By Bella Butler EBS STAFF
BIG SKY – The Professional Bull Riders will stomp into Billings this weekend for the Wrangler Invitational at MetraPark, from May 14-16. Sponsored by Cooper Tires, the three-day event stands to offer crucial points to successful riders on the road to claiming the next world title. Stock contractors well known to Montana crowds and other events like the Big Sky PBR, including Chad Berger of North Dakota and Cord McCoy of Oklahoma, will both have several notable, top-ranking bulls in the ring.
Among the roster of riders is Montana-native Jess Lockwood from Volborg, who will return to the arena this weekend after battling several injuries since last year, including a thigh injury from a ride in Oklahoma City that kept him off the bull most recently. Lockwood, currently ranked No. 24 in the world, returns to Billings after winning his first ever career event there in 2016, “the beginning of his path to PBR stardom,” said PBR Senior Writer/Editor Justin Felisko.
“When healthy, Jess has been one of the sport’s all-time greats,” Felisko said. “And there’s no denying the fact that he is a world champion contender when healthy, but this year that has been just the hardest thing for him is getting back to his prior self.” Hopefully in Billings, Felisko added, Lockwood can return to his fan base and get back on track.
The marquee event for the national audience, which will air on CBS national television Sunday night, is the 15/15 Bucking Battle, a showcase that pits the top 15 riders in the world against the top 15 ranked bulls of the event.
“The guy you have to keep an eye on this year is Jose Vitor Leme,” Felisko said. Leme is a former semi-professional soccer player from Brazil who is defending his 2020 PBR World Championship title. Nearing the halfway point of the season, Leme has 10 90-point rides, a short cry from PBR’s single-season record of 16. Felisko said that since PBR’s first season in 1994, only one rider has won back-to-back championships, and tough contenders like Kaique Pacheco and Cooper Davis won’t make it easy for Leme to do.
The Billings PBR is a three-day event, meaning it offers the most world points. Between that and the Bucking Battle, this weekend could be big for riders with their sights set on a golden buckle. “So that’s why this event is so important because when you start talking about the 15/15 Bucking Battles, these three-day events, that’s where you can really gain the most ground compared to a standard weekend,” Felisko said.
Last year in Billings, Leme won the Bucking Battle aboard Smooth Operator, one of Chad Berger’s bovines and PBR’s oldest two-time world championship bull. Smooth Operator is 11 years old, and while Berger has yet to announce his retirement, Felisko said Montana fans may not have many more opportunities to see him buck.
Another of Berger’s bulls riding in the Bucking Battle is The Right Stuff, currently ranked No. 6, who has only been ridden twice in his career, once by Lockwood and recently by Leme.
The Billings PBR will be televised on CBS and tickets to the live show at MetraPark are still available.
For the full event schedule or to purchase tickets, visit metrapark.com/pbr.