ARLINGTON, TX – Eight seconds and a cloud of dust. Eight seconds of adrenaline-pumping, heart-pounding excitement, hold your breath energy with some of the toughest athletes in the world. If you try riding 2,000-pound bulls for a living, you’d be skin tough, too. These athletes are the bull riding cowboys who face off with these bucking beasts for eight seconds or less.
From the moment the gates fly open, the crowd goes crazy. They know what’s coming. A snarling, bucking animal packed into a couple of thousand pounds of less than nice intent trying their very best dislodge the human pest that has become a fly-swatting annoyance on their back.
They jump into the air. They spin, twist, maneuver, and do what it takes to rid themselves of the flailing cowboys, whose profession it is to ride and conquer these living and breathing tornadoes. All this excitement was live at AT&T Stadium in Arlington, Texas at the 2020 Professional Bull Riders (PBR) World Finals, where thousands attended the nightly square dance between bulls and humans.
There were 39 riders who qualified to compete in the sport’s richest, most prestigious event in bull riding. The 2020 PBR World Finals: Unleash The Beast event, offered a $1 million Monster Energy World Champion bonus and coveted gold buckle to the PBR World Champion and a $300,000 check to the event winner.
All it took was the pleasure of mounting bulls like Smooth Operator, Chiseled, Dirt Gangster, Spotted Demon, and Drago, and a whole bunch of other snarly four-legged mammals whose sole objective is to bring the pain by any means necessary to any rider who dare climb aboard them. It was four days and five rounds of grueling rides, a race for the final rounds, and to be crowned the champion.
All eyes were on the absolutely unstoppable Brazilian Jose Vitor Leme, who lead the pack of bull riders through the third round and then scored his career-best, a monster 95.75 points to cinch the PBR World title and the $1 million bonus.
Leme has been one of the most exciting bull riders in the world and the work of a lifetime has paid off. The world title race this year was all about Leme. The season started with him leading the pack and he finished the season in the same position: as champion. Leme was so dominating not only throughout the season but throughout the entire World Finals week.
Leme wasn’t the only rider to shine during the event. Competing at his first-ever PBR World Finals, Boudreaux Campbell, 22, rode a near-perfect 4 out of 5 rating performance and wrangled the 2020 Rookie of the Year honor and the 2020 World Finals: Unleash The Beast event title which propelled him to the No. 3 ranking in the world. He is considered to be a newbie on the cowboy scene.
“I’m lost for words,” Campbell said. “I’ve been working at this all year long, especially with the year we had. It was crazy. We had to go through a lot of obstacles. PBR went through a ton of stress to get us to where we are. And heck, my emotions right now are so happy.” “I’ve always dreamed of a PBR World title. This is one step closer to that goal. It’s a big accomplishment.”
In his blazing path to the Rookie of the Year honor, Campbell overtook fellow Texan Cole Melancon (Paris, Texas) for the title. Melancon concluded the race among first-year professionals in second place, while Alex Cerqueira (Iguatemi, Brazil) was third. Mauricio Moreira (Gaviao Peixoto, Brazil) finished fourth and Andrew Alvidrez (Seminole, Texas) rounded out the Top 5.
The 2018 Rookie of the Year made waves in Arlington as well. Keyshawn Whitehorse, 23, had some stellar textbook perfect rides, with scores positioning him for a second-place finish at this year’s World Finals. Whitehorse’s solid performance bumped him up to the No. 7 spot in the world. Whitehorse worked over the bulls he was riding to produce a last round score of 93.75 to secure his second-place finish at the World Finals.
Jess Lockwood, a two-time world champ, was slinging for the fences when he picked to ride Lil 2 Train, one of the toughest bulls on the professional bull riding circuit. Lil 2 Train has the reputation of either gifting riders with high scores or leaving them face down in the dirt. Needless to say, things didn’t go too well with Lockwood after trying to ride Lil 2 Train, the No. 27 bull on the circuit. Let’s just say that emotions ran high.
Ryan Dirteater, who turned 31 in April, announced his retirement for the end of the 2020 season. An 11-time PBR World Finals qualifier, 2016 World Finals event winner, and ranked No. 15 in the world, Dirteater closed out the world finals with 91 points on Paying Depts.
The 2020 PBR World Finals was not the event that rising star Ezekiel Mitchell, 23, had dreamed of. Coming into the finals, Mitchell was ranked No. 11 in the world. He danced with some fierce competitors that ended his finals run short of the Gold Buckle competition in Round 4. It was not the showing that Mitchell had hoped for. His performance at the 2020 PBR World Finals was not kind. Mitchell would leave the event having dropped seven spots to No. 18 in the world.
But Mitchell’s dream to walk across the world finals stage is an accomplishment in itself and a dream come true. From the time Mitchell was a child he knew he wanted to be a cowboy and a bull rider. He was self-taught with “the help of a librarian and a computer lab teacher.” After reading a Bill Pickett (legendary black cowboy and rodeo star) book a few times, Mitchell set out on a mission. He wanted to be a cowboy.
Ezekiel’s father, Danny Mitchell, provided as much exposure as he could for his son by buying equipment and taking him to bull riding events. Elias Green helped Mitchell by giving his friend a couple of horses to ride. Mitchell would ride the horses daily around town, including stopping at drive-thru restaurants. Mitchell credits his humble beginnings as critical in that it “developed him to be the cowboy he is today.”
Another one of Mitchell’s friends, Rodney Brooks, said he admired Mitchell’s determination of walking 10 to 15 miles daily just to get on bulls to ride. He “wants to be a world champion one day,” Brook said.
Mitchell is on a mission to be the second Black bull rider to win a title. Charlie Sampson became the first African American or Black bull rider to win a world title, earning that moniker in 1982. This man is fearless, strong, resilient, full of personality, flare and funny. He has proven to himself and to everyone who has been following him, Mitchell has raw talent and skills.
Mitchell said he loves being an inspiration to young kids and others watching him knowing that “you can be whoever you want to be and the only person holding you back is you.”
On a final note, this year has been very difficult and different for the Professional Bull Riders: Unleash The Beast tour. It has also been a gratifying one as well.
“I am so proud of the PBR team for leading the way back to action for sports and giving our great riders and bulls the opportunity to finish what we started in 2020,” said Sean Gleason, CEO of Professional Bull Riders. “Congratulations to Jose Vitor Leme and Smooth Operator on well-deserved world titles.”
The PBR is the greatest show on dirt.
Editor’s note: Featured image of Ezekiel Mitchell (No. 18 world ranking) in action during the 2020 PBR World Finals: Unleash the Beast event in Arlington, Texas. Photo credit: Melinda Meijer for News4usonline