LAS VEGAS – One final push to qualify for the 2017 PBR Built Ford Tough World Finals gets underway tonight at the South Point Arena with the 2017 Velocity Tour Finals.
Much will be on the line for riders ranked in the 30s in the world standings, but there are also the five wild card positions up for grabs that will fill the final positions for the 40-rider draw at the Built Ford Tough World Finals.
Here are five riders to watch for at the Velocity Finals:
Derek Kolbaba: The PBR world leader enters the Velocity Finals with a significant opportunity to help his pursuit of the 2017 PBR World Championship and $1 million bonus.
Kolbaba is fresh off his PBR-best fifth event win of the season and has a narrow 102.5-point lead on No. 2 Eduardo Aparecido and 134.17-point lead on defending World Champion Cooper Davis.
The 21-year-old can earn up to 520 points at the Velocity Finals and open the gap up on his imposing challengers.
Out of all of the world title contenders, Kolbaba has been the streakiest and can use as many extra points as possible.
The third-year pro’s 35.37-percent riding average is the third-lowest among Top 10 bull riders in the world standings and his 41.88-percent riding average at all levels of PBR competition is the fourth-lowest in the Top 15.
Those numbers, including Kolbaba’s 10-for-30 (30 percent) run in the last three months, makes you wonder how Kolbaba will perform over his final 10 bulls of the 2017 season – four at the Velocity Finals and six at the World Finals.
Still, Kolbaba has been flawless when he is dialed in, and he is arriving in Las Vegas with the confidence of four consecutive rides and three BFTS victories in the final five regular-season events.
Kolbaba, who can also win the Velocity Tour championship this weekend, takes on Ellis 1413 in Round 1.
Jess Lockwood: Las Vegas was extremely unkind to 2016 Rookie of the Year winner Jess Lockwood last year.
Lockwood put up a goose egg and went 0-for-5 in his first trip to the PBR World Finals.
That performance left an extremely sour taste in the now 19-year-old’s mouth, but he simply left that frustration in Las Vegas last November and returned with a vengeance in 2017 by winning the first event of the season (New York) and spending six weeks atop the world standings.
Entering the Velocity Finals, Lockwood is still well within earshot of Kolbaba and possibly becoming the youngest World Champion in PBR history.
Lockwood – the No. 5 rider in the world standings – begins the weekend 655 points out of the world No. 1 ranking.
The Volborg, Montana, bull rider is 0-for-4 since returning to competition two weeks ago in Raleigh, North Carolina, after breaking four ribs, puncturing his lung and lacerating his kidney in Uniondale, New York, last month.
Lockwood has drawn Night Sweats for Round 1.
It will be fun watching this weekend seeing Lockwood and Kolbaba – two best friends – jockey for position in the event and world standings.
A win for Kolbaba could push Lockwood to a near 1,000-point deficit, while a win for Lockwood could leave us with four riders separated by less than 300 points heading into the World Finals on Wednesday.
A round win at the World Finals is worth 300 points too.
Sage Kimzey: Kimzey won’t say this weekend is about redemption, but almost everyone is curious to see how Kimzey does in his second trip to the Velocity Finals.
Last year, Kimzey went 1-for-3 at the Velocity Finals and didn’t qualify for the championship round.
However, thee three-time PRCA champion is arguably riding better than ever before and is once again on pace for a fourth consecutive PRCA championship.
Kimzey has won 15 events across the rodeo trail, according to ProRodeo.com this season, and the 23-year-old also was victorious at two major PBR-sanctioned bull ridings competing against some of the PBR’s top bull riders at RFD-TV’s THE AMERICAN and the Calgary Stampede.
Kimzey also became one of only five riders to ever reach 8 seconds on 2017 PBR World Champion Bull contender Pearl Harbor when he rode Chad Berger’s bovine superstar for 92 points during a $20,000 exhibition bull riding matchup in Mandan, North Dakota.
Plenty of people wonder how Kimzey would fare over the course of an entire PBR season, but for now lets’ see if he can earn a wild card berth to the World Finals and possibly steal valuable points from the world title contenders.
Kimzey faces ‘Merica in Round 1 on Saturday night.
Jose Vitor Leme: While the general consensus will be focusing on Kolbaba, Kimzey and Lockwood, fans should keep an eye on Jose Vitor Leme.
Leme is the 2017 PBR Brazil champion and may just be the next Brazilian superstar to step foot in the United States.
Last year, 2016 PBR Brazil champion Dener Barbosa earned the international wild card for the World Finals and is now the No. 9 rider in the world standings. Meanwhile, 2015 PBR Brazil champion Luciano de Castro made his BFTS debut this year and is ranked 27th in the world standings.
Recent PBR Brazil champions have thrived in the United States, and Leme may just be the next superstar.
Leme arrives in Las Vegas following an impressive run in PBR Brazil that earned him a spot on the Team Brazil PBR Global Cup team.
The 21-year-old won the championship this season by going 38-for-46 (82.61 percent) with three victories, including a 5-for-5 performance at the PBR Brazil event during the prestigious Barretos rodeo.
Leme joins Castro as the only riders to ever win the PBR Brazil championship, the PBR Brazil Finals event title and the PBR Brazil Rookie of the Year award in the same season.
The Ribas do Rio Pardo, Brazil, native is a little smaller than Jess Lockwood, and some Brazilian insiders have compared Leme’s style to that of two-time PBR World Champion Chris Shivers and Ty Murray.
However, PBR Brazilian veterans have cautioned their expectations for Leme because they have to see him get on American-style bulls of a BFTS caliber.
Leme arrived in Las Vegas on Friday and made it a point to go find his Round 1 bull Wilewood Blue at bull housing, posting a photo on his Instagram account.
The Brazilian bull rider has ridden his last 10 bulls at PBR Brazil events.
Cole Melancon: Kimzey stole the show this summer at the Mandan, North Dakota, PRCA rodeo with his ride on Pearl Harbor in an exhibition matchup, but it was actually Cole Melancon walking away as the winner of the bull riding at the rodeo.
Melancon may be a sleeper pick competing at this weekend’s Velocity Tour Finals.
The Hill’s College product rode Blindside for 85 points this past June at the College National Finals Rodeo to win the 2017 national championship.
Not only did Melancon win the national title, but he followed that up by riding SweetPro’s Bruiser for 90 points in Caldwell, Idaho, this summer a year after riding the 2016 World Champion Bull for 92.5 points in Vernal, Utah.
The Beaumont, Texas, bull rider had some success competing in the PRCA this year with victories in Rapid City, South Dakota, and Grand Island, Nebraska.
Melancon takes on War Cloud in Round 1.
Additional riders to keep an eye on: 2017 PBR Australia champion Troy Wilkinson, 2017 PBR Canada champion Zane Lambert, three-time PBR World Finals event winner Robson Palermo, four-time PRCA champion J.W. Harris, 2015 PBR Canada champion Tanner Byrne, Cody Jesus, Joao Ricardo Vieira, Fabiano Vieira, Dener Barbosa, Cody Teel, Cody Nance, Emilio Resende and Reese Cates.
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