By: Justin Felisko
PUEBLO, Colo. – The 2021 Unleash The Beast: American Roots Edition series begins Saturday afternoon at the Southeastern Livestock Pavilion in Ocala, Florida, with the PBR Monster Energy Invitational.
PBR.com will be counting down the final days leading up to the UTB season opener by looking back at the Top 5 bull riders at the conclusion of the 2020 season.
Today, we look at 2020 PBR World Champion Jose Vitor Leme.
No. 1 Jose Vitor Leme
World Championships: 1
Best World Standings Finish: 1 (2020)
2020 Premier Series (UTB) Stats
Riding Percentage: 67.69%
Top Ride: 95.75 points on Woopaa (Arlington, Texas)
Average Ride Score: 88.15 points
Wins: 7 (Sacramento, California; Oklahoma City, Oklahoma; St. Louis, Missouri; Guthrie, Oklahoma; Salt Lake City, Utah; Fort Worth, Texas; Billings, Montana)
15/15 Bucking Battle Victories: 1 (Billings, Montana)
Round Wins: 16
Top 5: 11
Top 10: 13
90-point Rides: 9
2020 Recap: Jose Vitor Leme’s march to the world title was highlighted by a remarkable seven event wins and a 67.69% riding average on the premier series. 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%).
Leme also led the PBR in qualified rides (44), round wins (16) and 90-point rides (9). The 2017 PBR World Finals event winner was motivated to finish the job he started in 2019 and not lose the world title during the 2020 PBR World Finals, using an emphatic 95.75-point ride on Woopaa in Round 3 to clinch the world title.
However, the biggest challenger to Leme, and the entire world, in 2020 was the COVID-19 pandemic, especially once two-time World Champion Jess Lockwood went down with his hamstring injury in March and Leme lost his primary challenger. There was so much uncertainty, as there still is today, amidst the 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 2020 season could even be finished once sporting events all across the United States began to be canceled. Once the PBR did restart its season in April, COVID-19 testing, social distancing and training in isolation became the norm. Many of those same things will be a focal point of the 2021 season as well.
In fact, Leme’s red-hot streak of three consecutive premier series victories last year 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.
2020 was pure domination by Jose Vitor Leme.
OUTLOOK: The consensus is to expect much more of the same supremacy that Leme has brought to the arena for the past three seasons. He should be in world title contention once again, but we will see if he can ride at his near-70% pace of 2020 and continue to win multiple rounds week in and week out.
Leme will be looking to accomplish what only one rider has done in the PBR’s previous 27 seasons – win back-to-back world titles. Silvano Alves successfully defended his world title in 2011-12 before J.B. Mauney unseated him from the PBR throne in 2013, but otherwise, the back-to-back titles has been one of the hardest accomplishments to achieve.
So, can Leme do it? He certainly seems up to the challenge. He has finished in the Top 2 of the world standings in each of his three full seasons on tour, and he is still in the prime of his career at 24 years old.
It is that athletic ability that makes Leme so dangerous, says two-time World Champion and CBS Sports analyst Justin McBride.
“I don’t think winning a world title is going to slow him down any,” McBride said. “He is too good. He is too focused, too good of a bull rider. I don’t even like calling him a good bull rider. I think he is a great athlete. He is a good bull rider, but a great athlete. He is the first guy I have been really willing to say that about. There have been tons of really good athletes that were great bull riders. I think he is the opposite. He is a pretty good bull rider, but I think he is a great athlete.”
RidePass analyst and five-time PBR World Finals qualifier Colby Yates says he would be shocked if Leme was not competing for a second world title in 2020 as well. Yates believes Leme will not become complacent now that he has won his first gold buckle.
“I feel like he is a different cat than what we have seen in a long time,” Yates said. “Obviously, he is going to keep pushing and knocking down more championships. I don’t see it any other way, but I could be wrong. I have been wrong before. It is easy to take a sigh of relief and let your guard down when you are comfortable. I just don’t think you can ever get comfortable. Actually, I know about getting comfortable. You should never get comfortable. We have seen that over plenty of years where plenty of different guys get that comfortability and they let their guard down, but I don’t see Jose doing that.”
Follow Justin Felisko on Twitter @jfelisko
Photo courtesy of Christopher Thompson/Bull Stock Media
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