By: Justin Felisko
PUEBLO, Colo. – Two-time World Champion Jess Lockwood is paying attention, just like the rest of the sports world, when it comes to Jose Vitor Leme.
Leme’s 90-point ride on I’m Legit Too dropped some jaws this past Sunday. He recovered at the 4-second mark after I’m Legit Too lost a bit of steam for a brief half-second before exploding for the final half of the ride. Even with the bull’s stutter and ensuing burst of strength and power, Leme was able to counter and recover for the 26th 90-point ride of his career.
It did not take long for Lockwood to tip his hat to Leme on Twitter.
— Jess Lockwood (@jesslockwood2) May 10, 2020
“I also think that the ride on I’m Legit Too should have been more points,” Leme said. “I think it was clear for everyone to see, but I’m not a judge, just a rider. If they thought I just deserved that score it was because it was supposed to be that.”
Regardless of what one thought of the score, it was enough for Leme to pick up his fourth event win of 2020 and push him one step closer to winning his first World Championship.
Leme earned 110.5 world points and now leads Lockwood, who will be out of competition until the middle of September because of a torn left hamstring, by 235 points.
It was a close, dramatic victory for Leme as 2019 Rookie of the Year Dalton Kasel’s attempt to ride three-time World Champion SweetPro’s Bruiser (7.97 seconds) came down to a judge’s review.
“He fell in a very difficult situation,” Leme said. “The cameras did not show for sure what happened there, but in my opinion I thought it was not a qualified ride, but it’s hard to say when you’re not sure.”
In his first two events since Lockwood was injured in Kansas City riding I’m Legit Too (91.5 points) – the same bull Leme went for 90 on – Leme has gone 5-for-6 and picked up 162.5 world points with first- and third-place finishes in Guthrie, Oklahoma.
Leme could have shown up to the Lazy E Arena once he recovered from his three broken ribs he sustained in Kansas City with a lackadaisical approach. His biggest challenger has sustained a significant blow, and two of his other most formidable title challengers – No. 3 Joao Ricardo Vieira and 2018 World Champion Kaique Pacheco – opted to head home to Brazil be with their families amid the pandemic.
He has instead remained focused and undeterred – another reminder that as much as Lockwood and his other challengers have pushed Leme to become a better bull rider, there is this deeper desire within himself to be greater than he was the previous week.
“If Jess is riding or not, it doesn’t change anything for me,” Leme said. “I keep concentrating in the same way, riding my bulls in the same way. It’s a boring situation for him to be hurt and not to be able to compete anymore. Unfortunately, these are things that happen, so he’ll be back and I’m sure we’ll have a good fight for that trophy again.”
Two-time World Champion and CBS sports analyst Justin McBride said this past weekend on the CBS Sports Network broadcast that Leme is proving right now to be in a “league of his own.”
Leme leads the PBR in event wins (4), qualified rides (25) and riding percentage (75.76%), and is tied with Lockwood for most round wins (8).
“I feel like it is only a matter of time before Jose gets a gold buckle, and it really looks to be the case that this is going to be the year with Lockwood being out,” McBride said last month. “Things are shut down now. Who knows what is going to happen with the sport.
“I don’t see anybody in his realm with Lockwood out.”
PBR Director of Livestock Cody Lambert agreed with McBride.
“I don’t see anybody beating Jose,” Lambert said last month. “I don’t think Jose is going to let it happen. As good as Jess is, I don’t think he can come back soon enough, but he is the biggest challenger Jose would have.
“On an even day, going to the same amount of events, I think Jess is the best. Jose is right there, and he has continued to get better and continued to work, and I am pretty confident that he is going to win it this year.”
Leme has 26 90-point rides in his premier series career since debuting at the 2017 PBR World Finals with a dominant 6-for-6 performance. His 90-point ride on I’m Legit Too was his 26th 90 and 123rd qualified ride on the UTB. He is recording 90-point rides at a 21.13% clip. Two-time World Champion Chris Shivers owns the PBR record with 94 90-point rides. Shivers had a 90-point conversion rate of 22.82%.
The 23-year-old has been pushing himself to improve at riding bulls away from his hand, which in the past had been a kryptonite when you compare it to his ability to riding bulls into his hand.
There have been multiple instances in the past two events in which Leme has shown an improvement in riding bulls away from his hand.
Leme may be tested away from his hand this weekend in Round 1 of the PBR Lucas Oil Invitational, presented by U.S. Border Patrol, when he takes on M.A.G.A. (10-13, UTB).
Fans can watch Round 1 live on CBS Sports Network and RidePass beginning at 8 p.m. ET.
If Leme can take care of business against M.A.G.A., that would set him up in good position against Blue Crush in Round 2 on Sunday afternoon. Leme is 1-1 against Blue Crush, who bucked him off in Chicago this season in 5.61 seconds. However, Leme rode him last year in Chicago for 87.25 points.
All signs would then point to Leme getting a strong pick for the championship round, which airs Sunday at 2 p.m. ET live on CBS national television.
Leme has been a lights-out 8-for-8 in championship rounds this season, including six 90-point rides.
One big key to that has been Leme putting himself in the position for a top-tier selection in the championship round draft.
“I believe that I am making the right picks, picking good bulls,” Leme said. “Having the first picks is always important so that I can get the best bulls. Every time I have the opportunity to choose a bull, I always think about getting one to win the round or get 90-plus points. That’s my strategy.”
Follow Justin Felisko on Twitter @jfelisko
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