By: Justin Felisko
PUEBLO, Colo. – Laramie Wilson knew what was going to happen when he looked into Jose Vitor Leme’s eyes on the back of the bucking chutes during the 2020 PBR World Finals.
Wilson saw a cold-blooded bull rider ready to strike and finally taste gold-buckle success. He knew Leme had the chops to ride his bull Woopaa and clinch himself the 2020 PBR World Championship. That was a no-brainer.
“He had this look in his eye,” Wilson said moments after Leme rode Woopaa for 95.75 points and the World Championship during Round 3 of the PBR Finals. “You knew he was going to do all it took to stay on. I was just cheering on Jose. I wasn’t even watching the bull. I figured one wrong move from Jose and he was going to be bucked off, so I just watched him. It was awesome.”
There was another title at stake amidst Leme’s gold-buckle-clinching performance, too.
Woopaa was contending for the 2020 ABBI Classic Championship, and his performance with Leme was good enough to hold off current co-world No. 1 bull Ridin Solo for the title. Woopaa was marked a 46.75-point bull score, and he clinched the ABBI Classic Championship, ABBI Bull of the Finals title, and a massive $150,000 payday.
Leme said a few hours after his ride that he was happy things worked out for both he and the bovine athlete.
“I talked to some of my friends coming over here today, and that bull would have a chance to win the title in his category,” Leme said with the help of Paulo Crimber translating. “He was great. I was happy to have him in this round, and I knew it was two special moments. I could be World Champion, and so was he. I’m really happy for this kind of matchup tonight and to turn out to be like it did; so great for me to win the gold buckle and for him to be a champion also. It couldn’t be any better than that.
“There was no way I was going to let that gold buckle slip by me.”
In fact, Leme had nearly gotten on Woopaa for practice earlier in the season.
“That bull is a great bull,” Leme said. “I always wanted to ride him, and I watched him. The fact that he’s a young bull, I’ve been watching him a bunch, and it’s kind of funny because not too long ago I wanted to go and get on him for practice, and it didn’t work out because it was so cold. And God gave him to me in the right place and the right moment, and it worked out perfect, and thank God for all that.”
The one bull ride resulted in a total payout of $1.185 million – $150,000 to Woopaa and $1.35 million to Leme ($1 million World Champion bonus + $35,000 round victory).
The performance has since put Woopaa on the main stage as the video of Leme clinching his world title has been shared throughout social media and repeatedly played across the PBR spectrum and on CBS Sports Network.
If you didn’t know about Woopaa before the Finals, you certainly do now.
Many believe Woopaa has what it takes to contend for a YETI World Champion Bull title this season. He is set to make his 2021 season debut in Saturday afternoon’s 15/15 Bucking Battle at the PBR Built Ford Tough Invitational in Del Rio, Texas.
“I definitely think Leme helped,” Wilson told PBR.com on Thursday. “The farther they ride him, the harder he bucks. Even with a dummy as a younger calf, the longer the dummy stayed on him, the harder he bucked. That is the key to get him shown and getting a big score out of him. At the Classics last year, they would ride him one or two seconds. He would win a check, but he would never win it. I think us being able to clinch it at the Finals was Leme being able to ride him for 8 seconds.”
Woopaa’s first challenger in 2021 will be 2020 National Finals Rodeo bull riding winner Colten Fritzlan.
Fritzlan is coming off a victory in his premier series debut in Okeechobee, Florida, two weeks ago. He is looking forward to being one of the marquee matchups set for the Val Verde County Fairgrounds.
“I saw him a few times last year, and I liked him every time,” Fritzlan said. “He puts up big scores on the board. I like that it’s going to be a dogfight, and if I do my job, then those big numbers will be there.”
Fans can watch the 15/15 Bucking Battle Sunday on CBS national television (check local listings).
“I am excited for it,” Wilson said. “I hope Colten wins it and we are 92, 93 points.”
