If the race for the title Last Cowboy Standing was a sprint, the underdogs would have dominated the Professional Bull Riders (PBR)event held at the Mandalay Bay Events Center in Las Vegas May 9-10, 2014. However, the event is more of a long distance race--a battle of endurance and persistence. While the long shots ruled the opening night, it was a World Champion who rose to the challenge of the distance and earned the title during a raucous conclusion on Saturday night.
Each of 50 invited bull riders had a shot to ride in the event with the rules being simple: make qualified rides and advance to the next round. When only 11 cowboys did so, the rules allowed that the World standings be used to determine the riders who would fill out the field to the required 25 riders for round two.
That exemption allowed 2008 PBR World Champion Guilherme Marchi to survive opening night, where he was bucked off early by Kujo (BMC Bucking Bulls/Owen Ranch). With a new found fire in his riding this year, Marchi has been ranked number one in the World standings for much of the season but recently lost that distinction to fellow Brazilian, Fabiano Vieira. But with Vieira unable to ride in Las Vegas after dislocating his right shoulder last weekend in Colorado Springs, Marchi had a chance to reclaim the spot as the PBR moves into its traditional three month summer hiatus.
Riding last in round two to open the Saturday night performance, Marchi dominated Past Time (Bar 3D Bucking Bulls) for 87.75 points, good enough for second in the round behind two-time PBR World Champion Silvano Alves.
Like Marchi, Alves bucked off in round one but returned in a huge way with a round winning 88.5 point effort aboard Bullet Proof (JARS Bucking Bulls/Gene Owen). Alves has won the Last Cowboy Standing in each of the last two seasons and, with his second round performance, looked poised to win again.
With 25 rides attempted in round two, just five men managed to make eight seconds: Alves, Marchi, Markus Mariluch, Sean Willingham and 2010 PBR World Champ Renato Nunes. Only Mariluch and Nunes had ridden on Friday night with the other three taking advantage of good World standings position to allow them to continue to compete.
To reach the finish line and collect the $100,000 that accompanies the title of Last Cowboy Standing, the riders must work through the rankest bulls in the PBR, beginning with the very best in round three. Each rider climbed the shark cage at center arena and drew a chip with a number corresponding to the bulls. Awaiting the man who drew chip number one was reigning PBR World Champion Bull Bushwacker (Julio Moreno Bucking Bulls).
Probably the most famous bucking bull in a generation, Bushwacker has been ridden just twice in his illustrious career and has been the star of a year long retirement tour publicity campaign. Bushwacker owns the record for consecutive buck-offs and has a career average bull score of 46.25 points (possible 50).
When Marchi withdrew his chip, he knew he would face the World Champion bull. Shortly before the draw, it was announced that a $25,000 bounty was being placed on Bushwacker.
In round three, the bulls dominated the competition. Nunes was dumped from Shepherd Hills Tested (Luthy/Duckwall/D&H Cattle Company/Powder River/Shepherd Hills Cutlery), Willingham lost the battle with Long John (D&H Cattle Company/Tim Dougherty), Mariluch was downed early by Im A Gangster Too (Jeff Robinson/TNT Bucking Bulls) and Alves couldn't capitalize on Fire & Smoke (Dakota Rodeo/Chad Berger/Clay Struve/Julie Rosen).
So it came down to Marchi. With a chance for not only the $100,000 that goes with the title Last Cowboy Standing title but also the bounty, Marchi nodded his head but the big red son of Reindeer would not go down in this trip. Marchi lasted just under four seconds, setting up a round four for the title.
Needing a little extra luck, Marchi brought his young son Joao Gabriele to the stage to draw his chip for round four. Apparently, it worked as the younger Marchi pulled Rango's chip. Although Marchi was 0-2 lifetime against the Jeff Robinson bull, Rango has been ridden for 90+ on three occasions this season.
After watching Nunes, Willingham and Mariluch come down early, Marchi took his wraps and took care of business. He posted 89.5 points and put the pressure on Alves, the defending champ, to come up with a score in order to push the event to a fifth round.
When Alves was beaten by Honey Hush, Marchi had his first career Last Cowboy Standing title, his 20th career event win, and $115,900 in event earnings.
"What makes me try so hard," said Marchi when asked about the fatigue of competing at an event like the Last Cowboy Standing as he accepted the awards in the arena, "there are three people here--my daughter, my son and my wife, and you guys too [to the fans]."
"I'm so blessed to be here," said the ten-year veteran of the PBR who recently recorded his 500th career qualified ride, a record for the PBR. "Everything I've built here, I've built myself with my family, with God and with the fans."
"I'd like to thank the PBR and our sponsor Ford," Marchi continued, adding that he would miss the fans over the summer break.
With the win, Marchi moved back to number one in the standings. Four times in the last seven seasons the eventual PBR World Champion has led the points at the season break June 1.
The PBR's elite league, the Built Ford Tough Series, now goes on break until August 15-16, when the tour resumes in Tulsa, Oklahoma. There are eight events remaining until the PBR World Finals in Las Vegas October 22-26.