The races for the world championships in the Professional Bull Riders (PBR) are no more clear following the opening round of the PBR Built Ford Tough World Finals in Las Vegas on Wednesday night than they were. In fact, the race for World Champion Bull is a dead heat while the title race for the cowboys is practically a tie.
In a pen that included all seven contenders for World Champion Bull, it was no surprise to see the bulls dominate the competition during Round 1. Only six cowboys made eight seconds during the round with three of the top rides coming right after intermission, including the round winner by 2010 PBR World Champion Renato Nunes aboard Yellow Jacket Jr. He earned 90.25 points from the judges for the crowd pleasing ride aboard the typically tough bull.
It didn’t look like it was going to be a good night for the cowboys after it began with attempts on David’s Dream and 2011 Reserve World Champion Bull Asteroid, both contenders for World Champion bull. Both rides were unsuccessful. Asteroid took the early lead for the title with 46.75 points. Another World Champion Bull finalist, Smackdown took care of business a short time later, earning 46 points from the judges.
During the opening section, Zane Lambert put the first score on the board with an 84.25 that also earned a re-ride option on Buck Wild which Lambert turned down.
The crowd exploded when Emilio Resende conquered Lightmaker.com’s Rango, another bull in the running for the world title. Rango had an off day compared to his usual trip, scoring just 43 points. Resende is on the board at the Finals with an 87 point ride in his first appearance in Las Vegas.
The fireworks really began following intermission. In his last appearance in Las Vegas before retiring from bull riding, two-time World Champion Chris Shivers had the crowd on its feet as he went six seconds on After Party. Shivers was injured on the same bull back in Albuquerque, causing him to miss much of the season.
After a long spell of buck-offs, the riders got hot following Shivers near-ride. Luke Snyder posted 89.75 points on the next out aboard Shamoun, displaying near perfect form. Last year’s World Finals Champ Robson Palermo came next, gathering 86.75 points from the judges for a trip on Ball Peen.
Then came Nunes. It was a fan pleasing pairing with the wild riding style of Nunes matched against the hop-and-skip of Yellow Jacket Jr. that puts many riders to the dirt before the eight seconds. The crowd loved it as did the crowd.
With the noise level still in the rafters, Marco Eguchi took his cut at 2011 World Champion Bushwacker. The crowd exploded as Eguchi survived the champ’s first big jumps and was still there as the bull turned back in front of the out gate. Though he looked like he had a good seat, Bushwacker got longer on each spin and finally dispatched the cowboys at 6.3 seconds. The judges liked the effort, marking the bull 46.75 points.
The top two bulls from a year ago are now dead even in the title chase; Sunday’s Championship Round will essentially be a one-head match up between Asteroid and Bushwacker for the title unless Smackdown or one of the other contenders can make up the nearly full point difference.
With the bull title no more decided, the heart of the championship race for the cowboys came to bat. One after another, the riders hit the dirt early including a surprising buck-off by J.B. Mauney in just one jump. Fourth-ranked Guilherme Marchi came close as did third-ranked L.J. Jenkins.
Then came Valdiron de Oliveira. Oliveira has been one of the coldest of the top ten riders during the second half of the season but is the only rider who has been in the top ten all season long. Needing a score, the gritty Brazilian got it done on Flint for 87 points. When leader Silvano Alves came down early off of Rock N Roll, Oliveira crept back up the standings, now just 143 points behind Alves.
With three former World Finals winners (Nunes, Snyder and Palermo) on the board early, the race is even more interesting with one round down. Nunes is 3,502 points behind Alves but a second World Finals title for the champion would be worth 2,500 points. With his second place finish in Round 1, Snyder moved up to tenth in the world; at 4,746 points back he is a bit of a long shot but still in the hunt as well.
The PBR World Finals continues tonight, Thursday, October 25 at 6 p.m. with Round 2. Round 2 will feature the American Bucking Bull, Inc. (ABBI) Classic bulls, the top three and four year olds in the nation. The Classic bulls are also contending for a year end title worth $250,000.
The Finals continues with performances Friday and Saturday, October 26-27 at 6 p.m. and the Championship Round on Sunday, October 28 at 11:30 a.m. All times are Pacific time.