PUEBLO, Colo. – Amidst the confetti falling all around T-Mobile Arena during the conclusion of the 2017 PBR World Finals, Dener Barbosa looked on.
Barbosa had just capped his rookie season with a memorable 89.5-point ride on World Champion contender Pearl Harbor, but it wasn’t enough for him to win the 2017 Rookie of the Year title thanks to Jose Vitor Leme’s sensational World Finals victory.
The 23-year-od may have fell short of his goal of winning the Rookie of the Year buckle, but Barbosa showed this year that he may indeed have the potential to be a dark horse World Champion contender in 2018.
Barbosa finished the season 36-for-76 and with a 47.37-percent riding average in 25 events to conclude 2017 No. 8 in the world standings. His riding percentage was the second-best on the PBR’s Premier Series, which will be called the PBR’s 25th Anniversary Tour in 2018, and his 36 rides was fourth-best. He was also one ride away from tieing Kaique Pacheco's PBR rookie record for qualified rides (37).
Barbosa also finished tied for sixth in the PBR with seven rides in championship round/15-15 Bucking Battles.
The problem for Barbosa, though, has been that he only averaged 83.92 points per ride, which is partially because of an ongoing shoulder injury.
Barbosa has had to ride at times this year with limited motion in his free arm because of an unstable right shoulder that dates back to 2012.
In fact, Barbosa’s 89.5-point ride on Pearl Harbor was a career-high, but it was only his fifth ride of 2017 that was 87 points or more.
“I was kind of really worried (about Pearl Harbor), but I’m happy now because my shoulder was giving me a lot of problems,” Barbosa said with the help of Paulo Crimber translating. “I knew a bull like that could hurt it really bad. And me throwing my arm crazy around like that, trying to make the whistle, my shoulder is great and it’s really amazing to ride one of the best bulls in America.”
Barbosa, who went 4-for-6 at the World Finals for a fifth-place finish, will need more rides like he had on Pearl Harbor if he hopes to win the 2018 World Championship.
Only 15 of Barbosa’s 36 qualified rides placed him in the Top 5 of a round.
Barbosa appeared to have turned a corner in the final two months of the season with three second-place event finishes and his first career victory (Raleigh, North Carolina).
Three-time World Champion Adriano Moraes said in Las Vegas that he believes Barbosa’s shoulder is a huge detriment in his pursuit of a world title.
“Dener has that shoulder problem that he should have fixed,” Moraes said. “He is still not moving 100 percent. It has cost him a lot of points. He makes rides, but it doesn’t look good or right. The judging hurts Dener a little bit, I believe.”
Barbosa has been told that he needs an additional surgery on his shoulder, but he is going to try and continue to compete without getting the repairs done.
The Paulo de Faria, Brazil, native underwent surgery in 2013 before damaging the shoulder again three years later during his march to the 2016 PBR Brazil championship.
“Dr. Tandy (wanted) to operate on me right after the Finals, but I think I’m going to wait a little longer,” Barbosa said.
Barbosa rode at times this year with a shoulder brace, a tape job or sometimes neither.
The former rookie believes he has finally found a good enough balance of protecting his shoulder while not altering his riding style too much that he can handle North American bucking bulls.
“I had to change a lot,” Barbosa said. “That’s the reason I couldn’t do so well at the beginning of the season because I was worrying about so much, and I pretty much got myself in a spot where I would hurt myself getting bucked off.”
Barbosa decided to stay in the United States for the 25th Anniversary Tour offseason and has gotten a head start on 2018 by competing at Real Time Pain Relief Velocity Tour events.
He has begun the season 2-for-3 in two RVT events, but both ride scores were low – 81.5 points on Lots of Spots and 77.5 points on Lights Out.
Barbosa is slated to compete at this coming weekend’s Frontier Communications Rumble in Huntington, West Virginia, on Friday and Saturday.
Other top riders tentatively scheduled to ride at Big Sandy Superstore Arena are Rubens Barbosa, Ednei Caminhas, Robson Palermo, Valdiron de Oliveira and Gage Gay.
Barbosa understands the concerns about his shoulder and ride scores, but he is confident he can crack the Top 5 in 2018 and possibly become the sixth different Brazilian-born bull rider to win a PBR World Championship.
“I’ve got everything we need to be a World Champion,” he concluded. “Let’s see how we start the season.”
© 2018 PBR Inc. All rights reserved.