By: Justin Felisko
February 24, 2016
PUEBLO, Colo. – Joao Ricardo Vieira took the end of his bull rope and lightly slammed it against the out gate at rider walk off last weekend at the Sprint Center in Kansas City, Missouri.
As all of the cameras began to focus in on world No. 1 J.B. Mauney inside the bucking chutes, the look on Vieira’s face was easily missed following his 7.08-second buckoff on Crossfire during the 15/15 Bucking Battle.
Vieira had a fiery glimmer in his eye that was accented by a tenacious snarl as if he was a dog who had had his favorite bone ripped away at the last second.
He knew how close he was from becoming the first rider in 19 Built Ford Tough Series attempts to ride Crossfire.
The 31-year-old then held himself back from aggressively whipping his bull rope against a Monster Energy cooler on his way to the locker room as the muscles in his cheek came to a rest.
Vieira – the current No. 4 bull rider in the world standings – has been riding with a quiet fire that has relatively been overshadowed by Mauney’s fast start to his world title defense.
“I have started really good,” Vieira said. “I feel stronger and feel more ready to go. I just am going to continue to do that.”
In fact, Vieira is off to the best start of his career (17-for-27) and leads the BFTS in qualified rides (17) heading into this Saturday’s Choctaw Casino Iron Cowboy, powered by Kawasaki.
Three-time World Finals event winner Robson Palermo has sensed a difference in Vieira this season.
“A lot,” Palermo said. “Last year, he was more pressured or what was going on. This year, I feel like there is more confidence and everything is normal. You see something different this year. Good thing is now he doesn’t pay attention as much to what people say. It don’t bother him no more. Before he didn’t understand anything, he just heard people talking. He now understands that he has to prove what he can do and ride his bulls.”
Vieira is well aware of the fact that many believe he will not be a true World Champion contender until he can ride bulls away from his hand.
And, yeah, that does frustrate him, but it is more frustrating that he hasn’t finished the job of winning the gold buckle in each of the past three seasons.
“It is frustrating for me,” Vieira said with Palermo translating. “Last year, people talked about all of this stuff and I didn’t win the World Championship. You just need to ride and work hard for that. Winning a World Championship is not easy. To be a World Champion you need to ride your bulls. This year I have been riding good.”
Vieira is going for an unprecedented third consecutive Iron Cowboy championship.
It was last year when Vieira turned around his season in Arlington and became a world title contender by going 3-for-3 to win Iron Cowboy for the second consecutive season. He jumped from 26th in the world standings to fifth with the victory.
At the time, Vieira had only 10 qualified rides heading into Iron Cowboy compared to this year’s 17.
Not only did Vieira win Iron Cowboy last season, but he then won Last Cowboy Standing in May by once again outlasting the competition.
“That is a really important element for an athlete to have,” said nine-time World Champion Ty Murray. “To be able to be at your best in the biggest moments is a really cool element to have. A lot of greats have that.”
Simply put, Vieira was one of the best riders when it came to the Iron Cowboy/Last Cowboy Standing format and he didn’t let the pressure of competing in PBR Majors affect him.
“I like the competition and the adrenaline there,” Vieira said. “It is a big event with a lot of money. I love that. You feel really good to win those major events like Iron Cowboy and Last Cowboy. If you win those kind of events, you feel like a cowboy.”
He then added with a big smile, “Good money, too.”
Not only is there a $100,000 payday waiting for this year’s Iron Cowboy, but there is also 3,000 potential points available toward the world standings. The 2016 Iron Cowboy will receive 625 of those points, and a third consecutive Iron Cowboy title could easily help Vieira overcome his 305-point deficit to Mauney in the standings.
Vieira could in essence leave Arlington as the No. 1 bull rider for the first time since Mauney snatched the world lead from him last September.
However, Vieira is not thinking about that just yet.
He has something else on his mind.
“Back-to-back-to-back,” Vieira said in clear English with no translator. “I want to win Iron Cowboy again.”
Follow Justin Felisko on Twitter @jfelisko
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