PUEBLO, Colo. ― A few hours before the third round of the Anaheim Invitational, in early 2008, then- 24-year-old rookie Pistol Robinson was in the locker room getting his rope ready. It was just his second appearance on the Built Ford Tough Series.
So he was confused when three-time World Champion Adriano Moraes patted him on the back and simply said, "Thank you."
The newcomer was sure the 15-year veteran from Brazil had actually meant to congratulate him - Robinson had notched a 90-point ride the night before.
"I was like, 'What are you thanking me for?'" he recalled. "And he said, 'For assuring me the future of the PBR is in good hands."
It was textbook Moraes.
Buckles and money had become secondary to the legendary Brazilian, who retired from bull riding following the 2008 PBR World Finals.
"The man who carries my true identity is that tractor driver who built fences. Eight seconds are not enough to tell the story of a life of poverty, struggle and love."
Throughout its 20th anniversary season, the PBR will profile the Top 20 Moments in PBR History. A profile of the "Killer B's" ― led by Moraes, who was a pioneer for dozen of Brazilian-born riders who followed suit ― is the latest in an ongoing series of moments.
In a 15-year career Moraes rode in 229 BFTS events, and claimed 29 event titles to go with his three unprecedented world titles and more than $3 million in career earnings.
He rode 54 percent of his bulls with an average qualified score of 86.12 points, and his forty six 90-point rides, including a career-high 95 on Promise Land, in Houston during the 2000 season, ranks as the third-highest career total behind only Justin McBride and Chris Shivers.
A perennial Top 10 finisher in the world standings, only twice did Moraes finish outside of the Top 20. The 14 times he's qualified for the PBR World Finals was more than any other rider until Shivers surpassed him last year with his 15th qualification.
It's was said that Moraes rode his best when the spotlight shines the brightest. Twice (1996 and again in 2006) he was presented with the Lane Frost/Brent Thurman Award for the highest marked ride at the World Finals.
"I think the glamour of being a World Champion bull rider overshadows (who) you really are," said Moraes, just weeks before his retirement. "Hopefully now when I'm stepping off that pedestal -foolishly people put you there. I'm not there, people raise me there. But they can't see beyond the star Adriano Moraes.
"I want them to see the real man that I am. I'm an ordinary person."
His true legacy exceeds his achievements in the arena. It lies not only in his ability to bridge the gap between newcomers and veterans, but also his unyielding desire to help make those around him better people ― both professionally and personally.
"I don't think people really know Adriano Moraes," he said, of himself. "I'm a giver. I'm a servant. When I'm here under the lights, everybody thinks I'm a star. I'm not."
To fully understand Moraes the bull rider, one must come to know Moraes the man.
He arrived in the United States on Nov. 29, 1992. Former PRCA World Champion Charles Sampson had spotted the young cowboy on a trip to Brazil, and asked if he'd like to come north for a visit.
At the time, Moraes could only manage enough English to say, "Yes." And in the two decades since, the one word the 38-year-old Brazilian has yet to learn is mediocrity.
He will forever be remembered as the PBR's first World Champion (1994), first two-time World Champion (2001), and first three-time World Champion (2006). His passion for bull riding and his love of life has made him a role model for Americans, while his courage to excel has provided generations of young Brazilians with inspiration.
"When I see someone like Adriano Moraes coming from Brazil with nothing when he came here," said Randy Bernard, former chief executive officer of the PBR and current board member, "and be able to learn the language and to be able to become the best bull rider in the world, it really defines what inspiration and discipline is all about."
When the 22-year-old Moraes arrived in the U.S. that November morning, he left behind the tomato fields he'd been working since his ninth birthday. He and his bride Flavia (they married just three months after meeting) arrived with a few dollars, his riding skills and little else.
Click here for more photos of the Killer B's.
They had no place to call their own, didn't speak the language and were unsure about the future.
That first trip was a three-month crash-course in American culture. A year's worth of English lessons back in Brazil didn't seem to have helped all that much.
"It was a big adventure," Moraes recalled. "I don't think it was difficult. It was just that everything was brand new."
After spending the first part of the trip in Arizona, the young couple eventually made their way to Keller, Texas, where they took up residence with Dedra and David Jennings, who helped the Moraeses with obtaining Social Security cards and drivers licenses.
Moraes was competing at as many rodeos as he could, and with each ride he was gaining the attention and respect of his heroes ― Troy Dunn, Aaron Semas, Clint Branger. The 8 seconds he spent on the back of one rank bull after another provided Moraes with a confidence and comfort in this new country.
But in spite of his warrior-like exterior, he was hurting on the inside.
Moraes had been used to traveling with his wife, but suddenly couldn't. In Brazil, a cowboy could ride as many as five bulls in one week before traveling to a new destination. Here, he would travel in a rental car with three and four other riders to as many as five different cities in a single week.
"I'm fragile," he said. "I'm very, very fragile, and that's what I want people to see ― that as fragile a man as I am, I can accomplish such strong things."
Adding to the loneliness of the road was the inability to talk with his fellow travel partners. So Moraes internalized his pain and oftentimes kept to himself.
But staying silent, as the world would eventually discover, was not an option for the emerging international star, who was only known at the time - early 90s - as "The Brazilian Guy."
"I think those new adventures were good for me," he said. "I didn't have time to be homesick or to think how tired I was or how different my life was becoming."
He then added, "I'm a communicator. I love to talk, and here I was unable to do so. I had so much stuff to comment about, and so much good things to talk about in this new life, but I could not communicate with anybody."
After three months, Moraes and his wife went home to Brazil, but only temporarily.