15/15 Bucking Battle Matchups
Keyshawn Whitehorse vs. Last Resort (0-0, UTB)
Brennon Eldred vs. Boogie Bomb (5-5, UTB/METC)
Joao Ricardo Vieira vs. Detroit Lean (2-0, UTB)
Cody Teel vs. Oilfield Outlaw’s Yellow Feather (0-0, UTB)
Alex Cerqueira vs. Honey Man (17-2, UTB)
Dener Barbosa vs. Wild Onion (0-1, UTB)
Silvano Alves vs. Hank (2-1, UTB)#
Derek Kolbaba vs. Top Shelf (8-1, UTB)
Marco Eguchi vs. Ridin Solo (11-4, UTB)
Cole Melancon vs. Hocus Pocus (19-4, UTB)*
Colten Fritzlan vs. Woopaa (2-1, UTB)
Mauricio Moreira vs. Chiseled (15-9, UTB/METC)*
Kaique Pacheco vs. Night Hawk (8-0, UTB)*
Junior Patrik Souza vs. I’m Legit Too (21-9, UTB/METC)*
Cooper Davis vs. Born To Sin (5-0, UTB)*
#-Rider has previously covered the bull
Woopaa also will be arriving in Del Rio a little stouter than when riders and fans last saw him buck at the World Finals. He has packed on some muscle and now weighs close to 1,600 pounds.
“I haven’t bucked him since the Finals, and he has gotten a lot bigger,” Wilson said. “I bet he has put on 200 pounds since the Finals. I wanted him a little stouter. Last year, I would get him big, and we hauled him so hard pushing him to win the Classic. He doesn’t do bad on the road, but he isn’t the best. Hauling him so hard, he never would gain weight, really. He is not fat. He is big and stout, and he looks good. I don’t think it is fat weight. We bulked him up and made him into better shape.”
The 2020 sample size for Woopaa in the PBR arena against premier series talent was a small one.
Woopaa only appeared on the Unleash The Beast two times before the Finals, previously bucking off Taylor Toves (5.02 seconds) and Rafael Henrique dos Santos (3.93 seconds). He was only marked 42.75 and 44.25 points, respectively, in those two outs.
However, Woopaa showed another level at the 2020 Pendleton Whisky Velocity Tour Finals with a massive 46-point bull score when he displaced Marcus Mast in 2.61 seconds before teaming up with Leme for magic in Arlington.
Woopaa, who turns 5 years old on March 9, is 5-1 at all levels of PBR competition. He did buck 15 times last year in ABBI competitions. Woopaa’s owner, Larry Barker, raised the bull as a calf and futurity bull and held off on bucking him as a 3-year-old, opting to let the bull continue to mature and develop. Barker’s patience with his bull paid off tremendously last season.
PBR Director of Livestock Cody Lambert said Woopaa was the best bull at the 2020 PBR World Finals before the start of the 2021 season and that he expected Woopaa and Ridin Solo to be contenders in the title race.
So far, Ridin Solo has proven to be a true contender, rising to the No. 1 ranking alongside reigning two-time World Champion Smooth Operator.
Now Woopaa will get to show what he can bring to the competition this weekend at the Val Verde County Fairgrounds.
“I don’t want to jinx myself, but I definitely think he is a Bull of the Year contender,” Wilson said. “We went head-to-head with Solo all last year. Some weeks Solo was the better bull. Some weeks we were.”
Wilson is hopeful Woopaa can follow down the path of previous ABBI Classic champions such as Bushwacker, SweetPro’s Bruiser and SweetPro’s Long John, who have gone on to win world titles after being crowned the top bull in the ABBI.
Fellow ABBI Classic Champions Chiseled (2019) and Hocus Pocus (2018) are also making their 2021 PBR season debuts this weekend in Del Rio, and they too will be looking to once again compete for a World Championship.
“Woopaa is a Bull of the Year contender, but there are a lot of good ones this year,” Wilson concluded. “It is going to be tough. It is not going to be a walk in the park. And you still got Chiseled making his first appearance of the year. Smooth Operator, every time you think he is too old, they come out and they are 93 or 94 on him again. I don’t know if he will ever quit. Father Time is not catching up with him.”
Follow Justin Felisko on Twitter @jfelisko
Photo courtesy of Andy Watson/Bull Stock Media
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