By: Justin Felisko
PUEBLO, Colo. – One of the heavy-hitters who has been missing from the 2021 World Championship race is set to return to competition following a month-long hiatus.
World No. 4 Joao Ricardo Vieira told PBR.com this week that he is fully recovered from an abdominal strain he sustained at the WCRA Rodeo Corpus Christi on May 4 and that he will make his return to the Unleash The Beast Friday night at the PBR Las Vegas Invitational at the MGM Grand Garden Arena.
Vieira is 320.5 points behind world No. 1 Kaique Pacheco as the UTB heads into its final event before the summer break. The UTB will resume on July 26-27 with Last Cowboy Standing at Cheyenne Frontier Days.
The 36-year-old was a mere 123.5 points out of the world No. 1 ranking at the time of his injury.
Vieira headed home to Brazil to rehab his injuries on May 21. He is flying back to Dallas on Wednesday before packing up his gear in Decatur, Texas, and making the quick flight to Las Vegas on Friday morning.
“I am good. I am ready to go to Vegas this week,” Vieira said from Brazil. “I am getting practice here in Brazil. I went to one rodeo. I feel good. I feel ready. I rode two bulls at a rodeo, but it was no good. I practiced Saturday here at my house, and I rode those bulls. I feel good.”
Vieira was off to the best start of his nine-year PBR career before being stepped on by Gladiator’s Hammer in Corpus Christi. He is riding at a career-high clip of 52.5% (21-for-40) and is very much in contention to become the oldest PBR World Champion.
The eight-time PBR World Finals qualifier has drawn Hell Storm (0-0, UTB) for Round 1 on Friday night.
Fans can watch all of the action from the MGM Garden Arena, which hosted the first PBR World Finals from 1994-98, live on CBS Sports Network and RidePass at 10 p.m. ET.
WHO IS IN / OUT FOR LAS VEGAS
Top 30 riders out because of injury or other
No. 7 Derek Kolbaba (punctured lung)
No. 8 Colten Fritzlan (left shoulder dislocation)
No. 14 Cole Melancon (right elbow surgery)
No. 18 Eduardo Aparecido (elbow/back)
No. 19 Alex Cerqueira (concussion)
No. 23 Kyler Oliver (left shoulder surgery)
No. 29 Jess Lockwood (core muscle surgery)
Alternates for this weekend (bold riders only guaranteed to compete in Round 1)
No. 31 J.T. Moore
No. 32 Eli Vastbinder
No. 33 Claudio Montanha Jr.
No. 36 Luciano de Castro
No. 40 Dakota Louis
No. 43 Andrew Alvidrez
No. 46 Manoelito de Souza Jr.
No. 47 Hunter Ball
No. 48 Rodrigo Melgar
No. 52 Lucas Souza
No. 54 Marcus Mast
PENDLETON WHISKY VELOCITY TOUR INVITES: HALVERSON SET TO MAKE UNLEASH THE BEAST DEBUT IN VEGAS
Conner Halverson is set to make his premier series debut courtesy of his win at the Sioux City Classic Pendleton Whisky Velocity Tour event on May 21.
The 19-year-old from Gordon, Nebraska – a town of 1,800 people – is a two-time Nebraska High School Rodeo Association Bull Riding Champion, winning titles during his junior and senior years at Gordon-Rushville High School. He also wrestled all four years for the Mustangs.
It was at his hometown’s local rodeo – the Sheridan County Fair & Rodeo – where Halverson began to get the itch to become a bull rider after competing in the steer riding at 8 years old.
Halverson began to watch some bull riding instructional videos on YouTube and built himself his own drop barrel to practice on.
“It is not much of a story,” Halverson told PBR.com in April. “I just live in a pretty small town, and our county fair – everybody goes to it, and it is something to do over the summer. They had miniature bull riding there one year, and I remember sitting in the stands and walking down the chutes and seeing those little bulls down there. I had ridden sheep and steers before, and I really wanted to do it. So the next year they came, my parents let me enter it.
“From there on, it was just something I wanted to do.”
Halverson has drawn Renegade (0-0, UTB) for Round 1.
Michael Lane, the No. 3-ranked rider in the Velocity Tour, is in the draw this week, seeing as No. 1 VT rider Austin Richardson is already seeded on the Unleash The Beast and No. 2 VT rider Paulo Lima declined the invite. Therefore, Lane does not need a qualified ride to be eligible for Round 2 on Saturday despite being lower in the world standings than some alternates who need a ride to advance.
Lane has drawn Kent’s Wildside (5-1, premier series) for Round 1.
RIDERS USING EXEMPTIONS: SWEARINGEN MAKING SEASON DEBUT
There are four riders using injury exemptions to compete in Las Vegas: No. 93 Daylon Swearingen (seven exemptions remaining after Vegas), No. 54 Matt Triplett (two exemption remaining), No. 41 Cody Jesus (down to final exemption) and No. 42 Brennon Eldred (down to final exemption).
Swearingen is making his season debut following two offseason surgeries (right shoulder/hip). He will have seven more UTB exemptions to crack the Top 30 based on his No. 9 finish in last year’s world standings.
The 21-year-old is ranked 93rd in the world standings after going 2-for-3 this past weekend at Touring Pro Division events in Kalispell, where he finished second overall, and Great Falls, Montana.
Swearingen, who said he is leaner and stronger than years past, takes on Classic Man (10-1, premier series) in Round 1.
PACHECO TAKES 16-POINT LEAD ON NO. 2 LEME INTO VEGAS
World leader Kaique Pacheco regained the top spot in Jacksonville with a fourth-place finish. It is the second time this season Pacheco has sat No. 1 in the world rankings following a run of four consecutive events in April/May.
Pacheco leads No. 2 Jose Vitor Leme by a mere 16 points going into Round 1 on Friday and will square off against Lil 2 Train. Lil 2 Train bucked Pacheco off in Tulsa, Oklahoma, in 4.08 seconds three years ago.
Leme has drawn Cha Ching. Cha Ching is 16-0 on the premier series and 27-0 at all levels of competition.
There have been six lead changes in the world title race following an Unleash The Beast event weekend this season – there were seven total in 2020. The No. 1 ranking has been swapped three times this year among three past World Champions – Pacheco, Leme and 2016 World Champion Cooper Davis.
World Champions have held the No. 1 ranking since January 31.
Davis has won back-to-back UTB events he has competed in to move to No. 3 in the world standings and is only 180.5 points behind Pacheco.
He has drawn Boogie Bomb (11-7, premier series) for Round 1.
ROUND 1 REMATCHES
Andrew Alvidrez vs. Space Monkey (7.8 seconds last year in Salt Lake City)
Junior Patrik Souza vs. Buck Wild (1.75 seconds in Glendale, Arizona)
Kaique Pacheco vs. Lil 2 Train (4.08 seconds in Tulsa, Oklahoma, in 2018)
Mason Taylor vs. American Gangster (2.82 seconds last year in Oklahoma City)
Matt Triplett vs. B Hummer’s Gold (87 points last year at Iron Cowboy in Los Angeles)
Follow Justin Felisko on Twitter @jfelisko
Photo courtesy of Andy Watson/Bull Stock Media
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