am not happy that Matt (is hurt). “My competition is against the bulls. Not people. Matt is my friend and I don’t like him hurt.”
Regardless of what has led to the opportunity, Vieira has a great chance to leave Seattle as the No. 1 rider in the world if his recent run of dominance continues. He enters his Round 2 matchup against Cowboy Up (3-3, BFTS) just 200 points behind Triplett.
Since beginning Iron Cowboy 26th in the world standings, Vieira has gone 11-for-13 to jump to second in the world standings, thanks in part to the 900 points he earned to win Iron Cowboy.
It is no secret that Vieira has benefitted from draws that have gone into his hand, but, like he did on Friday, he took advantage of an opportunity that was available to him.
He also is very much aware of his struggles – riding bulls that spin away from his left riding hand – that played a factor in him coming up just short of a world title last year when he finished runner-up to defending World Champion Silvano Alves.
“Yes, the last two weeks I have been practicing at Silvano (Alves’) with Ben Jones,” Vieira responded when asked if he has been working at improving his riding ability away from his hand.
Alves knows Vieira is capable of riding away from his hand, and thinks it is more a mental block than a physical one.
“He is getting better,” Alves said. “He is practicing with two or three bulls away from the hand. Joao can ride good both sides, it just is mentally a little bit (of a block). A couple have went away and he has rode good. I think right now he is starting to get more relaxed again. There is no frustration for Joao this year.”
Vieira and Alves, the No. 3 bull rider in the world, have the exact same BFTS riding percentages this season heading into Round 2. They are tied for the BFTS lead in riding percentage (58.97 percent) and are tied for the series lead in qualified rides (23).
Vieira’s 58.97 percent riding average is way above his 44.09 percent clip from a year ago and he has shown some slight improvements this year riding away from his hand.
However, PBR experts, such as McBride, still believe he needs to improve his ability away from his hand to cover the ranker bulls on tour.
It is why McBride thinks that Vieira working with Alves is a great idea.
“Absolutely,” McBride said. “He has got to do something if he wants to be able to win a World Championship. He is going to have to get better away from his hand. Silvano is a three-time World Champ. He knows how to ride them either direction. That is definitely a move in the right direction.”
For now though, Vieira is on a march up the standings and is trying to not let any outside chatter affect him.
“I am relaxed and am focused on riding,” Vieira said. “Same thing as last year.”
Follow Justin Felisko on Twitter @jfelisko
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