PUEBLO, Colo. – The 2019 Unleash The Beast premier series begins Friday night at Madison Square Garden in New York with the Monster Energy Buck Off at the Garden, presented by Ariat, and PBR.com will be counting down the final days of the offseason by taking a look back at the Top-5 bull riders at the conclusion of the 2018 season.
Fans can watch Round 1 exclusively on RidePass beginning at 7:30 p.m. ET.
Today, we look at Jose Vitor Leme, who finished the 2018 season second in the world standings.
No. 2 Jose Vitor Leme
World Championships: 0
Best World Standings Finish: 2 (2018)
2018 Premier Series (UTB) Stats
Riding Percentage: 53.95
Top Ride: 93.5 points on SweetPro’s Bruiser (2018 PBR World Finals)
Average Ride Score: 87.21 points
Wins: 1 (Tulsa, Oklahoma)
15/15 Bucking Battle Victories: 1 (Milwaukee, Wisconsin)
Round Wins: 13
Top 10: 13
Top 5: 9
90-point Rides: 5
2018 RECAP: Jose Vitor Leme lived up to the hype in 2018 after he shockingly went 6-for-6 to win the 2017 PBR World Finals at his first PBR premier series event.
Leme’s performance at the 2017 World Finals quickly made him a potential World Champion contender, and he nearly made those expectations a reality in 2018.
Leme wound up 422.5 points behind 2018 World Champion Kaique Pacheco after going 41-for-76 (53.95 percent) with one event win, a 15/15 Bucking Battle victory, a PBR-best 13 round wins and a PBR-high five 90-point rides.
The 22-year-old’s 41 qualified rides was one less than Pacheco for the most in the PBR, and Leme’s riding percentage was second to Dener Barbosa (54.95 percent). His 87.21-point average ride score was also second in the PBR to that of 2016 World Champion Cooper Davis (87.84).
Leme finished the season 20-for-34 (58.18 percent) in the second half, and he even nearly overcame a 1,710-point deficit in the standings at the end of the regular season to defeat Pacheco and win the $1 million championship.
He also continued his dominance at the World Finals. Leme went 4-for-6 at the 2018 World Finals, highlighted by a 93.5-point ride on SweetPro’s Brusier, to finish second overall in Las Vegas and earn $251,000.
Two-time World Champion and CBS Sports analyst Justin McBride has Leme as the early-season favorite to win the 2019 championship, especially when you look at how he finished 2018.
“Jose is the guy to get around,” McBride said. “That probably doesn’t sound right with Kaique being the reigning World Champion, but Kaique is hurt for starters. For second, Jose was coming on pretty freaking strong.”
Not to be forgotten is that Leme was able to still make a push at the World Championship despite tearing his left ACL in April attempting to ride Shelley’s Gangster.
Leme, who also missed St. Louis earlier in the season because of a groin/lower back injury only missed two events because of the ACL. Yet those three events may have just have been what he needed to make up the 423 points in the world standings. He averaged a little less than 140 world points at every premier series, regular-season event he competed in. Pacheco averaged a little more than 172 points per premier series event.
“Leme has shown some super, legit skills,” nine-time World Champion and CBS Sports analyst Ty Murray said. “He has shown to be pretty rock solid both on the physical side and on the mental side. He has shown to be pretty durable.
“If you are looking at the stable of riders, he is the one.”
OUTLOOK: Leme is already off to the races in 2019 following his victory at the 2019 Velocity Tour event in Corpus Christi, Texas, on Dec. 1.
He became only the third rider to reach 8 seconds on the bovine athlete in 34 outs at all levels of competition. The ride was also Leme’s 11th 90-point ride on American soil at any level of competition since he first made his debut on October 28, 2017, in Las Vegas.
Leme heads into New York ranked fourth in the very early 2019 world standings, but his ride on Alley Cat is one example why he is considered by many to be the favorite to win the 2019 World Championship.
The Ribas do Rio Pardo, Brazil, native has a lethal combination of consistency and home run-hitting ability that could make him hard to beat in the 2019 World Championship race.
“The only thing you can expect out of him is to be the World Champion,” McBride said. “That is the only expectation there is for him. I don’t see anything else he has to go prove to make me feel he is going to be the World Champion.”
Leme has still only won one regular-season event, but that will likely change in 2019. Leme also could benefit from improving in the 15/15 Bucking Battles, where he is 2-for-8.
The bull riding pendulum should swing in his favor when it comes to victories if Leme continues to ride the way he has shown thus far.
“That is going to change,” McBride said. “That little dude will pick bulls to win. We can see him go on a real tear. If he can stay together, he is freaking good.”
Leme has already become the fastest bull rider to earn $1 million in his career (13 months, 4 days) and he may just become another $1 million richer come the end of the season.
“I want to see how good this guy can be,” Murray said. “He has shown us every indication that he is super big time.”
Follow Justin Felisko on Twitter @jfelisko
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