PUEBLO, Colo. – Three-time World Champion Adriano Moraes has met many Brazilian bull riders that have told him that one day they would go to the United States and become a World Champion.
When it came to Giliard Antonio, though, Moraes truly believed the young, rising star of PBR Brazil.
Even after Antonio broke his pelvis last year, Moraes knew Antonio would not give up on his childhood dream.
Over a month in a wheelchair and a year away from competition was not going to stop Antonio from making a return to the bull riding arena.
He was that determined and that talented of a bull rider.
“He had goals to go to America, and he told me that he would be a World Champion,” Moraes said on Monday from Brazil. “I really believed him.”
Antonio passed away on Sunday evening after having his chest stepped on by Cineasta during the Monster Energy PBR Brazil event in Maringá, Brazil.
The 24-year-old had just ridden Cineasta for 75.5 points, which was his seventh consecutive ride at the PBR Brazil level since returning to competition only two weeks ago in Sao Jose do Rio Pardo.
“We are very, very sad,” an emotional Moraes said. “He was a true PBR cowboy. He loved the PBR the most. He was supposed to be in the U.S. (last year) and he got hurt. He messed up his pelvis pretty bad. He wasn’t even supposed to walk again. He spent three months in a wheelchair and it was a long and painful way back.
“We lost a potential World Champion. For sure a contender to be a champion. He had big dreams and a big ability that was cut short. He was the most loved kid here in Brazil. A true bull rider. A man of faith. A devoted father. A great friend. We miss him. We will miss him badly.”
Antonio and his wife, Nicole, have an 8-month old daughter, Juliana.
PBR CEO Sean Gleason offered his heartfelt condolences to Antonio’s family and all of those affected by his passing on Monday.
“Giliard was a cowboy at heart who loved the sport of bull riding, and in turn was beloved in his community, by fans, and throughout our sport,” Gleason said in a statement. “We send our heartfelt condolences to Giliard’s fellow bull riders, his friends, and, most importantly, his family as we mourn a bright light gone out too soon.”
Antonio was 78-for-100 (78 percent) in 24 PBR Brazil events since first making his debut three years ago on May 7, 2015, at the São José do Rio Pardo PBR Brazil event.
The Monte Belo, Brazil, native would go on to finish his PBR Brazil rookie season 11th in the Brazilian standings following a 29-for-40 (72.5 percent) showing.
Antonio really turned a corner in 2016 and evolved into a PBR Brazil champion contender.
The then 22-year-old went into the PBR Brazil Finals as the No. 1 bull rider in the standings and appeared poised to win the PBR Brazil championship.
However, Antonio bucked off his first two bulls – Patrao FSM & Danger – and finished the PBR Brazil Finals 1-for-4.
Meanwhile, Dener Barbosa used a perfect 5-for-5 performance to win the PBR Brazil Finals and the 2016 championship.
Antonio concluded 2016 third in the PBR Brazil standings after going 38-for-49 (72.5 percent) with two victories, seven Top-5s, eight Top-10s and two 90-point rides.
“I remember that it was very disputed that year between him, Luciano (de Castro) and myself, and it came down to being decided in the last round,” Barbosa said with the help of Miriaham Garcia translating.
Barbosa met Antonio before their PBR careers began, and he said even then it appeared as if Antonio destined for success in the United States.
“I knew him at the beginning of my career when I was not riding in PBR,” Barbosa said. “He was already a good bull rider, surely he would be a part of the Top 35 because he had a lot of talent.”
World No. 2 Claudio Montanha Jr. agreed that Antonio had the potential to ride in the United States.
Montanha remembers how memorable that 2016 PBR Brazil title race was between the three young guns of PBR Brazil.
“He was very talented, focused and rode easy on his bulls,” Montanha said. “I had heard of him. He was a great competitor. I met him when he came to ride in PBR Brazil.”
Montanha and Barbosa said there was something else that stood out about Antonio.
Despite his successes in the arena, he always remained humble.
He always had a smile.
“Giliard was a hard working and very humble guy who fought for his dreams,” Montanha said. “He always cheerfully happy. The smile on his face was constant. Near him there was no sadness and the remembrance that I will have of him is his victories I watched in the arenas and his radiant smile.
“He had a bright future, but God wanted it like that. I'm going to miss him a lot. We lost a great competitor and friend here on earth, but heaven won a champion.”
Barbosa said he will forever remember Antonio for his fun-loving personality.
“He was a very cheerful person,” Barbosa added. “I don’t think I remember ever seeing him sad. He was always smiling, (telling) jokes and playing around.”
2017 PBR Brazil champion and 2017 PBR Rookie of the Year Jose Vitor Leme also echoed his condolences.
“I did not know him very well, but from what little I knew of him, I already saw that he was a good person, a humble person,” Leme said. “Surely, there would have been a great future ahead for him both in Brazil and in the Top 35 in the U.S.”
2008 PBR World Champion and all-time qualified rides leader Guilherme Marchi remembered watching Antonio compete last year when he was home in Brazil for the summer break.
The two chatted a little, and Marchi came away impressed by the young bull rider.
“He was a very good guy, good person and very respectful,” Marchi said. “He was a happy kid. He was talented enough to be here with us and he rides really good, just like Dener, Luciano, Claudio. He was that kind of talented guy. He had a loose style.
“Everybody is very sad. We are all in shock.”
PBR Brazil leader Bruno Scaranello said Monday that the news had him sick.
“I'm lying here with no spirit to do anything, but God will give us strength,” Scaranello said.
Scaranello met Antonio at the PBR Brazil Finals in Barretos in 2016. The two became friends and Antonio would often greet Scaranello by saying, “Eeeeeeee Scaranello.”
“He was a wonderful person,” Scaranello said. “He did not disappoint anyone. (He was) a humble, religious person and dedicated – a very hard-working fighter. He never gave up on his dreams. My greatest memory when he saw me was he would always smile and say ‘eeeee Scaranello’ every time.”
Fellow bull rider Fernando Henrique Novais, who is currently second in the PBR Brazil standings, said he would remember Antonio as a “humble warrior.”
“He dreamed a lot of going to the U.S., and without doubt he would be one of the best,” Novais said. “He was a humble boy, a good-hearted person. A great professional.”
According to Moraes, Antonio was beginning the process of getting a visa approved so that he could fulfill his dream of competing in the United States later this year.
Moraes is heartbroken that Antonio’s dreams will now go unfulfilled, and that he will not be there to raise his daughter and be with his family.
“He had the drive,” Moraes concluded. “That is all we need to be successful. A dream and drive. He had both. That is why I firmly believed in him. In my book, he is a World champion that never had a chance to get the buckle.
“In my book, he is a World Champion.”
Follow Justin Felisko on Twitter @jfelisko
© 2018 PBR Inc. All rights reserved.