PUEBLO, Colo. – It has only been four years since Jose Vitor Leme began to consistently get aboard high-caliber bulls in Brazil.
It has only been 402 days since Leme made his United States debut at the 2017 Velocity Tour Finals in Las Vegas.
Regardless, Leme has become one of the best bull riders in the world in a very short period, and he is now a potential favorite to win the 2019 PBR World Championship.
The 22-year-old got off to a fast start this past Saturday by going 2-for-2 to win the Corpus Christi Chute Out Velocity Tour event, picking up 195 world points to move into the No. 2 position in the very, very early 2019 world standings.
Leme earned the victory with the kind of bull ride you would normally find at an Unleash The Beast event when the third-year pro rode Sosa’s Alley Cat for 91.5 points.
He is only the third rider to reach 8 seconds on the bovine athlete in 34 outs at all levels of competition.
Alley Cat had bucked off 11 consecutive riders, and he gave Leme all he had in his arsenal inside the American Bank Center.
Leme, though, was dialed in and ready to start his year off with a night of flawlessness.
“Alley Cat was a bull I did not feel like riding, an unpredictable bull,” Leme said on Tuesday morning. “Sometimes he turns to the left, sometimes to the right, or sometimes he comes out with strong and difficult jumps. With him, he gave two difficult jumps and I was lucky he turned left, for sure this helped me a lot, but still it was very difficult.”
The ride was Leme’s 11th 90-point ride on American soil since he first made his debut on October 28, 2017, in Las Vegas.
“I believe it was one of my best rides this year, for sure,” Leme added.
Leme has finished inside the Top 3 in four of his last five events.
The 2017 Rookie of the Year began Corpus Christi with 87 points aboard Gin Palace.
Saturday was Leme’s 2019 season debut following his runner-up finish in the 2018 PBR World Championship race.
Leme wound up only 422.5 points behind 2018 World Champion Kaique Pacheco despite his second-place finish at the 2018 PBR World Finals (4-for-6).
2018 was Leme’s first full season in the PBR after he came out of seemingly nowhere to win the 2017 PBR World Finals and 2017 Rookie of the Year title in his first premier series event.
Now that Leme is set to embark upon only his second full year in the United States, and fifth overall as a bull rider, it is likely that he will only continue to grow and develop into a more formidable force.
Three-time World Champion Adriano Moraes said during the 2018 PBR World Finals that Leme was only riding at roughly 60 percent of his full potential.
“I guarantee this kid will be much, much, much better than he is now,” Moraes said. “I believe his technique is going to improve a lot. He has shown enough athleticism because he still makes big mistakes.
“But he compensates with his speed and athleticism.”
The former soccer player has been a home run-caliber rider when bulls turn into his left hand, as was the case with both of his rides on Saturday night.
Leme, though, has stubbed his toe at times when bulls turn back to the right. He will then try to use his athleticism to get back into position, but Moraes believes Leme will benefit from fine-tuning his technique rather than relying solely on his athleticism.
“Everybody is impressed by Jose Vitor Leme,” Moraes said. “He is working on it. He is fixing it. We can see by him correcting mistakes he did on previous bulls. He is smart. He can watch. He can figure it out.”
Leme agreed with Moraes’ assessment that he has yet to reach his full potential as a bull rider, noting his lack of experience in the sport.
“I still have a lot to improve,” Leme said. “I'm 22 years old. I started riding bulls only four years ago. I have a lot to learn yet. This is what I want, to overcome myself every day more and always improve on my potential.”
Leme said he is not studying any particular bull rider, but Moraes said he would encourage Leme to analyze riders such as two-time World Champion Justin McBride and three-time World Champion Silvano Alves.
Moraes believes McBride and Alves are two of the best when it comes to riding away from their hand.
“Justin McBride and Silvano Alves, in his prime, are the kind of guys Vitor should watch, learn from and try to copy,” Moraes said. “Their techniques prove to be a good one. I don’t think anybody has rode as good as they do away from their hand.
“When you learn how to do that, then it becomes the easiest. Then you just push forward and stay up on that pivot point – the inside front left of where the bull is spinning – and you can neutralize the bull’s forces.”
Leme does not plan on competing anywhere else until the start of the 2019 Unleash the Beast on Jan. 4 with the Monster Energy Buck Off at the Garden in New York City.
However, Leme fully expects to take another step forward in his development once the Unleash The Beast officially gets underway in 2019.
“I’m looking to improve my style and position to be ready for any kind of bull,” Leme said.
Follow Justin Felisko on Twitter @jfelisko
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