ARLINGTON, Texas ― It couldn’t have gone any more different in the bucking chutes for the two final riders – Joao Ricardo Vieira and Gage Gay – at the Dr Pepper Iron Cowboy V on Saturday night.
Vieira was relaxed and it had nothing to do with the fact that Gay lasted only 1.45 seconds on 2012 World Champion Bull Asteroid. Having won a Built Ford Tough Series event two weeks earlier in St. Louis, and sitting third in the world standings, Vieira was as confident as he’s been since coming to the U.S. early last year.
It also didn’t matter that last year’s Rookie of the Year was facing Mick E Mouse.
“For (my) second year,” he said, “I’m feeling a lot better because I know the bulls I’m competing against.”
He made it 2.42 seconds and although it was nearly enough for a qualified ride, it was enough to earn Vieira the title of Iron Cowboy.
Vieira is the fifth different rider in as many years to win the marquee event – Valdiron de Oliveira (2010), Colby Yates (2011), J.B. Mauney (2012) and Austin Meier (2013) – and, more importantly, he earned an opportunity of a lifetime with the Bad Boy Mowers Million Dollar Ride.
Climbing into the chute one last time, he said he was equally relaxed facing two-time World Champion Bull Bushwacker as he had been all night despite not having made the whistle.
“I was relaxed, I was pretty sure I was going to (ride) him,” Vieira said atop the center stage at AT&T Stadium (formerly Cowboys Stadium) as he smiled while holding an oversized check for $50,000.
Vieira was the lone rider among the final four riders to advance without a single qualified ride on a night when the Top 24 riders recorded a five-year record 14 qualified rides at the Iron Cowboy, but in a bracket-style, single-elimination format it’s about simply outriding the opposing rider.
Speaking of brackets, Gay was a bracket-buster blazing through the entire left side.
The 19-year-old from Staley, N.C., eliminated three former World Champions in the first four rounds of competition before falling to Vieira.
After scoring 85.75 points to knockout 2004 World Champion Mike Lee, Gay said, “Feels good to do it, but there’s a lot more standing between me and all that money.
“I feel great. If I was any better there would probably be two of me. It’s probably an advantage that I’m still young and have a lot more energy than these older guys, but I still have to ride my bulls and get it done.”
He rode as well as he felt.
In Round 2, he proved how dangerous he was going to be by outlasting L.J. Jenkins. Gay stayed on Western Way for 6.34 seconds, while Jenkins remained aboard Cowtown Slinger for 5.75 seconds.
Then came back-to-back stunning upsets that silenced the crowd of 37,716.
Mauney had issues with Altercation in the chute, forcing Gay to go first in the matchup after two re-pulls. Gay managed to last 4.22 seconds and then Mauney was finally able to get a clean shot and flung back into the fence in 2.79 seconds as the deafening crowd sat in disbelief.
“He came on strong, and the pressure didn’t bother him,” Mauney said. “He did what he was supposed to—he showed up and did his job.”
Mauney added, “He’s was the underdog coming in and nobody gave him a chance. No one gave him a chance to win this deal or even come close to winning it.”
Whether he won it or not, having made it to the final four, Gay solidified himself a major storyline in what is being hailed as the most significant weekend in Western sports history. Sunday afternoon, the Arlington venue will host THE AMERICAN, which is the richest one-day rodeo in history.
Gay rode Jack Daniel’s Tennessee Honey for 90.5 points, while Guilherme Marchi, who was one ride shy of becoming the first rider in PBR history to reach the milestone of 500 career qualified rides, came down off Rango in 5.09 seconds.
Marchi, who won the world title in 2008 after finishing second three consecutive years, fist bumped the young kid and congratulated him.
“I can’t think right now. I know if I do, it won’t go too good,” Gay said just before facing Vieira in Round 5 and admitted he could envision the check. “I believe I’m going to win.”
Mauney agreed with the assessment that Gay’s swagger was reminiscent of his own.
“He’s from North Carolina, he’s young – 19 – and he doesn’t have any fear,” Mauney said.
The respect is mutual.
“Hopefully I can do the things (Mauney’s) done,” Gay added.
Unfortunately, for the talented newcomer it wasn’t to be on this particular night in Texas.
This year’s top rookie gave way to last year’s.
Vieira, in only his second season on the BFTS, was the confident, calm, cool and collected veteran, while Gay’s mid-major-like run through the bracket echoed the same excitement as March Madness—the NCAA men’s basketball tournament.
“At first I had the same mindset as I do every time,” Gay said. “Just get in there and do my thing and try my best to ride them, but I was just having trouble in there and the judges put me on the clock and it just kind of flustered me. Yeah, it got to me.
“It helps you learn how to handle big crowds and stuff like that and, yeah, big moments.”
Yet the biggest moment was saved for last when Vieira climbed atop Bushwacker—bucking for the first time since the untimely death of his handler Kent Cox.
The reigning World Champion Bull was marked 46.75 points – owner Julio Moreno said Bushwacker earned that one for his best friend – and put Vieira on the dirt in 2.17 seconds.
Bushwacker is considered by experts to be the greatest bucking bull in history.
Until last August, he had bucked off 42 consecutive riders at BFTS events and has done so eight times now since Mauney rode him, in Tulsa, Okla., for 95.25 points.
Asked if he thought Bushwacker was a bull at the end of his career, Vieira laughed, “No. He’s a young little kid.”
Follow Keith Ryan Cartwright on Twitter @PBR_KRC.
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