FORT WORTH, Texas ― Guilherme Marchi was all smiles on the concourse.
The 2008 World Champion was shaking hands, signing autographs and posing for photos with PBR fans as they filed into the Save Mart Center in Fresno, Calif., last Saturday evening for the final two rounds of the Table Mountain Casino Invitational.
Marchi is always smiling.
The 31-year-old from Leme, Brazil, is one of the most giving riders on the Built Ford Tough Series when it comes to sharing his time with others, especially bull riding fans.
He’s a charming fella.
Regardless of whatever else is taking place in his life – in or out of the arena – he is always wholly focused on the fans when it comes to appearances, of which he made a two-hour-plus long appearance earlier that same day.
Now he was signing once again.
He made his way to the concourse 90 minutes before rider introductions and stayed up there for the better part of an hour as crowds of fans waited 20 people, and sometimes 30, deep in line to meet him.
The current No. 1 ranked rider in the world has been on the BFTS long enough to know that for those who wait in line to meet a rider, especially a former World Champion, it’s a special moment and one they won’t soon forget. In fact, it’s likely to be the only time for many fans to ever be that close to, perhaps, their favorite rider, who they typically only see on television.
During his latest appearance, Marchi never lets on that he’s the first rider out of the bucking chute that evening. In fact, by the time he makes his way back to the Save Mart Center locker room, he has less than 30 minutes to prepare for that night’s competition.
“Everything counts for you to be a champion,” Marchi said later that evening after bucking off Boot Jack.
He still qualified for the Built Ford Tough Championship Round and, while he never made any excuses, the 31-year-old was worn out by the time he bucked off Tea Time.
However, when he says “everything,” he’s referring to a laundry list of responsibilities.
Competing at an elite level like the BFTS comes with pressure to ride bulls. That takes focusing his attention on technique and a mental dedication to the sport. Inside the arena it’s about maintaining your health, while outside the arena can be equally taxing with cameras, lights, media requests, fans and sponsor obligations.
Guilherme Marchi notches his 500th BFTS career ride on Pandora’s Pyxis for 84 points in Round 1 of the 2014 Bass Pro Chute Out in Phoenix.
Everyone, it seems, has a question when you’re winning.
In addition to having won the world title, the 11-year veteran has finished second four times. Therefore, he’s experienced enough to deal with the challenges without allowing himself to feel hurried or any added pressure that might otherwise come with having spent more than three hours giving 100 percent of his attention to fans as opposed to preparing to risk his life in the arena.
“You need to prepare for everything,” he said. “You have to prepare to ride those bulls and you need to prepare for your life because everything changes when you start riding bulls to be a champion.”
“It’s been awhile since I’ve been in that position and I kind of forgot about it,” said 2009 World Champion Kody Lostroh, “and it’s huge.”
Lostroh continued, “There are so many people tugging at you. They want your comments and your time and this and that, if you don’t compartmentalize that stuff if can really take away from your focus when it comes down to riding.”
2013 World Champion J.B. Mauney added, “Some weekends you show up and you’re beat up and sore and that’s the last thing you want to do, but it’s all part of it.”
It’s a great sign when everyone is clamoring for their time.
It means one thing: they’re consistently making the whistle and, of course, contending for a world title.
“When people want to talk to you, most of the time, it’s because you’re riding well and obviously that should pump you up because you know you’re doing your job well,” Lostroh said. “Guilherme has probably been in that situation more than anybody.”
There are currently six past World Champions competing on the BFTS.
In addition to Marchi (2008) and Lostroh (2009), Mike Lee (2004), Renato Nunes (2010), Silvano Alves (2011, 2012) and Mauney (2013) are all competing in hopes of winning another gold buckle and claiming the $1 million bonus that comes with it.
Winning it once is not easy.
Winning it again is harder.
“Winning a world title is a special deal,” Lostroh said. “Winning more than one is extremely rare and my hat’s off to anybody who’s won more than one because it’s phenomenal.”
Nunes immediately brought up the health factor.
“It’s pretty hard,” said Nunes. “That’s the key.”
Nunes talked at length about Robson Palermo.
Palermo is the only rider to have won the World Finals average three times, including back-to-back seasons in 2011 and 2012. He missed nearly all of last year after undergoing season-ending surgery to both shoulders.
He relentlessly trained and prepared for the 2014 season.
Many observers and longtime Palermo supporters – nine-time World Champion and PBR co-founder Ty Murray among them – have often said if the 30-year-old from Rio Branco, Brazil, could stay healthy for an entire season, he too would add his name to the list of World Champions.
As of now, Palermo’s in the conversation with the likes of another PBR co-founder, Clint Branger, as the most talented riders in PBR history to not win a world title.
Branger, 49, has been retired for more than a decade.
This year was supposed to be different for Palermo.
“It looked like Palermo, he worked all year long last year to be healthy and he got hurt again – his leg – and he stayed two weeks home and come back and hurt again,” Nunes said. “That’s the hard part. It doesn’t matter if you ride good. If you’re hurt you’re not going to win.
