By: Justin Felisko
PUEBLO, Colo. – The 2021 PBR World Championship race has been a battle between multiple riders through the first four months of the season, but two riders have risen to the top of the standings for the time being.
2020 World Champion Jose Vitor Leme – the current No. 1-ranked bull rider in the world – and 2018 World Champion Kaique Pacheco.
The two Brazilian natives each already have a gold buckle on their resume, but they are still very much in the primes of their careers. There is a tremendous opportunity in front of them to join two legendary Brazilian riders in the PBR record books – three-time World Champions Adriano Moraes and Silvano Alves.
Moraes and Alves are also the only two Brazilian riders among the six men in PBR history to win multiple championships – Moraes, Alves, Justin McBride, Chris Shivers, J.B. Mauney and Jess Lockwood.
Leme is only 24 years old, and Pacheco is still just 26. (FWIW, two-time World Champion J.B. Mauney did not even win his first world title until he was 26 years old, and Moraes won his last title at 36).
Fans living in Brazil can closely follow the battle for the 2021 World Championship on SporTV3 throughout the remainder of the season. Pacheco’s victory in Nampa, Idaho, airs on Tuesday night in Brazil at 11 p.m.
Moraes will be serving as the color commentator alongside Luiz Felipe Prota during the SporTV broadcasts.
“I am very excited for this TV deal because now we have exposure on a major TV network that I think we as a sport deserve, especially this year with the Brazilians doing so good on tour,” Moraes told PBR.com. “I am excited about it.”
Leme overtook the world No. 1 ranking this past weekend in Omaha, Nebraska, with his 10th 90-point ride this season and a second-place finish at the PBR Union Home Mortgage Invitational.
He leads Pacheco by 27.5 points in the world standings with the Unleash The Beast on break this coming weekend before resuming on May 14-16 in Billings, Montana. However, Leme is tentatively slated to compete at the WCRA Major Rodeo Corpus Christi later this week, which will be offering riders Pendleton Whisky Velocity Tour-level world points. World No. 4 Joao Ricardo Vieira has earned an automatic bid to the Showdown Round on Sunday.
Vieira will be joined by the Top 8 athletes from the qualifying and progressive rounds of action in the showdown round. From there, the Top 3 scores or times will advance to the Triple Crown of Rodeo Round, where they will compete for their share of the more than $500,000 event purse.
“It is great watching seeing how well Jose is riding and how determined Joao Ricardo is to capture his first title,” Moraes said. “He knows he is not getting any younger, and the competition is getting tougher. Also, the coolness of Mr. Ice Man Kaique Pacheco, how well he is riding, is great.
“This has been a great season so far, and there is no telling who is going to win this year. So far, so good, and it is a beautiful season. It is going to be a great Finals, and I am sure I will be there watching.”
Here is a quick comparison between Pacheco and Leme’s careers so far.
Season: Pacheco (7) / Leme (5)
World Championships: Pacheco (2018) / Leme (2020)
Rookie of the Year: Pacheco (2015) / Leme (2017)
World Finals event victories: Pacheco (0) / Leme (2017)
Rides: Pacheco (232) / Leme (161)
Outs: Pacheco (481) / Leme (267)
Riding Percentage: Pacheco (48.23%) / Leme (60.3%)
90-Point Rides: Pacheco (13) / Leme (39)
Average Ride Score: Pacheco (84.98) / Leme (87.86)
Median Ride Score: Pacheco (85.75) / Leme (88.25)
Event Wins: Pacheco (18) / Leme (15)
15/15 Bucking Battle Wins: Pacheco (6) / Leme (5)
Best Ride: Pacheco (94 points on Chiseled) / Leme (95.75 points on Woopaa)
Analysis: 2021 is actually Leme’s fourth full season on the premier series; his first “season” consisted of him going 6-for-6 to win the 2017 PBR World Finals in his Unleash The Beast debut 10 days after stepping foot in the U.S. for the first time.
Leme’s career numbers have already surpassed Pacheco’s in many categories, and he has done it with 214 fewer career outs than Pacheco. It is also amazing to think Leme’s riding percentage is 12.07% higher than that of Pacheco, who is one of the more consistent riders in the PBR.
However, give Pacheco credit. He is the one rider outside of two-time World Champion Jess Lockwood who has kept Leme from winning multiple world titles.
Pacheco concluded 2018 422.5 points ahead of Leme in the final 2018 world standings. He led the PBR with five event wins (he already has four in 2021) and three 15/15 Bucking Battle victories (he has one so far this season). Pacheco was also No. 1 in qualified rides after going 42-for-84 (50 percent) in 27 premier series events.
Health wound up being a huge advantage for Pacheco, even with him tearing ligaments in his left knee at the Velocity Tour Finals days before the World Finals. He missed zero UTB events that season, whereas Leme missed three events, two because of a torn ACL.
The other caveat from that 2018 season is that Pacheco began that year a horrid 7-for-27, which was highly uncharacteristic of him. Pacheco finished the year 35-for-53 (66.04 percent) following his slump.
2021 has been next-level Pacheco, but it is still a version similar to that second-half dominance he had in 2018. If he can continue to ride around 60%, he would be riding close to Leme’s usual clip.
Pacheco is also going to keep his head down all season long, knowing how important the World Finals will be in determining who wins the 2021 World Championship. The PBR World Championship is a marathon, not a sprint.
One thing is clear: both of these riders are more than capable of winning a second world title this season. Still, they will have to overcome not only each other but also an increasing list of challengers, such as 2016 World Champion Cooper Davis, 2013 Rookie of the Year Joao Ricardo Vieira and 2016 PBR Brazil champion Dener Barbosa.
Follow Justin Felisko on Twitter @jfelisko
Photos courtesy of Andy Watson/Bull Stock Media
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