By: Justin Felisko
PUEBLO, Colo. – Two-time World Champion and CBS Sports Network analyst Justin McBride let out a chuckle when CBS host Craig Hummer asked him to make a bold prediction for 2021.
“More of the same,” McBride says in an upcoming episode of PBR Keep Riding (CBS, Sunday, check local listings). “Leme and Lockwood, and that is not a bad thing. They are really, really good.”
PBR fans can only hope for an exciting world title race between the two most recent PBR World Champions when the 2021 PBR Unleash The Beast: American Roots Edition begins on Jan. 16-17 in Ocala, Florida.
However, fans don’t have to wait that much longer to see PBR action on their television screens.
PBR Keep Riding airs Sunday on CBS national television at 3 p.m. ET. Hummer and McBride will look back at Leme’s historic 2020 gold buckle run and the 2020 PBR World Finals, and get fans ready for the start of the 2021 season.
Of course, the man of 2020 was none other than Jose Vitor Leme.
Leme’s march to the world title was highlighted by a remarkable seven event wins and a 67.69% riding average. The two accolades had Leme flirting with the PBR’s record for most wins in a season (Justin McBride, 8) and highest riding percentage (Guilherme Marchi, 70.75%).
Now that the 2020 season has been over for almost two months, McBride explained to Hummer that Leme’s year feels that much more impressive in retrospect.
“With the little bit of time, it is even better than it was a few months ago,” McBride says. “Nothing short of spectacular from Jose. It was a great year from start to finish, and then he capped it off in a huge way at the World Finals.”
Leme went 3-for-5 at the 2020 PBR World Finals, clinching the 2020 World Championship with an emphatic 95.75-point ride on 2020 ABBI Classic Champion Woopaa.
Leme’s biggest challenger in 2020 once two-time World Champion Jess Lockwood went down with his hamstring injury was all the uncertainty surrounding the world amidst the COVID-19 pandemic. It is no secret that the coronavirus forever altered the world, let alone the PBR season, but Leme and the rest of the league’s bull riders had to adjust to life in a COVID-riddled world. There was uncertainty early on if the season could even be finished once sporting events all across the United States began to be canceled because of the ongoing pandemic. Once the PBR did restart its season in April, COVID-19 testing, social distancing and training in isolation became the norm.
In fact, Leme’s red-hot streak of three consecutive premier series victories in the fall came to a halt when he had to miss two events because of close-contact exposure to someone who had tested positive for COVID-19.
Leme never faltered through it all, and he never let go of the world No. 1 ranking for the final seven and a half months of the season. He refused to slow down even when stiff opponents such as Lockwood, Chase Outlaw and 2016 World Champion Cooper Davis were at home recovering from significant injuries.
“He never fell into that trap, also not looking too far into the rearview mirror either, because there were weekends, and they were far and few between, but he didn’t let that take over,” McBride said. “He didn’t get hung up in the rut of, ‘Oh man, I need to start changing some things.’
“He just kept on going, and it was great. You put in how crazy of a year 2020 was, and just the focus that Leme was able to keep, all the different scenarios that he was competing in, he never lost sight of the end goal, and that was to be the World Champion.”
Leme spent the offseason celebrating his championship in Brazil with his family and childhood friends, but he has since returned to the United States this week to prepare for his world title defense.
The 24-year-old will look to join three-time World Champion Silvano Alves as the only back-to-back champions in PBR history.
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Meanwhile, the 2021 season, similarly to 2020, will be very different compared to past years because of the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.
The PBR will spend the first two months of the season hosting events in historic, outdoor rodeo venues instead of visiting normal first-half tour stops such as New York City, Chicago and Sacramento, California.
PBR Commissioner and CEO Sean Gleason announced on his social media channels on Tuesday evening that the Unleash The Beast: American Roots edition will head to Arcadia, Florida, (Jan. 23-24) and Okeechobee, Florida (Jan. 30-31) after Ocala as the UTB begins to hit the ground running full-steam ahead.
PBR Keep Riding takes a look back at all the work the PBR put in during the past season to kickstart its 2020 campaign and gets its athletes, staff and independent contractors back to work.
“American business has an obligation to start to figure out how are they going to get back to work safely and responsibly,” Gleason said.
McBride knows that trying to plan a season during a pandemic is no easy feat, but he knows Gleason and the PBR leadership team will continue to explore opportunities for the league to keep pushing forward in 2021.
“No question, just because the calendar rolls (doesn’t mean) we won’t be facing similar challenges that we faced in 2020,” McBride said. “Whatever challenges we are facing, PBR will be ready to roll with them.
“It should be really fun (heading outdoors). Some historic venues that we will get to go to, some cool looks on TV with some outdoor venues.”
Follow Justin Felisko on Twitter @jfelisko
Photo courtesy of Josh Homer/Bull Stock Media
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