“You never know.”
Bull riding is considered the most dangerous sport in the world.
It’s not just a cliché.
It’s truly not a matter of if, but when and how bad someone is going to be hurt while riding bulls.
Right now, Mauney is at home in Mooresville, N.C., playing the waiting game.
Earlier this season he missed one BFTS event after spraining his left riding hand, which had been injured in previous seasons, and last week in Fresno he was coming off a second missed event after spraining his ankle a week earlier when he once again injured his left hand or wrist.
J.B. Mauney is stepped on by Cool Moe Dee in Round 2 of the Table Mountain Casino in Fresno, Calif.
However, he would be lucky if it is only a sprained wrist.
“There are some ligaments or something in there and Tandy wants me to get some X-rays and an MRI this week to see exactly what’s wrong with it,” said Mauney, who is scheduled to visit a local North Carolina facility on Thursday and then follow-up with Freeman. “He thinks there’s a ligament in there strained really bad or partially torn. He said it’s one of the major ones, so I don’t have a whole lot of grip with my hand.
“If it’s a tear and I don’t get it fixed, a year later I’ll have arthritis. He said it’s a pretty major one. It’s the one that holds the bones together.”
It’s a far cry from the second-half season Mauney had last year when he came from 10th place in the world standings to win the world title on the final day of the season.
It started in Tulsa, Okla., when he rode Bushwacker for 95.25 points to win his first BFTS event of the season. It was the first time in nine tries he had ridden Bushwacker and it snapped the two-time World Champion Bull’s record streak of 42 consecutive buckoffs at BFTS events.
Mauney had a rough start to 2013.
He admits, the first 17 of 26 BFTS events last year was not a fun time for him.
However, with a little time off to heal, he won the Calgary Stampede in July and then followed that up by winning five of the last nine BFTS events. Mauney then went 6-for-6 at the World Finals to win that event as well.
J.B. Mauney goes 6-for-6 to clinch the 2013 PBR World Finals title.
“I never saw nothing like that before,” Nunes said. “I just believe it because I was there and I saw everything. He did what nobody did before. I don’t think nobody will do that again. Not like that. That was unbelievable.”
Mauney said, “After the break last year, I didn’t think about it. I just showed up and rode.”
Like so many others who had come close only to leave Las Vegas empty-handed, twice Mauney had finished second and twice he had finished third.
“It’s like a load lifted off your shoulders,” said Mauney. “You put so much pressure on yourself, especially when you’ve been as close as I have and Guilherme. When you’ve been that close and you can’t seem to get over the hump, you put so much pressure on yourself because you know you can win, but something always seems to come up.”
That load, so to speak, combined with a more mature Mauney – he’s married and the father of a 3-year-old daughter – has given him cause to re-examine some of the decisions he would have made based on his actions in past seasons.
It was his wife, Lexie, and bullfighter Frank Newsom who convinced Mauney to take it easy last summer rather than continue competing every weekend during the break from the BFTS.
That time away, in which he focused on his family, allowed his body to heal. He came back as healthy as he’s ever been in the month of August. It’s also the same reason he sat out the two previous events this year and won’t be in Nampa, Idaho, this weekend.
“Sometimes it’s better that you stay at home,” said Marchi.
“That’s the hard part about riding bulls, staying healthy” said Mauney, who is currently ranked sixth in the world and is 1,374.56 points behind Marchi. “If you can stay healthy for a whole year you can usually do pretty good.”
Marchi added, “The body is not the same as when you’re 20 years old. When you get old your body gets sore and gets tired. Everything changes.”
Lostroh battled through elbow and shoulder issues the year he beat out Mauney for the title.
“Realistically, the guys who learn how to deal with those injuries and continue to ride are the ones that are the most successful,” Lostroh said.
Skill and talent are the foundation.
Even luck plays a part.
Yes, health is a key role, but the one advantage each of these riders have is the experience of having gone through it and, more importantly, winning.
Anyone who’s ever been through a stretch run contending for a title, especially those who have come out victorious in the end, have a distinct advantage over those who haven’t.
Knowing what it took for him to win, Nunes replied, “Yes sir,” when asked if his 2010 victory gives him a sense of confidence he never had until that moment.
“Experience means everything in this sport,” Lostroh said.
“You know what to expect,” Mauney said. “You get up here and it’s the biggest bull riding in the world and you’re going against great guys. The more years you have under your belt you (have) a little bit of an advantage.”
Slvano Alves is the only rider in PBR history to have won back-to-back world titles.
“To be a World Champion and win a world title you have to…think about just riding bulls,” he said. “Every week you have to be confident. If you fall off you fall off. You can’t be thinking about that one.”
“Stay on,” Lostroh proclaimed. “It sounds simple – stay on – but when it comes down to it all the other stuff doesn’t matter. A guy has to ride his bulls and ride them when it counts.”
Follow Keith Ryan Cartwright on Twitter @PBR_KRC.
© 2014 PBR Inc. All rights reserved.