PUEBLO, Colo. – World No. 1 Jose Vitor Leme has his foot on the gas pedal right now, and his closest challengers in the world title race may be starting to see some dust if they don’t pick up the pace soon.
Leme’s PBR-best fifth event win in Nashville last weekend at the PBR Ariat Music City Knockout, presented by Cooper Tires, has him a season-best 519.5 points ahead of No. 2 Kaique Pacheco.
The 25-year-old still has a ways to go before hoisting the PBR World Championship on Nov. 7 inside T-Mobile Arena in Las Vegas. However, Leme now has a larger lead in the world standings than he did at any point last year before he clinched the 2020 World Championship with a 95.25-point ride on Woopaa during Round 3 of the World Finals.
However, this coming weekend’s PBR Tractor Supply Co. Iron Cowboy, presented by Ariat, at Dickies Arena in Fort Worth, Texas, could open the door for a challenger such as Pacheco or 2016 World Champion Cooper Davis to slash Leme’s lead if they can win the final PBR Major of the regular season.
Winning Iron Cowboy would be the easiest way for Pacheco or Davis, the No. 2 and 3 riders in the world standings, to restart their 2021 title aspirations after Leme has come out of the gate red-hot this second half since winning Last Cowboy Standing in Cheyenne.
“It is the last Major, and it is going to be very important,” said Pacheco, whose four career PBR Major victories is tied with Joao Ricardo Vieira for the most in PBR history. “This is the second Major this year, and that one is going to decide a little bit more the world title.”
Leme has continued to up the pressure on the other title contenders weekly.
His victory in Cheyenne, the first PBR Major of 2021, earned him a monstrous 293 world points. He followed that up with another 273 points toward the world standings at the next four UTB tour stops.
In total, Leme’s 566 second-half world points have outgained Pacheco by 392 points and Davis by 369 points since the UTB came off its summer break.
Pacheco or Davis could flip the script and shave away the hundreds of points they have lost in the second half if Leme were to stub his toe in Fort Worth.
“Yeah, that one could balance it,” Pacheco said. “Fort Worth has more weight than the other events, a lot more points. But the normal events are really important too.”
Davis admitted in Cheyenne before Leme’s victory that if Leme were to win Last Cowboy Standing, it would make it that much harder to catch him, and that certainly has become the case.
Regardless, Davis has elevated his game in 2021. He is riding at a career-high clip of 52.73% and has already recorded a career-best eight 90-point rides.
However, Leme is riding at a 64.91% rate and has more than double Davis’s 90-point ride total.
“The bonus points are really important,” Davis said of each 90-point ride coming with nine points to the world standings. “I don’t think I have ever seen a rider that can be 90 on just about any bull. It is not to say the judges are giving Jose points or anything. It is just he really dresses up a bull. You are starting to talk about the greatest of all time. He is right there.”
Leme’s 18 90-point rides is a single-season PBR record, and he is amidst arguably one of the greatest seasons in PBR history.
Davis and Pacheco, though, both know the 2021 season is far from over, and there are still opportunities to dethrone the No. 1 man in the world, especially if they remain in striking distance before the 2021 PBR World Finals on Nov. 3-7 in Las Vegas.
Both are proven World Champions, and both have defeated PBR greats on their way to gold buckle greatness. Pacheco held off Leme in 2018, and Davis defeated Pacheco and J.B. Mauney five years ago.
“The only one that I consider one of the greatest of all time that I haven’t beaten (in my career) is Jose,” Davis said. “That would be cool to just go ahead and knock that out and put a cap on my career because I got to beat Jess (Lockwood), J.B., Kaique, Guilherme (Marchi). All those guys I look up to in so many ways that there is a sense of pride, knowing you beat the guys you look up to and you genuinely know are some of the greatest of all time.”
Davis and Pacheco both know it is up to them to ride their bulls and not pay attention to what Leme is doing every week.
Two-time World Champion and CBS analyst Justin McBride understands how the world title race can be viewed as Jose Vitor Leme vs. the field, but he stressed the importance of every rider not getting caught up in the media hype surrounding that conversation.
The minute a rider starts paying too much attention to his human foes and not his bovine opponent, the more likely he is to falter.
“If that is the poster you want to put on your wall that keeps you working hard every day, great. Do that,” McBride said. “But from a mental standpoint, if you go into whatever round of whatever competition thinking, ‘I am going to have to beat Jose,’ you are going to have a really, really tough time. I hear guys say all the time they want to be a World Champion or the greatest bull rider ever. Well, it starts by riding a bull. Ride a bull. If you want to beat Jose, start by riding a bull, and then you better do that over and over and over again.
“That is the only way to finish ahead of somebody that’s really as good as we have ever seen in the sport.”
That first bull comes on Saturday at 8 p.m. ET on CBS Sports Network. There will be four more rounds live on CBS national television Sunday (2 p.m. ET) as the 2021 Iron Cowboy is crowned.
Top 3 Riders Round 1 Matchups
Cooper Davis vs. County Jail (0-0, UTB)
Kaique Pacheco vs. Skirt Chaser (3-0, UTB)
Jose Vitor Leme vs. @PBR on TikTok (15-12, UTB/METC)
IRON COWBOY FORMAT
One rider can earn a maximum of 345 points (300 event world points + 45 ride score bonus) toward the world standings in Fort Worth and a payday of at least $75,000.
RELATED: Iron Cowboy daysheet
Forty riders will begin in Round 1, with the Top 25 scores advancing to Round 2. If fewer riders have recorded a score than required to advance, the remaining positions will be filled based on the world standings as of Aug. 23.
The Top 8 riders via aggregate score following the second round will then advance to Round 3. Next, Round 4 will consist of the Top 4 riders in the aggregate based upon the previous three rounds.
Essentially, the first four rounds will be cut down from 40 riders to 25 to 8 to 4.
Round 5 will feature every rider that posted a qualified ride in Round 4. A minimum of two riders will compete in Round 5. If only one rider covers in Round 4, then the PBR will bring back one rider (based on aggregate scores following the completion of Round 4).
The rider with the highest score in Round 5 will win the title of Iron Cowboy. If all riders buck off in Round 5, the Iron Cowboy crown will go to the rider with the highest aggregate score among those who attempted a bull in Round 5.
The Iron Cowboy winner receives 150 world points, and the runner-up takes home 94 points.
If the event ends with more than one qualified ride in Round 5, then each rider with a qualified ride in Round 5 will be awarded the world points determined by their final ride scores in Round 5. (The runner-up only receives 94 world points if he rides his bull in Round 5 or if the event winner had also bucked off in Round 5).
If the event ends with no qualified rides in the fifth round, each rider who attempted a bull in the fifth round will be awarded world points (the 150 and 94) based on their aggregate score earned throughout the event.
Article Courtesy of the PBR
Photo by: Andy Watson/Bull Stock Media