Moraes, the second of five children (he has three brothers - Edno, Andre and Allan - along with one sister − Fernanda), was born April 20, 1970, in Quintana, Sao Paulo, Brazil. His childhood home was a dirt-floor dwelling that resembled a granary more than a house. It was on that dirt floor that Moraes took his first steps.
His parents - Aparecido and Elizabeth - suffered through years of unemployment and poverty before his father eventually succeeded as a local farm administrator. Adriano picked tomatoes with his family before being elevated to the more respected position of tractor driver ― a promotion that would strain an already difficult relationship between the elder Moraes and his second son.
Moraes quit school as a sophomore and left his job at the farm ― a decision that caused arguments at home. He started riding bulls professionally at 18, and within two years, his riding percentage was more than 80 percent. Still, then as now, his success belied his internal struggles.
"I have no education," Moraes explained. "Everything I know, I know by living and watching and analyzing people.
"I'm just an ordinary guy that happens to do extraordinary things on top of a wild beast, but I don't want people to see extraordinary stuff. I want them to see the guy that struggles.
"I struggle with depression," he continued. "I struggle with my Bible study. I struggle with my daily spiritual activities. I struggle with my relationship with my wife, my friends. I'm just an ordinary man that tries to find an equilibrium on Christianity, on profession, on marriage, on fatherhood, brotherhood."
In late 1993, the Moraeses returned to the U.S.
Already a champion in Brazil, he was considered one of the best bull riders in the world. Naturally, the co-founders of the PBR invited the young Brazilian to compete with them and "The Brazilian Guy" eventually won the first gold buckle in PBR history.
But his success translated into much more.
Moraes was almost singlehandedly giving what had been considered an "American" sport the face of a handsome foreigner. Bull riding became not only a stand-alone spectacle, but an international phenomenon.
"I chose what was best for me, at the time," he said, "and all this happened to happen. Do I take pride? No. Am I happy? Yes. Am I satisfied? Yes. Am I thankful it was me? Yes, I am, but do I take pride? No, because if it wasn't me it would be somebody else."
Although there were others before him, none had managed to stay in the States for any length of time. Winning the 1994 world title and garnering a growing number of sponsors made that easier. There was something different, something special, about this particular Brazilian guy with the wide smile.
In the years since, one Brazilian after another has followed in Moraes' footsteps.
From Paulo Crimber to Ednei Caminhas, to a slew favorites like Guilherme Marchi, Robson Palermo, Renato Nunes and Valdiron de Oliveira, an ever-growing number of his countrymen have all been afforded the opportunity to escape poverty because of what Moraes and his wife accomplished all those years ago.
In recent years, the Brazilians have been coming to the States in record numbers.
Silvano Alves not only won a world title in his second season on the BFTS, but last year he became the first rider in PBR history to win back-to-back world titles. They've collectively won four of the past five world titles and account for eight titles in the first 19 years of the PBR.
In addition to Moraes' three titles and Alves' pair of titles, Caminhas won a title in 2002, Marchi won in dominating fashion in 2008 and then Nunes came from behind in 2010 to the title. Since 2005, they've also won the World Finals event five times, including Palermo, who won it a record three times on his own.
There are currently 10 Brazilians ranked in the Top 30 of the world standings and six Brazilians are among the Top 12 all-time money-earners, including three - Marchi, Moraes and Alves - in the Top 5.
In fact, in only 36 months time, Alves has earned in excess of $3.4 million and, in terms of other financial milestones, he's been the fastest to $1 million, $2 million and, most recently, $3 million. He's likely to surpass $4 million by year's end and will likely shatter Justin McBride's career record of $5.1 by the time he retires from the sport.
Alves is only 25 years old and, of course, for third consecutive season he's once again atop the world standings.
By coming to compete in the PBR, the Killer B's ― as they've affectionately become known thanks to PBR broadcaster Craig Hummer, who coined the phrase several years ago, have not only experienced success as bull riders, but they have created lives for their families that include beautiful homes, an education for their children and sprawling ranches.
Palermo grew up in the jungles of the Amazon rainforest and newcomer Marco Eguchi was raised in the metropolis of Sao Paulo (pop. 11.3 million), while most were raised on small rural ranches, where their fathers worked as ranch managers for other landowners.
Although some intend to one day return home and have helped their families to purchase land of their own, others ― Alves and Palermo among them ― have expressed a desire to remain here in the States long after their careers.
Although each has goals of their own and they've surely made their own way - it's still not easy and not all have stayed and found success - they each realize the importance of Moraes' decision 20 years ago to be a pioneer.
"In Brazil he is a living legend," said countryman Nunes.
"In Brazil, when you talk about Adriano Moraes, many people stop," said Helton Barbosa, who came to the U.S. on several occasions and more recently has been working with PBR Brazil. "Many people cry, many people do not believe that he exists. … When I arrive at Parana and I say, 'We are in the U.S.,' the people say, 'Do you know Adriano Moraes?' I say, 'Yes, I know him,' and the people say, 'You're kidding me.'"
Moraes, who returned to Brazil with his family and attends several BFTS each season, including this coming weekend's Last Cowboy Standing, is humbled by such stories.
"What I did wasn't any more than just being at the right place at the right time at the right moment in history," Moraes explained. "It's not just the right time, it's the right moment in history. So I believe that Adriano Moraes changed the faith and face of bull riding (and) the profession in Brazil, but still it justhappenedto be me."
He's been retired for nearly five years, but, yet, the sacrifices he made and the stories of his faith, hope, and courage will certainly be told to the many generations of bull riders yet to come.
In his own words, Moraes summed up his life when he wrote in his autobiography, (which has only been published in Portuguese): "The man who carries my true identity is that tractor driver who built fences. Eight seconds are not enough to tell the story of a life of poverty, struggle and love."
Follow Keith Ryan Cartwright on Twitter @PBR_KRC.
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