PUEBLO, Colo. – Claudio Montanha Jr. left The Schottenstein Center one year ago as the No. 1 bull rider in the world after his event victory in Billings, Montana, the week prior had propelled him to the top of the world standings for the first time in his career.
The talented Brazilian had already won two Unleash The Beast events and appeared poised to make a run at the 2018 PBR World Championship.
What ensued was anything but a push for a World Championship, though.
Montanha concluded the 2018 season 12-for-41 (29.27%) and essentially had fallen off the gold buckle map by the time the World Finals rolled around in Las Vegas.
Come back to this season and there was Montanha this past weekend in Columbus, Ohio, standing on the campus of The Ohio State University holding his first Unleash The Beast event buckle in 372 days.
He may not be the No. 1 bull rider in the world, but there is a tremendous weight lifted off his shoulders.
An event victory at the Wrangler Long Live Cowboys Classic, presented by Cooper Tires, has given him new life in the 2019 World Championship race after his 2019 season began much like 2018 ended.
Montanha built off his fifth-place finish two weeks ago in Billings to go 3-for-3 in Columbus with an event-winning 87.25-point ride on M.A.G.A. to surge to No. 9 in the world standings.
“It is hard to explain. I think this year I kind of had bad luck on the draw,” Montanha said with the help of Paulo Crimber translating. “Then every bull you get bucked off, you get your head down and you start thinking you can’t ride bulls no more. You kind of lose (confidence in) everything you know.
“I was really happy in Billings, I did really good and this weekend I came really focused to ride my bulls.”
Montanha arrived in Billings two weeks ago ranked 22nd in the world standings. He has since gone 5-for-8 to pick up 630 points and push himself to the fringe of the world title race.
In Columbus, he began his weekend with 85.75 points on Night Sweats in Round 1 before rolling the dice and turning down a re-ride option in Round 2 after covering Millenium for 76.5 points.
Montanha went into the championship round draft in the fifth position with the goal of selecting either Stunt Man Ray or M.A.G.A.
The third-year premier series pro rode Stunt Man Ray last year for 88.75 points at the World Finals and 88.5 points in Sioux Falls, South Dakota.
M.A.G.A. had previously bucked him off in 3.36 seconds last season in Austin, Texas.
“I thought if I was number one I would get Stuntman Ray,” Montanha said. “He was my second draft pick. I thought he would be gone when he got to me. I knew this would be a rematch because he bucked me off in Austin. It worked out great.”
Keyshawn Whitehorse (5.82 seconds vs. Wicked Dreams), Joe Frost (5.16 seconds vs. Biker Bob), Junio Quaresima (5.92 seconds vs. Stunt Man Ray) and Derek Kolbaba (4.36 seconds vs. Big Black) all then bucked off their championship round bulls to give Montanha the victory.
Montanha had not ridden three bulls at one event since going 4-for-4 at the season-opening Monster Energy Buck Off at the Garden.
After being a member of Team Brazil at the Global Cup USA in Arlington, Texas, he then dipped into a 3-for-16 slump.
“In between February and April, I went through a rough time,” he said. “I know this (happened) right after Global Cup. This I know as a bull rider.”
Montanha admitted a portion of his struggles were simply on the mental side vs. any physical issues.
“It is kind of hard when I see the draw,” he said. “Not just because I doubt myself, but sometimes you get bulls away from your hand. I ride good bulls away from my hand too, but I kind of prefer them into my hand and sometimes some bulls do not accept to you. Away from your hand it is hard to ride. It is just hard. It worked out this week.”
Two-time World Champion Justin McBride said on CBS Sports Network Sunday that Montanha has proven in the past that he can ride bulls in either direction.
“This is a guy that can ride bulls that go either direction, so when he is in it like this, he is a force to be reckoned with,” McBride said. “When Montanha Jr. sees them for the entire 8 seconds he is going to stay on them. This guy keeps his head down and he is dangerous.”
Montanha trails world leader Jose Vitor Leme by 1,544.19 points heading into the two-week Unleash The Beast break. Neither rider is slated to compete at any non-UTB events.
Montanha understands he has to continue to believe he can ride anything regardless of what he draws and has to block out any mental errors from preventing him from riding at the 45.71% clip he did as a rookie in 2017.
“I just want to keep focusing and I thank God to help me keep going day by day,” he concluded.
Follow Justin Felisko on Twitter @jfelisko