BILLINGS, Mont. – It was almost too fitting seeing Guilherme Marchi pull Mike Lee’s bull rope on the back of the bucking chutes Saturday night.
Marchi knew he didn’t have to say anything to the 2004 World Champion. When you are on the verge of your 500th career ride on the Built Ford Tough Series, it’s safe to assume you have a good idea of what you are doing.
Throughout Lee’s 86.75-point ride on Tahonta’s Magic, Marchi jumped up and down on the chutes and screamed his lungs out.
If there is one rider that truly knows how hard it is to reach 500 career rides, it is Marchi.
The all-time rides leader in PBR history became the first to record 500 rides when he rode Pandora’s Pyxis in Phoenix on March 9, 2014. Since then, Marchi has battled back-and-forth with Lee as they both search for an illustrious second World Championship during the latter halves of their careers.
“To cross that line, 500 bulls is not easy because we get on the best bulls,” Marchi said. “It is a lot of competition. It is a lot of heart. I take my hat off for Mike Lee. He rides so perfect and he has dedicated himself in the gym. I remember when I lived in Decatur he went to the gym all the time. He is 33 years old and he is in the top every year. Every year he makes the Finals because of how consistent and good he is.”
Two-time World Champion and current world No. 1 rider J.B. Mauney is next in line to potentially reach the 500 ride mark with 459 qualified rides. The Mooresville, North Carolina, cowboy was quick to praise Lee’s accomplishment.
“He has been around for a long, long time,” Mauney said. “That is a milestone, riding 500 bulls. It is hard. There is probably no telling how many bulls he has rode total in his entire life, but just to be able to say you rode 500 at Built Ford Tough Series events. There aren’t too many people that can say they did that.”
Lee is 500-for-1,070 (46.73 percent) in his BFTS career with 14 victories, 23 90-point rides and one gold buckle. When factoring in BlueDEF Tour, Touring Pro Division and practice pen rides, Lee easily has over 1,000 qualified rides in his bull riding lifetime.
Mauney joined Lee and Renato Nunes as the only three riders to win the World Championship and the World Finals event title in the same season when he won his first gold buckle in 2013.
Lee was the first rider to accomplish the feat when he went 7-for-8 at the 2004 World Finals. The Decatur, Texas, bull rider used a 93.75-point ride on Mossy Oak Mudslinger to seal the victory in the championship round.
Three-time World Champion Silvano Alves became the fourth rider to win both the World Championship and the World Finals event title in 2014. Alves currently has 307 qualified rides and would like to someday reach the 500 mark.
“It is very difficult because the guys ride hundreds of bulls in the PBR,” Alves said. “It is so tough. The bulls are rank. You have to be really, really good. You need to stay healthy. Mike is one of the best cowboys in the world. He was a World Champion in 2004. Right now he is real old, but he rides young.
“All of the young guys don’t have the same energy as him. Mike is the best bull rider.”
Winning the World Finals is as good as it gets in the PBR outside of winning a World Championship and only seven riders have won both in their careers.
Robson Palermo has yet to win a World Championship, but he holds the PBR record of three World Finals event victories.
Palermo put Lee’s feat right up there alongside some of the greatest records in PBR history.
“It is really special,” Palermo said. “Guilherme is the first one that did it and for Mike Lee, it is awesome for his career. We have rode for a long time together. 500 bulls is good for his story and his career.”
2015 World Finals event winner Cooper Davis was only 7 years old when Lee made his BFTS debut in Tampa, Florida, in 2002.
“I have watched Mike since I was not much bigger than wearing diapers and he has always been one of my favorite guys growing up,” Davis said, “so to see him accomplish something like that while I am here is pretty cool.”
Lee is currently ninth in the world standings and began 2016 averaging 34 rides per season.
He is on pace to attempt over 100 bulls at all levels of competition for the 11th consecutive season.
Shane Proctor has attempted over 100 bulls seven times in his career and appreciates Lee’s remarkable ability to climb on bull after bull nearly every day.
“Oh that is awesome,” Proctor said. “It is not often you see somebody with that long of a career that gets on that many bulls, especially some of the rankest bulls in the world. That is pretty amazing that he has been able to have that much longevity in his career and been able to stay that healthy and ride consistently at a young age.
“He won his first world title when he is young and he has just always been tough. He has fought through a lot of pain to get to 500 and he has worked his whole life to accomplish that so it is awesome a guy of his caliber and still be competing and keep being competitive.”
Follow Justin Felisko on Twitter @jfelisko
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