The great part about PBR (Professional Bull Riders) Championship Week is that the league has created a true western sports extravaganza.
With a ferocious three-man race among world No. 1 Jose Vitor Leme, No. 2 Jess Lockwood, and No. 3 Chase Outlaw (who swept their finals bulls four times) and Rubens Barbosa putting up a 95.75 score (the fourth-highest score in the history of the sport in Las Vegas), World Finals were epic.
The thrills actually started five days earlier with the PBR Pendleton Whisky Velocity Tour Final. This was the year the Velocity Tour truly came into its own. With added points, the sport’s biggest stars were competing in places like Rapid City, SD, and Portland, ME. Added Velocity Tour points meant a lot, and the tour’s finals at South Point were a huge success. Saturday night sold out, proving that like the NFR, PBR can pack in the fans for a whole week of great bull riding in Las Vegas.
The momentum created at the Velocity Tour Finals at South Point – where fans heard funny, raw and revealing rider conversations in Flint Rasmussen’s “Outside the Barrel” each day at noon – carried over big time to T-Mobile Arena. The Plaza concerts were rocking, the crowds were electric, and in fact on Saturday night leading into Championship Sunday, PBR sold-out T-Mobile for the first time since moving the finals there in 2016 from Thomas & Mack Center.
The cheers for PBR’s Native American athletes like Cody Jesus, Keyshawn Whitehorse and Stetson Lawrence were among the loudest for all the riders – a tribute to PBR’s efforts doubling down on Native American community outreach and great storytelling.
It was also rewarding to hear Jose Vitor Leme getting big cheers. When Leme bucked off in the championship round, he immediately congratulated the new Champion Jess Lockwood – a very nice show of sportsmanship from a devastated athlete who had been brought to tears when the newly minted two-time World Champ who had notched four 90-point rides overtook him for the gold buckle, million-dollar bonus and a new Can-Am Defender.
Leme had earlier showed some sass in pointing to Jess while still on his bull making the 8. Don’t try that at home!
The friendly rivalry between the former Brazilian soccer star and former Montana high school wrestling state champion will be one to watch in 2020.
Previous world champion bull riders have been in the same place Leme is now in. 2008 PBR World Champion Guilherme Marchi finished second a few times before winning his title. 2018 world champion Kaique Pacheco finished 2017 in second place to current world champion Jess Lockwood. Jose is among great company and is not one to count out in the 2020 Unleash The Beast season.
A few other special moments in a close-knit sport that often feels like family brought the crowd to their feet and reaching for their hankies in T-Mobile Arena. Along with the tremendous on the dirt competition, these moments led to a league-record week in social media, generating nearly 61 million total impressions and over 12 million views.
The first was Jess Lockwood receiving the new Mason Lowe Award for the regular season’s highest-scored ride. The award is a cross made from Mason Lowe’s last pair of boots to pay tribute to the popular rider who left the world too soon this past January. The emotional presentation on the Can-Am cage left not a dry eye in the arena. To cap the night off, Lowe’s best friend Chase Outlaw rode the bull he was paired with – Mason’s Missouri Golden (21-2) – and knocked out an 87-point ride to cap off an unforgettable evening.
A second emotional moment when the Be Cowboy honoree was announced, generating a standing ovation for the hero – a first responder to the Route 91 tragedy who helped take down the assailant of the horrific incident. As PA announcer Brandon Bates related the story, it was truly touching to see the amazing response of the crowd.
While the 2020 season bucking off at Madison Square Garden is more than 50 days away, the new season, in reality, starts in Australia this weekend, with the PBR Australia Finals. Fans will see 2018 world champion Kaique Pacheco, who had been sidelined all season with injuries, making his comeback in tuning up for New York. Fans can see all the action from Down Under on RidePass.
PBR’s digital network will bring fans bull riding action the next three weeks, also carrying PBR Canada Finals from Saskatoon and the PBR Brazil Finals. This should help make the wait for the 2020 season to start in Madison Square Garden two days after the ball drops in Times Square ten blocks north pass a lot faster.