By: Justin Felisko
PUEBLO, Colorado- The 2023 Unleash The Beast series kicks off this weekend with the PBR Monster Energy Invitational in Tucson, Arizona (November 26-27).
Round 1 of the Tucson Arena will air exclusively on RidePass on Pluto TV at 8:45 p.m. ET before CBS Sports Network will broadcast all of the action on Championship Sunday (4:00 p.m. ET).
PBR.com counts down the final days before the UTB season opener by looking back at the top 5 bull riders at the end of the 2022 season.
Today we’re looking at #5, Jose Vitor Leme
No. 5 Jose Vitor Leme
World Championship: 2 (2020, 2021)
Best world ranking: 1 (2020, 2021)
Premier Series 2022 (UTB) statistics.
riding percentage: 53.49%
top ride: 94.75 points on 2022 YETI World Champion, Bull Ridin Solo (Oklahoma City)
Average driving score: 88.98
Wins: 2 (Little Rock, Arkansas | Tulsa, Oklahoma)
15/15 bucking battle victories: 1, Oklahoma City (94.75 points on Ridin Solo)
above 5: 6
top 10: 9
90 point rides: 7
Summary of the 2022 UTB/Team Series: For the first time in four years (2018), two-time world champion Jose Vitor Leme never held the No. 1 ranking. Leme was the hunter instead of the hunted for the first time in years. His quest for a third straight world title fell just short in 2022, but he stayed in contention all season despite missing five events with a core muscle injury and concussion. Leme was still very much on the hunt in the final days of the World Finals until he fractured four of his ribs and suffered a collapsed lung crossing fended off him in Round 6 of the PBR World Finals in 6.24 seconds.
At the time of his injury, Leme was fourth in the world rankings and fourth in World Finals average. Basically, he would have been just a bull ride behind the eventual world champion Daylon Swearingen en route to Championship Sunday at Dickies Arena if he hadn’t been knocked out of competition.
If Leme was healthy, could he have won a third consecutive world championship? It’s very possible. Nonetheless, Leme came back down to earth in 2022, moving closer to the championship-fighting pack, winning two events and riding 53% of his bulls. Those are certainly respectable numbers, but it was a huge departure from his historic, record-breaking, and masterful season the year before. In 2021 nobody could match Leme. In 2022, time was running out on his pursuit.
The injuries didn’t stop him from being the #1 pick in the 2022 PBR Team Series Draft presented by ZipRecruiter. Leme (19-for-26) would lead Austin player to a 16-12 record and the No. 1 spot for the PBR Team Series Championship. However, the Gamblers would get shockingly upset in the second round of the playoffs Nashville Stampede when Leme amazingly lost his bull rope at 7.62 seconds onboard show me homie and fell on his ribs. Leme would not be able to enter the Last Chance Game and Austin was then eliminated by Texas.
Outlook 2023: Leme starts his 2023 UTB season in a similar place to how he ended the 2022 World Finals – trying to recover from broken ribs. He’s already been ruled out for the season opener in Tucson and Leme, who is visiting family in Brazil, has yet to finalize a timeline for returning to competition. Leme’s ribs have never fully healed since the PBR World Finals in Fort Worth, and his injury in Las Vegas during the PBR Team Series Finals marked at least the third time in six months that he has aggravated that original injury again.
The biggest question mark for Leme in 2023 is how much time he’ll have to take for the ribs to finally heal, with or without surgery. Leme has proven time and time again, including his MVP performance during the PBR Team Series regular season, that he can overcome the injury. But it’s also become clear that a wrong shot or buck could set him back in his recovery.
Taking injuries out of the equation, Leme should be considered one of the top contenders for the 2023 PBR World Championship. You can bet he’s extremely motivated after failing to win a third straight gold buckle and then his Austin Gamblers failing to even make it to Championship Sunday during PBR teams’ postseason.
Leme remains in the upper league of the sport and is still considered by many to be the No. 1 bull rider in the world. Don’t be surprised if Leme is in the right mix for a third world title on the final day of the 2023 PBR World Finals at Dickies Arena.
Follow Justin Felisko on Twitter @jfelisko
Photo courtesy of Todd Brewer/Bull Stock Media
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