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 2013 Rookie of the Year Joao Ricardo Vieira, who finished second in the 2020 world standings.
No. 2 Joao Ricardo Vieira
World Championships: 0
Best World Standings Finish: 2 (2014 & 2020)
2020 Premier Series (UTB) Stats
Riding Percentage: 49.21%
Top Ride: 92 points on Foghorn Leghorn (Sacramento, California)
Average Ride Score: 81.77 points
Wins: 2 (New York, New York; Nampa, Idaho)
15/15 Bucking Battle Victories: 2 (Sacramento, California; Fort Worth, Texas)
Round Wins: 5
Top 5: 7
Top 10: 10
90-point Rides: 6
2020 Recap: Joao Ricardo Vieira was amidst arguably the best season of his career when the 36-year-old received crushing news just days before the 2020 PBR World Finals in Arlington, Texas: his COVID-19 test was positive, and he would be unable to compete inside AT&T Stadium, where no other bull rider has matched his success.
Could Vieira, the No. 2 bull rider in the world at the time of his positive test, have overtaken Jose Vitor Leme to win the 2020 PBR World Championship?
Fans and Vieira will never know, but the 36-year-old was only 424.59 points behind Leme at the time, and a victory at the World Finals may have been enough for him to become the second-oldest PBR World Champion.
Vieira nearly made history by bookending his season with event victories. He started 2020 with a PBR Major victory inside Madison Square Garden in New York City, and he ended the year by winning the regular-season finale in Nampa, Idaho.
Vieira was tied for second with 2018 World Champion Kaique Pacheco for the most qualified rides on the Unleash The Beast in 2020. He also did not compete at the three closed-to-the-public UTB events in Guthrie, Oklahoma, in April and May when he decided to return to Brazil with his family at the start of the COVID-19 pandemic.
The eight-time PBR World Finals qualifier set new career highs in riding percentage (49.21%) and 90-point rides (6) to post his best finish in the world standings since 2014. In 2014, Vieira entered the World Finals as the No. 1 bull rider in the world only to see Silvano Alves go a perfect 6-for-6 to snatch the world title away from him.
Vieira has shown improvement riding bulls away from his hand, something that cost him in previous world title races from 2014-2016. He made one of the best bull rides away from his hand ever in Sacramento, California, with 92 points aboard Foghorn Leghorn to win the 15/15 Bucking Battle.
Ultimately, it must be hard for Vieira to not look back at 2020 and wonder, “What if?”
OUTLOOK: After dipping to 21st in the world standings in 2018, Vieira bounced back with a fourth-place finish in the 2019 world standings and last year’s runner-up finish.
Vieira has finished in the Top 5 of the world standings in six of his eight seasons on the premier series.
The Itatinga, Brazil, native will turn 37 years old on July 28, and now we will see if he can rekindle his 2020 magic and make a push this year at becoming the oldest World Champion in PBR history. (Three-time World Champion Adriano Moraes won his last world title at 36 years old).
“If anybody has proven that age is just a number, he has,” RidePass commentator and five-time PBR World Finals qualifier Colby Yates said. “To be able to consistently be in the Top 5 year after year like he has is special. I really do think that. That’s something that not a lot of guys can say they did throughout their careers. To be that close every year is special. I don’t really see any special downfalls that he has based on his performance last year.”
Two-time World Champion and CBS Sports analyst Justin McBride said, “I would like to see Joao contend. He was pretty good health-wise last year, other than the COVID getting him at the end. He was still pretty damn healthy at the end of it. He is a tough guy.”
Vieira spent the offseason in Brazil, but he continued to work at perfecting his craft. He rode 11 of 12 bulls at CRP events, winning one event and finishing second at two events.
When Vieira climbs into the bucking chute on Saturday afternoon in Ocala, he will be nine rides away from becoming the 19th rider in PBR history to record 300 or more qualified rides on the premier series.
Follow Justin Felisko on Twitter @jfelisko
Photo courtesy of Andy Watson/Bull Stock Media
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