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PBR ready for last go-round in Las Vegas

After a year’s hiatus due to COVID-19 restrictions and with a full-time move to Fort Worth, Texas, set for 2022, the Professional Bull Riders will hold their last world finals in Las Vegas Wednesday through Sunday at T-Mobile Arena.

Here are three things to look for as the world’s best bulls and riders return for one last go-round in the city where it all began:

Leaving Las Vegas

The PBR held its first world championship at the MGM Grand Garden Arena in 1994, moved to the Thomas & Mack Center on the UNLV campus in 1999 and finally to T-Mobile Arena in 2016. Next year the finals will relocate to Dickies Arena in Forth Worth, Texas, where they will serve as the focal point for a week-long championship festival.

As part of the move, the PBR will become joint operator of the Cowtown Coliseum at the Fort Worth stockyards — a business opportunity that does not exist in Las Vegas.

But, said PBR chief executive Sean Gleason: “I don’t think the PBR would exist were it not for Las Vegas. They were partners from the first ride. They’ve been the home for our championship for 28 years.

“The decision should not be viewed as a negative toward Las Vegas. It was about taking advantage of the cowboy renaissance that is going on in Fort Worth.”

Leme at ‘em

Nearly half of the riders (17 of 35) who qualified via season earnings hail from Brazil, including defending champion Jose Vitor Leme, who put together one of the most dominant seasons in PBR history with 11 total wins and $469,457 in earnings before stepping away in September to rest muscle strains.

Leme won a PBR-leading seven Unleash The Beast tour events during the regular season and topped the leaderboard in round wins (19), championship round wins (5), 90-point rides (21) and riding percentage (.662).

The former soccer player will be trying to join countryman Silvano Alves, who won the first two of his three titles in 2011 and ‘12, as the PBR’s only repeat champion.

Kaique Pacheco, Cooper Davis, Joao Ricardo Vieira and Boudreaux Campbell round out the top five heading into Las Vegas. With $300,000 going to the rider with the highest aggregate score over six rounds, each still has a mathematical chance of overtaking Leme.

Best matchup

Woopaa vs. Leme, should it happen.

The No. 1-ranked bull (Woopaa) and rider went head to head in Tulsa, Oklahoma, in late July when Leme covered the powerful bull for a monstrous 97.75 points — the highest-marked ride in the PBR’s 28-year history.

Contact Ron Kantowski at rkantowski@reviewjournal.com or 702-383-0352. Follow @ronkantowski on Twitter.

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