By: Justin Felisko
PUEBLO, Colo. – World leader Jose Vitor Leme may have been unable to finish last weekend’s PBR Lucas Oil Invitational, presented by U.S. Border Patrol, because of an injury to his ribs, but his ribs were actually less of a concern this week than the pain inside his mouth.
“I also had surgery on Monday to remove my wisdom teeth. My mouth hurts more than the ribs,” Leme said with a laugh Thursday morning.
Leme has been close to unstoppable in 2020 outside of him breaking three ribs on Feb. 29 in Kansas City, Missouri. The world leader gave fans a brief scare on Sunday morning when he was ruled out of competition after injuring his right lower ribs.
The 2017 World Finals event winner, though, was quickly reassured that his ribs were not broken again, and that he just had some bruising.
Leme says he will be ready to roll for the Monster Energy Team Challenge, presented by U.S. Border Patrol, in two weeks when the 12-team competition gets underway at the South Point Hotel Casino and Spa in Las Vegas.
For the 44 riders that will not be Leme’s teammate next month, they can only hope his lack of wisdom teeth will lead to some mysterious bad luck, because it certainly seems like nothing is going to be slowing down the 2017 World Finals event winner any time soon.
Leme finished the first half of the 2020 Unleash The Beast atop the world standings by putting forth one of the best starts in the PBR’s 27-year history even despite missing two events because of his broken ribs.
The 23-year-old headed into the summer UTB break leading the PBR in event wins (4) – which is the same number he won in all of 2019 – qualified rides (25), riding percentage (73.53%) and 90-point rides (6). Leme’s eight round wins is also tied with Lockwood for the most in the PBR.
No World Champion has ridden more than 70% of his bulls on the premier series since Guilherme Marchi (2008). Marchi began the 2008 season 28-for-34 (82.35%).
The Monster Energy Team Challenge is going to feature 12 teams and 48 bull riders. Each team will consist of four riders, and there will be two divisions of six teams. The Top 3 teams in each division will then qualify for Championship Weekend and a single-elimination tournament in Sioux Falls, South Dakota, on July 10-12 in front of fans.
A former semi-professional soccer player in Brazil, and an avid soccer fan in general, Leme said he is “very excited” for another team-style event series. Leme has competed at all four PBR Global Cup competitions, winning two championships with Team Brazil.
Leme also won the individual aggregate title at the 2020 Global Cup USA, but Team Brazil underwhelmed and finished runner-up to the Team USA Eagles.
Similar to the Global Cup, riders will not earn any points toward the world standings during the Monster Energy Team Challenge.
Leme would have liked the opportunity to pick up world points and build on his 235-point lead in the world standings.
“It is certainly disappointing not to have world points in such a disputed event, especially when you have to ride on so many bulls, but we need to work,” he said.
Leme did weigh his options before committing to the team challenge. He understands the risks involved with potentially getting injured and hurting his chances at winning the $1 million PBR World Championship later this season at the 2020 PBR World Finals (Nov. 4-8) in Las Vegas.
However, the opportunity to lead a team to victory and continue to stay in shape for the second half of the Unleash The Beast outweighed any cons on his list.
“I think the risk of getting hurt is daily, in my case,” Leme said. “If it weren’t this competition, I would be practicing at home and in other places too, so I would still have the risk of getting hurt, but I don’t think about it very much. I think that what has to happen will happen.”
Many summer Touring Pro Division events in June have been cancelled or postponed because of the ongoing COVID-19 (coronavirus) outbreak, which limits the amount of opportunities Leme would have had to compete in PBR-sanctioned events this summer.
Outside of select PBR’s events, which began in late April at the Lazy E Arena, the Western and rodeo world is one of many industries in the United States that has been at a standstill because of the pandemic. Thousands of cowboys and those with income tied to events and rodeos remain out of work amid multiple postponements and cancellations of events throughout the world.
There has been some progress, though, with a few rodeos starting up in the next few weeks and, of course, the launch of the Monster Energy Team Challenge.
Leme said he is grateful for Las Vegas and Sioux Falls for welcoming the PBR.
“I believe that all of us riders are grateful for them opening the doors for PBR to return with their competitions,” Leme said. “This moment is so difficult that the whole world is going through. This helps a lot because thanks to this, we can work and continue our lives.”
Follow Justin Felisko on Twitter @jfelisko
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