By: Justin Felisko
OKLAHOMA CITY – The 2021 World Championship race is beginning to take shape, and through the first four months of the season it is looking like this year’s gold buckle battle may feature multiple riders with gold buckles already on their waists.
The top three positions in the world standings ahead of this weekend’s PBR Express Ranches Invitational in Oklahoma City are held by World Champion riders – No. 1 Kaique Pacheco (2018 World Champion), No. 2 Cooper Davis (2016 World Champion) and No. 3 Jose Vitor Leme (2020 World Champion).
“They always can make a difference in the race, if they are healthy, for sure, they will fight for that gold,” Leme told PBR.com this week following his victory in Sioux Falls, South Dakota.
Since 2000, the final PBR world standings have never ended with each of the Top-3 finishers having a gold buckle from a previous season on their resume.
Gold buckle experience, as well as the ability to overcome adversity – a necessary trait for any World Champion – is easy to find right now in the 2021 title race.
All three of the top contenders also overcame adversity in differing degrees during their championships.
Last year, Leme had to navigate a season/year tremendously impacted and altered by the COVID-19 pandemic.
Pacheco, meanwhile, was able to hold off Leme for the 2018 World Championship despite tearing his left PCL/MCL at the 2018 Velocity Tour Finals just three days before the World Finals.
Davis rallied back from a broken collarbone in September to defeat Pacheco and Mauney for that 2016 gold buckle.
There are a few comparisons to previous seasons that saw at least one of the Top-3 finishers eventually become PBR World Champions in later years. The 2016 world title race contenders would eventually all end up with world titles as runner-up Kaique Pacheco would win the 2018 World Championship two years later. Davis was able to hold off not only Pacheco for the World Championship, but also two-time World Champion J.B. Mauney.
In 2006, Adriano Moraes won his third world title by stunning eventual 2008 World Champion Guilherme Marchi inside the Thomas & Mack Center. 2004 World Champion Mike Lee finished third.
Justin McBride won his second world title in 2007 by holding off eventual World Champions Marchi and J.B. Mauney. In 2009, Mauney and Marchi finished behind World Champion Kody Lostroh.
Regardless, no world title race in at least the past 20 years has ended with the Top 3 finishers all having already won a gold buckle previously.
Speaking of World Champions, one does not have to skim a tad bit further down the 2021 world standing to notice another previous champ lurking in the shadows in the No. 8 hole – three-time World Champion Silvano Alves.
Meanwhile, pre-season title favorite Jess Lockwood has struggled out of the gate this season (3-for-14), but the two-time World Champion is one event win away from putting himself right back into the conversation.
If Lockwood, the No. 21 ranked rider in the world standings, can turns thing around, there is the potential for World Champions to account for half of the Top 10 of the world standings come the summer break.
The focus this weekend in Oklahoma City, of course, will center on Pacheco and Leme with Davis unable to compete because of a concussion he sustained last weekend in Sioux Falls.
Pacheco takes on co-leading contender for the 2021 YETI World Champion Bull title, Chiseled, in the marquee matchup of the 15/15 Bucking Battle (Sunday 1 p.m. ET on CBS national television; check local listings).
Chiseled (17-10, premier series) is tied with Woopaa atop the 2021 YETI World Champion Bull standings with a 46.33-point average bull score in three outs. Most recently, 2016 World Champion Cooper Davis rode Chiseled for 94 points.
Pacheco could very well be north of 90 points with a qualified ride aboard the 2019 ABBI Classic champion inside Chesapeake Energy Arena, and he also may be able to surpass his career-high score of 92.75 points. Right-handed riders have accounted for all 10 rides aboard Chiseled on the Unleash The Beast. Chiseled is 16-10 on the premier series.
Meanwhile, Leme, who is only 95.5 points behind Pacheco in the world standings, has a rematch against Top Shelf in the 15/15 Bucking Battle. Leme previously rode Top Shelf for 91.75 points earlier this season in Kansas City, Missouri.
Pacheco and Leme will first focus on Round 1 Saturday night at Chesapeake Energy Arena, which airs on CBS Sports Network at 9 p.m. ET and RidePass at 7:45 p.m. ET.
Pacheco has drawn Outlaw (0-2, UTB) for Round 1. Outlaw was last ridden by Joao Ricardo Vieira for 89.5 points in Fort Worth.
Leme takes on Butterfly Kisses (3-0, UTB). Butterfly Kisses is 7-0 at all levels of competition.
Follow Justin Felisko on Twitter @jfelisko
Photo courtesy of Andy Watson/Bull Stock Media
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