By: Justin Felisko
PUEBLO, Colo. – Billings, Montana, is set to host the PBR and its premier series for the 25th consecutive season this coming weekend, and the 2020 edition will carry with it a heightened importance when it comes to the World Championship race.
While a September three-day event is mathematically equivalent to a three-day event in the spring, which is the normal time of year for the Billings event historically, the circumstances this weekend are different.
The clock is ticking for any rider hoping to challenge Jose Vitor Leme in the 2020 world title race with Billings being the final three-day event of the Unleash The Beast regular season.
The Magic City is also one of only six regular-season UTB events remaining before the 2020 PBR World Finals so time is certainly of the essence for this year’s world title contenders.
One rider can earn a maximum of 180 points toward the world standings with a clean sweep in Billings. That does not include the 50 points a rider will earn if he wins the 15/15 Bucking Battle on Saturday night, which airs Sunday at 3 p.m. ET on CBS national television (depending on market).
“This is it,” RidePass host and five-time PBR World Finals qualifier Colby Yates said. “This is the prime opportunity that you can’t let the door close on you. When you got six events left and this is the last three-day event, this is the open opportunity to strike big and win as many points as you possibly can. You have to continue to go forward, but this event is more detrimental to the world title race if you are one of those Top-10 guys that want to put yourself in it further or get closer or even have a hint of a chance. This is the event you have to win.”
Leme also has a great chance to begin the weekend with a Round 1 victory when he takes on Safety Meeting (12-6, UTB/METC).
The 24-year-old previously rode Safety Meeting for 90 points during his third-place finish at the PBR Las Vegas Invitational, presented by Union Home Mortgage, in Guthrie, Oklahoma, on April 26.
Fans can watch Round 1 from Billings exclusively on RidePass beginning at 10 p.m. ET on Friday.
The No. 1-ranked bull rider in the world has won back-to-back Unleash The Beast events to open up a season-best, 429.59-point lead on No. 2 Joao Ricardo Vieira, as well as a 570.50-point lead on No. 3 Jess Lockwood.
“It seems like it has been a long time since we have seen the separation like that,” Yates said.
In fact, there are only five riders currently within the golden number of 650 world points of Leme in the world standings.
Top 6 riders in the world
Jose Vitor Leme (1,114 world points)
Joao Ricardo Vieira (-429.59 points)
Jess Lockwood (-570.50 points)
Kaique Pacheco (-602.50 points)
Daylon Swearingen (-605.34 points)
For a rider to have a realistic shot at winning the 2020 World Championship, he will likely have to be within 650 points of the world No. 1 ranking at the start of the World Finals. However, a rider within 800 points of the world No. 1 ranking could also remain in contention with a victory at the Finals, but he would need some major help from his opponents stubbing their toes.
This weekend could be instrumental for Leme if he were to win the three-day event, and win a third consecutive premier series event.
The last rider to win three consecutive premier series events is two-time World Champion J.B. Mauney. The future Ring of Honor inductee won three straight regular-season events during his historic second-half, come-from-behind run to win the 2013 world title. He would win the 2013 World Finals event average for consecutive win No. 4 before winning a fifth straight event when he tied with Fabiano Vieira for the season-opening victory in New York City in 2014.
The only other rider to win three consecutive events on the premier series in the last 20 years is two-time World Champion Chris Shivers, who won three straight during the first half of the 2000 season on his way to the gold buckle.
“Let’s be honest; yes, I think it is very possible, and it just might happen,” Yates said. “The reason is, just look at what he is doing. There is no bull rider on the list of the Top 35 bull riders in the world that even come close to Jose right now. You can’t even really put Jess in that category because we haven’t seen what he could do in competition yet coming back. If Jess comes back like we expect him to come back, then there will be two in that anomaly.”
WHO’S IN/OUT THIS WEEKEND
This weekend’s event at First Interstate Arena is optional for all bull riders, and the PBR has invited 36 riders to compete. The first 30 draw spots were filled based on the 2020 world standings. Riders with World Champion exemptions, riders with guaranteed event exemptions or riders with approved injury exemptions filled remaining spots. The remaining draw spots were then filled based on the current season’s world standings.
