PUEBLO, Colo. – Luciano de Castro wasn’t trying to be disrespectful or inattentive on Saturday night inside Verizon Arena.
Paulo Crimber was in the middle of translating Castro’s initial reactions to winning his first career 25th PBR: Unleash The Beast event when Castro’s eyes left the conversation and trailed downward.
The sparkling Montana Silversmiths’ event buckle for the Bad Boy Mowdown was in his hands and Castro’s eyes were twinkling in disbelief.
Castro was unsure if this day would ever come after making his highly anticipated debut in the United States last year.
In fact, the emotional jubilation and joy of his first victory came in full force when at the conclusion of his interview Castro made a beeline dive for his wife, Isabella, as the two embraced for a full minute in celebration.
Castro’s journey to the United States featured the ups and downs of physical struggles inside the arena, and emotional ones back home in Brazil throughout 2017.
Even he himself thought maybe he would never live up to the expectations of being the next great Brazilian bull rider that so many in South America pegged him to be.
“A lot of times it came to my head. Not that I just couldn’t win an event, but I thought I was never going to ride these bulls here,” Castro admitted via Crimber. “I was going to go back to Brazil and just stay there. I didn’t think I was going to adapt here. I thought about going back to Brazil. I didn’t think I was going to adapt to those style of bulls.
“Right before the (summer) break. I thought I am going home and I will stay there. I didn’t think I will be able to do anything good here.”
Castro entered the summer break ranked 23rd in the world standings after going 13-for-31 in his first 11 events. By no means was his 41.94 percent riding average terrible, but the expectations were so much higher.
He went 7-for-8 in three PBR Brazil summer events, but Castro was still uneasy about returning after being mentally exhausted by people’s comments on Instagram and other social media outlets.
The theme was roughly always the same: “You were great over here, we kind of put all of our focus on you and you aren’t riding anything,”
The young bull rider thought, ‘What if they were right?’
Castro, who also had gone through a divorce in 2016, was emotionally exhausted.
Castro’s closest friends and confidants told him to not give up just yet.
“My family,” he said with a thankful smile. “My friends. They told me, ‘We know you can do it. You cannot quit right now. We know you can do it. Just go and get it done.
“You fight or are you just going to give up?”
Castro came back to the United States in August and went an identical 13-for-31 in the second half, but it was his performance at the 2017 PBR World Finals that ultimately foreshadowed that he had what it took to contend at the PBR’s highest level.
The rookie rode Bottom’s Up for a career-high 88.75 points in Round 5 after previously riding Bushwacked for 86 points and Milky Jones for 88.25 points.
He also developed thicker skin, avoiding social media comments and learning to ride for himself and not an entire nation.
The results are beginning to pile in this year.
Castro’s victory is the pinnacle of a strong run over the past three weeks. Castro is 5-for-6 with a first, second and third-place finish. He has earned 1,040 world points in the last three Unleash the Beast events and has ridden eight consecutive bulls at all levels of competition.
He heads into the Duluth Invitational No. 2 in the world standings and 90 points behind No. 1 Ramon de Lima.
“He rides pretty good,” event runner-up Emilio Resende said. “A couple of weeks ago he start riding pretty good bulls. This is a good time for him to win. He is a young guy. I am very happy for him.”
Castro already has three rides that are 88.75 points or higher and 14 first half qualified rides with eight events remaining before the summer break.
Castro’s career-best 91.75 points on Big Dutch on Saturday in the championship round was reminiscent of the Brazilian sensation that made waves prior to his U.S. arrival. His free arm was going 100 mph, while his body remained in a pristine and controlled position.
Those kind of styled rides in Brazil are why Castro was believed to be a potential hit in the U.S.
His ride also left a great impression on two-time World Champion Justin McBride.
“Without a question the best bull rider on the weekend,” McBride said on CBS Sports Network. “This is how you dominate an event. Luciano steps up and this is the Luciano that I have seen for the past year and a half. I know this guy is capable of this each and every time.”
The confidence to win a gold buckle that was completely nonexistent a year ago is finally there.
“Without a doubt,” Castro said. “Last year, I kind of really struggled trying to ride. Every time I bucked off, I got frustrated and that kind of dragged me down more and more. This year, I came with a different mindset and every time I win that kind of motivates me to just to do better. When I get bucked off, I forget about that bull and go after the next one and try to be better and finish my job.
“It is going great. I am sure I will be a strong contender for the world title.”
Follow Justin Felisko on Twitter @jfelisko
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