CHICAGO – Three-time World Champion Adriano Moraes was standing outside the locker room during the 2017 PBR World Finals when the topic of Jose Vitor Leme came up.
Leme was becoming the talk of the Finals after the 21-year-old had ridden his first four bulls in Las Vegas and was well on his way to becoming the fifth rookie to win the World Finals in PBR history.
Moraes, though, quickly changed the conversation back toward another talented Brazilian rookie that was also having himself a darn, good World Finals.
Luciano de Castro.
“We haven’t seen Luciano yet,” Moraes said quietly. Luciano. The reality I have seen with Luciano, we have not seen yet. He had some family problems. Some relationship problems that have bothered him. You saw what he is this week. That was no fluke. That was solid. That was as good as it can be.”
Castro went 3-for-6 at the World Finals, highlighted by a career-high 88.75-point ride on Bottoms Up – to finish his first World Finals in ninth place.
The 2015 PBR Brazil champion was the third-highest finishing rookie behind Leme and 2016 PBR Brazil champion Dener Barbosa (fifth).
It was a good finale for Castro after he spent 2017 failing to live up to external expectations and his own internal ones.
The 21-year-old revealed last week in New York, with the help of Paulo Crimber translating, that a big portion of his struggles in 2017 stemmed from outside of the arena.
Castro was struggling with adjusting to life in the United States, while also going through a divorce back home in Brazil.
The then 20-year-old father’s personal life affected him greatly.
“For sure it did,” Castro said. “That was a lot of stuff. My marriage. We got a divorce. That situation we went through was very hard.”
When Castro arrived to the United States in November 2016, there was talk among Brazilian bull riders that he had the talent to become the next, great superstar from South America.
Castro was the first rider to win the Brazilian Triple Crown (PBR Brazil championship, PBR Brazil Rookie of the Year and PBR Brazil Finals event winner) before Leme accomplished it last year.
However, Castro’s first season wound up a major disappointment because of the expectations attached to his name.
Castro went 26-for-62 (41.94 percent) with six Top-10 finishes and concluded his first season ranked 25th in the world standings.
“Last year, there were high expectations for me to come here and be a World Champion or be close to it,” Castro said. “When I started getting bucked off, I went back and looked at the comments of my rides and stuff. A lot of people had a lot of negative comments. ‘I wasn’t the rider I was. I was dropping a level competition wise.’ That kind of hurts me a little bit.
‘We got to the World Finals and I just forgot about all that.’
Despite his struggles, Castro did have his moments where he flashed his potential with rides aboard Hurricane Hustler (87.75 points), BC Circular Insanity (87.5 points) and More Big Bucks (87.25 points).
His best performance outside of the Finals came at the Jacksonville Invitational when he used 87-point rides on Air Marshall and Ante Up to propel himself to a fourth-place finish.
Two-time World Champion and CBS Sports analyst Justin McBride said before the start of the 2018 season that Castro was one of his dark horse contenders.
“Man, there is a couple of those Brazilians,” McBride said. “It will be interesting to see Luciano. I think Luciano is really good. I think Dener (Barbosa) is good. Those three. I will just clump those three together. Luciano, (Claudio) Montanha and Dener.”
Castro has drawn Rebel Call (0-0, Premier Series) for Round 1 of the Chicago Invitational on Saturday night. Fans can watch the action exclusively on CBS Sports Network beginning at 8 p.m. ET.
Castro said that spending the offseason back home in Brazil was extremely good for his state of mind.
He felt ready physically for the PBR last year, but he learned he mentally wasn’t strong enough.
“Last year was really disappointing, but I went back to Brazil and I prepared myself very hard,” he said. “Not physically. Mentally. I know I wasn’t very good mentally. I came back with potential and my head is set up to do great this year and really show what I am capable of for 2018. I am preparing every day. It is going to be bull by bull, and I want to be a World Champion and have a great year.”
Castro got off to a good start last weekend in New York.
He tied with his career-high with 88.75 points on Mystikal to cap his 3-for-4, eighth-place weekend.
“Paulo told me once I start riding for myself that is when I am going to start riding good,” Castro said. “That is what I am doing now. I am riding for me and nobody else.”
The more important ride from Castro may have been his 85 points away from his hand aboard Dirt Man Do in Round 2.
Riding away from his hand was a struggle for Castro in 2017, and it was something he spent time working on during the offseason.
“I watched a bunch of videos of myself,” Castro said. “Older videos, especially away from my hand. I started seeing a lot of great rides away from my hand in Brazil. A lot of those rides could have compared to the bulls here. Then I started seeing I do know how to do this. I realize that was just me. I saw how good I can be and how good I am into my hand or away. It doesn’t matter.
“I am going to continue to prepare myself and just ride for myself and show what I am capable of.”
© 2018 PBR Inc. All rights reserved.