Leme Focusing on Himself, not the Situation

Jose Vitor Leme Jose Vitor Leme Photo courtesy PBR.com

The last two months have been quite the whirlwind for world leader Jose Vitor Leme.
Leme had begun the 2020 season on an absolute tear, which is an understatement in many ways, by winning three of the first nine Unleash The Beast events and taking home a seven round wins.
The 23-year-old had ridden 20 of his first 27 bulls, was converting at a blistering 74.07% pace, and had quickly assured everyone that there would be no hangover following a heartbreaking defeat to two-time World Champion Jess Lockwood at the 2019 PBR World Finals through the first two months of the season.

Leme’s momentum down the bull riding highway hit a pothole, though, when The Right Stuff broke three of his ribs when the bovine athlete tossed him into the steel post of the bucking chutes during a 6.24-second buckoff in Kansas City, Missouri.
Meanwhile, not even in 24 hours later, Lockwood’s season was dealt a massive blow.
Lockwood – the No. 2 bull rider in the world – appeared ready to strike with Leme out because of injury on the final day of competition.
All signs were pointing to a Lockwood surge before a freak accident changed everything. Lockwood had just ridden I’m Legit Too for 91.5 points in the championship round in Kansas City when the 22-year-old caught his right spur in his bull rope during his dismount. The bovine athlete then yanked Lockwood into a split, ripping his hamstring muscles completely from his hip.
Leme had already begun his 8-hour drive home to Decatur, Texas, with his wife, Amanda, when his phone went off with a notification that Lockwood, who had been nearly as red hot as Leme all season, was injured.

Just like that, Lockwood is now out for six months following reconstructive left hamstring injury and will not be riding until the middle of September.
Things then only continued to become more unexpected for Leme as he was prepared to return to competition after missing two events recovering from his rib injuries. However, the PBR then had to go on a month-long hiatus because of the COVID-19 (coronavirus) outbreak.
So here we are today.
Leme is set to ride this weekend at the PBR Las Vegas Invitational, presented by Union Home Mortgage, in a closed-to-the-public event at the Lazy E Arena in Oklahoma.
Fans can watch Round 1 Saturday night on CBS Sports Network and RidePass beginning at 6 p.m. ET.
It will obviously be something very different for Leme and the other 15 riders in the 42-man field that did not compete in the last private event back on March 14-15 in Duluth, Georgia.
“It will certainly be very different for me,” Leme said with the help of Miriaham Garcia translating last week. “I never participated in an event like this, but it will be fun. It is very cool when fans interact with us when we get good rides. It is great because we know we managed to bring joy to them. They will surely be missed.”
Leme heads into the Lazy E Arena as the clear-cut favorite in the world title race, and almost certainly for this weekend.

He is one of only four riders in the Top 10 of the world standings competing in Guthrie – he will be joined by No. 4 Daylon Swearingen, No. 7 Cole Melancon and No. 10 Colten Jesse.
Riders such as 2018 World Champion Kaique Pacheco, No. 3 Joao Ricardo Vieira and Dener Barbosa may be poised to threaten Leme in the world rankings, but all three riders have returned home to Brazil amidst the coronavirus outbreak.

No one is in the same category as Leme and Lockwood, two-time World Champion and CBS Sports Network commentator Justin McBride said earlier this week.
“Well, those guys you named could try and push him, but I don’t see it, though,” McBride said. “I don’t see anybody in his realm with Lockwood out. There are some guys that can step up. Mason Taylor has been sending me a lot of videos. That is a young guy with a lot of ability. Colten Jesse has had some splashes. Daylon. Then the younger Brazilian contingent with Dener and some of those guys. They can step up and become that guy, but they are not there yet at Jose’s level. They would have to have some things go drastically wrong for Jose.”
Leme failed to capitalize last year when Lockwood was out of competition for three months with a broken collarbone.
The 2017 Rookie of the Year failed to earn world points in six UTB events last season, three of which came when Lockwood was on the sidelines.
In fact, during Lockwood’s absence, Leme went just 13-for-28 (46.42%) with one event win and one 15/15 Bucking Battle victory. Leme had three Top-5 finishes in those nine events.
“I always said that every point is very important, regardless of whether the other competitors are riding or not,” Leme said. “I just want to ride my bulls, do my job, and if it is God's will for me to be the champion, I will be very happy.”
McBride said that is one of the things he respects about both Leme and Lockwood: both riders learned they cannot focus on their human counterparts.
All that matters is their bovine opponent.

“The cool thing about Jess and Jose have both realized is it doesn’t matter about the other guys,” McBride said. “That is what I had to learn from Adriano (Moraes). I couldn’t control what Adriano did, no matter how bad I wanted to. I had no control over that. All I could control was my performance. Once you finally get to that place, that is when you can really start winning. I feel like that is where Jose is at. He is not worried about the other guys. Give him his bull and let him go mix it up. That is all he is worried about.”
Moraes won his second World Championship in 2001, and fans can watch Moraes take the gold buckle Thursday night on RidePass for FREE at 8 p.m. ET.

He agrees with McBride that Leme just needs to focus on himself.
“He is not thinking about that. He is not happy Jess is out,” Moraes said. “I think he feeds off Jess’s success. I think Jess being there with him pushes Jose a little harder. Of course, we have great riders, and we are not talking down any of the other riders, but we talk about those two guys. Just like we talk about Silvano (Alves) and J.B. (Mauney) at that time, so now it is Jess and Jose.
“He will try, yes, to capitalize, but not because Jess is out, but because he is there riding and Jess won’t (be).”
Leme was off to the best start of his brief career at the time of his injury, and he believes he can continue to elevate his game to new heights.

“I have been having a good time for some time now,” Leme said when asked if he felt like 2020 has been his best season to date. “I have been in the USA for three years, and my World Championship standings only improved every year. When I arrived I finished seventh with only one event, and the following year in my first regular season I already managed to be in second in the world, and the next year I was able to finish in second again.
“There is a time that I have been riding well, but this year before getting hurt, I already had larger numbers than that of all my previous years (at this moment). This certainly motivates me even more and makes me dream even more about the world title.”
Leme stopped by D&H Cattle Company’s ranch earlier this week to attempt some practice bulls in preparation for his Round 1 matchup against Homegrown (3-0, UTB) on Saturday night.
The 2017 PBR World Finals event winner has been getting on practice bulls all month long at home in Decatur in preparation for whenever the PBR would get back to hosting events.
Now the PBR is back, and so too is Leme.
“I have been practicing a lot at home,” Leme said.  “I exercise. I ride bulls. I rode seven bulls during this period and I only fell off one (as of last weekend). So I think I am in good physical shape, and I think I will be able to continue at the pace I was before I hurt myself.”

By Justin Felisko/PBR.com