DULUTH, Ga. – There is a warm, welcoming aura surrounding Claudio Montanha Jr. these days.
Whenever Montanha is walking around the host hotel during a 25th PBR: Unleash The Beast event weekend, it isn’t to uncommon for his wife, Aline, and son, Joao Victor, to be close beside him.
There is also a big, extremely welcoming smile on his face.
He may not have the boastful energy, or a grasp of the English language yet, of his compatriot 2008 World Champion Guilherme Marchi, but there is certainly an open level of comfort and confidence in the second year pro’s demeanor.
“I think I am riding good because when I came over here last year I was uncomfortable,” Montanha said with the help of translator. “Now I am more calm and not putting too much pressure on myself because it is the second year. The first year is more difficult because you don’t know anything. Fans tried to help me, but now I know more and some things.”
Montanha heads into this weekend’s Duluth Invitational fourth in the world standings. The 28-year-old has emerged as a World Champion contender amidst a crowded field of four Brazilian bull riders following a rookie season in which he finished 13th overall.
The 28-year-old is 12-for-26 with two second-place finishes and four Top-10s.
“I am very happy,” Montanha said. “It feels like I have accomplished a lot. I am riding at the top now. I feel great. I keep my focus. I am working to stay in good shape to ride.”
Montanha trails world leader Ramon de Lima by 639.17 points heading into Round 1 at Infinite Energy Arena. Fans can watch all of the action Saturday night exclusively on Ridepass beginning at 6:30 p.m. ET.
He has a familiar foe for Round 1 in Crosshairs. Montanha rode Crosshairs for 84.75 points last year in Raleigh, North Carolina.
Sandwiched between Montanha and Lima is 23-year-old Dener Barbosa and 21-year-old Luciano de Castro.
Montanha said earlier this year that he wishes he could have come to the United States sooner than last year.
The Ribeirao dos Indios, Brazil, native had his visa application rejected twice, beginning when he was 24 years old.
“I do feel bad for not coming early, but that is what God planned for me and that is what I believe,” Montanha said with the help of a translator last month. “I wasn’t riding in the PBR in Brazil yet and when I started riding my passport to come here got rejected two times.”
At the time, Montanha wasn’t competing frequently in PBR Brazil events, and he was trying to make his way to the U.S. on his own.
The problem, Montanha says, was that he had no monetary assets in his name in Brazil. Therefore, there was a fear that he would potentially never return to his home country once his passport/visa expired.
“I needed some time to put some things in my name,” Montanha explained. “Some ranches or houses and stuff so that I would come back. It is hard to do it by yourself. I came here with a tourist one, but as I started riding in the PBR, I got an athlete visa.”
Montanha’s athlete visa is good for three years, and he will eventually apply for a green card.
Until then, Montanha is focusing now on his pursuit of the PBR world title.
He is no stranger to competing against the current men ahead of him in the world standings.
Montanha competed against Lima in 2016 when he won the Liga Nacional de Rodeio championship. Montanha won the Finals that year too, which was a head-to-head format similar to the PBR’s Music City Knockout bracket in Nashville.
The two bull riders are one year apart, and Montanha said he began to hear of Lima’s success when Lima moved from Rio Branco, Brazil, to Sao Paulo.
“I always saw him,” Montanha said. “He always did great. He was really focused. He is a really strong rider and has always been.”
The two only competed against each other in 2016 before both arriving in the United States last year.
“I have always watched Claudio,” Lima said via a translator. “He has been a great rider and a great person. But I never got the chance to compete against him other than that one time.”
Montanha was the 2012 Rookie of the Year and finished runner-up to Barbosa in Brazil’s Ekip Rozeta association, and he competed against Luciano de Castro in 2015 and 2016.
One difference between the quartert is age.
Montanha and Lima believe that can be a benefit to them the further along the season goes.
“He has a lot of experience on his back,” Montanha said. “He knows what he is doing when he nods his head. I think just the fact that he has been riding for a little while. He has been on a lot of great bulls. He knows what he needs to do when he nods his head to get that done.”
Lima added, “Without a doubt. The experience riding for a little longer, we can control our emotions to kind of stay cool and not nervous.”
Follow Justin Felisko on Twitter @jfelisko
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