NASHVILLE – It has been no secret that Jose Vitor Leme would break 1999 PBR World Champion Cody Hart’s single-season record for 90-point rides.
Leme may have been tied with Hart for two events at 16, but the world No. 1 bull rider finally broke through for his 17th 90-point ride on Saturday night at the PBR Ariat Music City Knockout, presented by Cooper Tires, in Nashville by riding Show Me Homie for 90.75 points in Round 1.
The reigning World Champion bull rider arrived at Bridgestone Arena at 5 p.m. to begin his historical night, and PBR.com followed him along for portions of the evening as Leme was destined to possibly add to his season of the ages.
5:30: It has become the norm for Leme to have to answer a few media questions every week, and that is the case once again as Leme chats with Kate Harrison of CBS Sports Network and myself for 10 minutes. Harrison asks Leme if he will do the opening interview for the 15/15 Bucking Battle. Leme smiles and nods in agreement. He is used to being the face of the PBR this season, and this is part of his responsibility.
Regarding potentially recording his 17th 90-point ride in Nashville, Leme responds: “It’s very important, and I hope to break that record. For sure, it’s good to have on my career, this record, and it’s very important to me. It’s like most event wins in the same season. It’s exactly like what you said, like most goals in a season for soccer. It’s the same thing, I think. I’m happy to almost break that, and maybe tonight is the night.”
5:40: Once done with his interviews, Leme grabs his rosin and begins to prep his bull rope for his Round 1 matchup against Show Me Homie. Leme and Show Me Homie surprisingly have never faced each other before, but Leme knows he has a bull he can be 90 points on. Two-time World Champion J.B. Mauney, a rider whose popularity and success Leme aspires to emulate, rode Show Me Homie for 88.5 points last year in Des Moines, Iowa.
6:00: There is a mandatory rider meeting with PBR CEO and Commissioner Sean Gleason in which he shares updates and information with the group about the league. Leme may be the reigning World Champion and No. 1-ranked bull rider, but he sits in the back of the room with the rest of his fellow riders. He is just one of the guys.
6:55: Leme makes his way to the Can-Am shark cage at the center of the arena during pre-event introductions, as he has done multiple times this year. He is introduced as the reigning PBR World Champion by in-arena announcer Matt West:
“All roads through a World Championship lead through one man, and a man that tonight once again chases history. The old saying says, ‘To be the man, you have to beat the man.’ And in 2021, he is the man, the highest-scored ride ever in PBR history, chasing another record, the reigning PBR World Champion, Jose Vitor Leme!”
Leme, wearing a white surgical mask, then takes off his black cowboy hat and salutes the crowd as the pre-event pyro fire cannons erupt on stage.
7:05: This weekend, the riders are divided into three locker rooms at Bridgestone Arena, and Leme drops off his chaps inside the second one before making his way out to the arena to watch the first few sections of Round 1.
7:21: It is not uncommon for Leme to offer a helping hand to his fellow bull riders during an event, even those who he is competing with for a world title. One of the riders Leme decides to help on Saturday night is world No. 5 Dener Barbosa. Sky Harbor bucks off the world title contender in 5.16 seconds.
Barbosa was one of more than 20 Brazilians that stopped by Leme’s ranch in Decatur, Texas, this week for their weekly soccer game. The former semi-professional soccer player considers the friendly games in Decatur as part of his conditioning for bull riding.
“We do it to exercise,” Leme explains. “Not only for your body, but your mind too. You need to have agility. You need to think so fast. That’s why I love to play, because it not only works my body, but my mind too. It’s good for riding bulls. For me, it works.”
7:35: Back in the locker room, Leme begins to stretch his left and right groins against a steel panel. He then does a series of high kicks for a mini-dynamic warmup to begin to get his blood flowing, and then grabs his gear and heads back to the arena.
7:40: Leme continues to stretch his groins just beyond rider walkoff. He then sneaks around to the back corner behind the bullpens to increase his dynamic warmup. Leme begins to work his free arm precisely in the air as if riding an imaginary bull. He rolls his neck to loosen it up and does a few squats to continue to get his lower body firing on all cylinders.
7:43: Three minutes later, Leme begins the process of placing his bull rope on Show Me Homie in the back alleyway. Show Me Homie stands patiently and makes it easy for him. They may be squaring off for the first time, but the two seem far from strangers.
7:46: Leme is back on the bucking chutes, and he bends down to tie on his bootstraps. He is gentle with his right foot first. Leme broke his right ankle during the season-opener in Ocala, Florida, and had to miss three events because of the injury, which he did not get surgery for.
7:48: Leme next slides on his Monster Energy black and green chaps and riding vest.
7:52: He then watches his closest challenger in the world title race – No. 2 Kaique Pacheco – tie Jesse Petri for the event lead with 87.75 points on Game Day. As Pacheco prepares to head to the locker room, Leme offers a quick, “Good job.” A year ago, Leme had to hold off Pacheco for the 2020 PBR World Championship at the World Finals in Arlington, Texas.
7:57: Leme next grabs a roll of medical tape and begins to wrap his riding glove on his left hand with tape. Show Me Homie is a left-handed delivery and is expected to turn into Leme’s hand.
8:03: Show Me Homie is in the chute in front of Leme as Leme proceeds to squat down and recites a small prayer.
8:07: With less than three minutes before he is set to climb onto Show Me Homie, Leme puts on his helmet with the goal of being able to punt it across the arena in honor of a 17th 90-point ride.
8:09: Leme climbs onto Show Me Homie with Claudio Montanha Jr. preparing to pull his bull rope for him. Less than a minute later, Leme is taking his wrap and getting close to nodding for the gate and his next attempt at history.
8:11: Leme nods, and the rest is history. He and Show Me Homie are perfect dance partners, and they team up for 90.75 points and a moment in PBR history.
Craig Hummer says on CBS Sports Network: “The crowd thinks it may have just happened. It is back in the judges’ hands. Tick tock. Is it number 17? It is going there! That is the one! Leme moves the markers of the sport yet again. No one has gone north 90 more in a season!”
There would be no celebratory punt of his helmet, but Leme instead pumps his fists and salutes the sky with both of his hands motioning No. 1.
U.S. Border Patrol Bullfighters Frank Newsom and Shorty Gorham congratulate Leme before the 2017 Rookie of the Year heads back to the chutes to shake the hand of Show Me Homie’s owner Kenny McElroy of K-Bar-C Bucking Bulls.
8:15: Following an interview with Harrison on CBS Sports Network, Leme searches through a few coolers for a celebratory Monster Energy that he takes back to the locker room to prepare for the 15/15 Bucking Battle.
“It’s very special,” Leme tells PBR.com. “I am not only here to win. I want to put my name on the history (books). Now I put my name for another reason, for most 90-point rides in a single season. I’m just so happy because I work for that. I work hard for all these 90s. I pick the rank bulls to go into the 90s, and I’m just so happy and blessed about another great mark on my career.”
Follow Justin Felisko on Twitter @jfelisko
Photo courtesy of Andy Watson/Bull Stock Media