PUEBLO, Colo. – The long-awaited debuts of the reigning World Champions have finally arrived.
Both two-time World Champion Jose Vitor Leme and 2021 YETI World Champion Bull Woopaa will be competing for the first time this season when the Unleash The Beast rolls into the Infinite Energy Center in Duluth, Georgia, for the PBR Gwinnett Invitational.
Leme confirmed on Tuesday evening that he is indeed ready to ride after sitting out the last two months following the core muscle injuries he reaggravated at the 2021 PBR World Finals this past November. Of course, Leme did not let the injuries hold him back in Las Vegas as he cemented his second gold buckle in as many years by going a perfect 6-for-6, highlighted by the greatest ride in PBR history – 98.75 points aboard Woopaa.
The 25-year-old rode two practice bulls Tuesday afternoon and felt no pain during or after the session.
“I’m feeling very good and confident to come back,” Leme told PBR.com.
Leme was cautious with his approach to the practice pen, and he did not kick loose or spur like he is accustomed to doing. The two-time PBR World Finals event winner explained that it was not because of any lack of ability or pain, but rather a decision to make sure he did not overwork his groin muscle.
“Of course, it’s already such a good thing that I got back to riding without injury. Everything takes a while to get back to how it was again,” Leme said. “I just wanted to feel what it would be like (riding) after that serious injury. Now I will work to get back to riding like before. Especially when you come back from a recovery of more than two months, right? It would be very imprudent of me to go back to spurring bulls.”
Leme is attempting to further etch his name into the PBR record books by becoming the first rider to win three consecutive world titles while also potentially joining Adriano Moraes and Silvano Alves as the only three-time champs in history.
The five-time PBR World Finals qualifier begins his world title defense 323 points behind world No. 1 Joao Ricardo Vieira. Coincidentally, Leme missed three events last season when he broke his ankle on his season-opening out in Ocala, Florida. When he returned to action from that injury in Fort Worth, Texas, Leme was 326.5 points behind then-world leader Cooper Davis.
Leme has drawn Blue Duck (2-0, UTB) for Round 1 (Saturday 6:30 p.m. ET on RidePass on Pluto TV) in Duluth.
Leme would ride Woopaa to win that same event for 94.75 points despite breaking his ribs an hour earlier in the second round.
Woopaa, of course, is expected to be the No. 1 pick for this weekend’s championship round draft.
TOP 30 RIDERS OUT OF COMPETITION FROM LAST YEAR
In 2022, riders who finished inside the Top 25 of the 2021 world standings will be guaranteed five Unleash The Beast events before being subject to the cutline. Riders who finished 26-30 will be given four. Alternates for the Unleash The Beast will be based on the 2022 world standings following this weekend’s event.
No. 12 Junior Patrik Souza (broken left leg)
No. 22 Cody Jesus (not cleared to compete/illness)
No. 28 Alex Cerqueira (in Brazil/knee surgery)
No. 29 Colten Fritzlan (left shoulder surgery)
RIDERS USING INJURY EXEMPTIONS
No. 2 Kyler Oliver (one remaining following Duluth)
No. 17 Chase Outlaw (one remaining following Duluth)
No. 58 Jess Lockwood (one remaining following Duluth)
No. 123 Taylor Toves (last exemption)
Brennon Eldred (last exemption)
No. 9 Manoelito de Souza
No. 12 Austin Richardson
No. 44 Adriano Salgado
No. 42 Conner Halverson
No. 3 Stetson Lawrence
No. 8 Alex Cardozo
No. 13 Sam Woodall
No. 14 Cannon Cravens
NOBLES LOOKS TO BUILD OFF DENVER VELOCITY TOUR WIN
Last year, Lane Nobles qualified for his first PBR World Finals as a Pendleton Whisky Velocity Tour Finals Wild Card winner. Now he is looking to use the Velocity Tour to propel himself onto the UTB full-time.
Nobles will make his UTB season debut on Saturday against Twisted Feather as he is set to ride inside the Infinite Energy Center after winning last week’s Denver PBR Chute Out at the National Western Stock Show. Nobles went a flawless 3-for-3 in Denver, notching the victory with an 88.5-point ride on Two Socks. The 30-year-old began the marquee event with 86.5 points on Hard Times and 87 points on Buck Wild.
Traditionally, Denver is one of the most prestigious non-UTB events on the first half calendar. Nobles won a career-best $19,844.48, and the No. 31-ranked rider in the world will look to be the latest rider to build off Denver with a strong season. Four of the past five event winners went on to qualify for the PBR World Finals that same season – Taylor Toves (2020), Cody Nance (2019), Kaique Pacheco (2017) and Derek Kolbaba (2016). 2015 World Finals event winner Cooper Davis also won the Denver event that year.
The 37-year-young Vieira takes a 24-point lead on No. 2 Kyler Oliver into this weekend. Vieira was last the No. 1 rider in the world following the 2020 Iron Cowboy event in downtown Los Angeles.
Vieira will look to extend his lead when he squares off against Havoc (5-1, UTB) in Round 1.
Vieira is 7-for-7 to begin the 2022 season. He has back-to-back second-place finishes despite missing the season opener in Indianapolis after being exposed to someone who tested positive for COVID-19 while in Brazil.
Three-time World Champion Silvano Alves owns the record for most consecutive rides to begin a season with 11 in 2015. Vieira’s streak of seven in a row is tied for 10th most.
ROUND 1 REMATCHES
Conner Halverson vs. Dixieland Delight (69 points last year at the World Finals)
Dener Barbosa vs. Wicked Dreams (4.2 seconds last year in Glendale, Arizona)
Joao Henrique Lucas vs. Baby Gangster (84.75 points last year at the World Finals)
Silvano Alves vs. Hostage (1.6 seconds last year at Monster Energy Team Challenge in Las Vegas)
Article Courtesy of PBR
Photo Courtesy of Andy Watson/Bull Stock media