Many of the PBR’s top international riders had returned home to Australia, Brazil and Canada once the PBR went on hiatus following the last Unleash The Beast event in Duluth, Georgia, on March 15, and some are still working on getting government approval to return for the second half or have decided to stay home for the time being.
Riders inside the Top 35 that are not competing this weekend
No. 11 Fabiano Vieira (head injury)
No. 14 Matt Triplett (groin)
No. 25 Aaron Kleier (in Australia)
No. 26 Dakota Buttar (in Canada)
No. 28 Tye Chandler (hip surgery)
No. 29 Ryan Dirteater (broken collarbone)
No. 32 Lachlan Richardson (in Australia)
Alternates this weekend
No. 37 Rafael Henrique dos Santos (-12.5 points behind No. 35 Taylor Toves)
No. 38 Cody Casper (-13.5 points)
No. 38 Dakota Louis (-13.5 points)
No. 40 Paulo Lima (-14 points)
Riders competing via exemption – Barbosa returning to action & Mauney has momentum
No. 44 Bradley Brittain (-21.5 points back of No. 35 Toves)
No. 98 Rubens Barbosa (-80.5 points)
No. 107 Cody Nance (-83.34 points)
No. 108 J.B. Mauney (-83.5 points)
Six-time PBR World Finals qualifier Rubens Barbosa is set to ride in a PBR-sanctioned competition for the first time since he went 0-for-3 at the Touring Pro Division event in Shipshewana, Indiana, on July 10-11.
The 36-year-old has drawn Hot Wired (0-0, UTB) for Round 1 on Friday night.
Barbosa decided to take some time off following the Indiana TPD event after nearly breaking his face when Captain Morgan stepped on him following a 4.35-second buckoff.
“After Indiana, I stayed out because in Indiana the last bull I rode over there stepped on my face and broke my helmet and cut my face,” Barbosa said. “I did not break nothing, but I still wanted to rest – to rest my mind – because I broke my (jaw) and I was out for a month. And I was back in Oklahoma, but after I broke my (jaw) it just hurt. At every event I went, I got hurt.”
Barbosa has had a rough go of things in 2020, and he is only 1-for-12 on the premier series in seven events. He has bucked off 12 consecutive bulls at all levels and eight in a row on the Unleash The Beast.
Two weeks into this season, Barbosa broke his right foot in Chicago when Catfish John ran it into the chute post during the veteran’s 72.5-point ride.
Barbosa missed three events with the injury before the injury bug hit him again eight days into his return. In his second event back, he sprained his right knee during his fifth-place finish at the Pendleton Whisky Velocity Tour event in Memphis, Tennessee. Fourteen days later, Barbosa broke his jaw.
Following the dangerous incident in Indiana, Barbosa decided to take some time off and recharge.
“I took time at home to rest and work out,” Barbosa said. “Right now, I feel better, and I have decided to go to Billings. It is three days. I feel better. I feel good. I rode a bull last week here in Texas and I feel good.”
Meanwhile, Mauney has had a slow start to his 2020 season (1-for-9) as he tries to come back from offseason reconstructive shoulder surgery, but the 33-year-old may be ready to turn a corner in Billings.
The 14-time PBR World Finals qualifier competed at the Twin Falls County Fair last weekend, riding veteran bovine Hy Test for 90 points.
Round 1 Rematches
Amadeu Campos vs. Uncle Gangster (2.13 seconds in Fort Worth, Texas)
Brennon Eldred vs. Special Effects (88.25 points in Salt Lake City, Utah)
Derek Kolbaba vs. Lonesome Fugitive (4.10 seconds two years ago in Tulsa, Oklahoma)
Jose Vitor Leme vs. Safety Meeting (90 points in Guthrie, Oklahoma)
Mason Taylor vs. Smoke Signals (86.25 points last year in Sioux Falls, South Dakoa)
Silvano Alves vs. Red Redemption (7.26 seconds two years ago in Nampa, Idaho)
Taylor Toves vs. Solid Iron’s Hammer Down (buckoff three years ago in Big Sky, Montana)
Follow Justin Felisko on Twitter @jfelisko
Photo courtesy of Andy Watson/Bull Stock Media
© 2020 PBR Inc. All rights reserved.