MATADORS' FIRST CHANGING OF THE GUARD
IN THE NEW CENTURY
By Mario Carrión

One of the factors which keeps bullfighting fresh and interesting is the appearance in the bullrings of young new matadors with star quality each European taurine season. A few promising matadors usually show up every year to challenge the established figuras, who are forced to justify their status. But only a couple of the newcomers become established as figuras each year while some veterans fade away. Those challenges result in taurine seasons in which there is a struggle between experienced bullfighters that are challenged to counteract the daring enthusiasm of the newcomers with their mastery. Then, the most determined ones survive.

But if the flow of newcomers diminishes for a few years, as has happened from 1988 until last season, then the lack of pressure from the bottom permits the senior matadors, unchallenged, to stay active longer, even when their careers might be in decline.

This infusion of new blood is the lifeline of the art of bullfighting and it is necessary that the new blood flows constantly to keep the fiesta brava vibrantly alive, the bullfighters competitive and the aficionados enthusiastic and interested and in the development of any taurine season.

If we were to read the matadors' rankings and the corrida calendars of past taurine seasons in old issues of bullfighting magazines, we would notice that two or three new names are included with the established matadors in the cartels of the most important fairs almost every year. Nevertheless, for whatever reason, from time to time there is an interruption of the renewal process, and for a period of time no new names can be found among the figuras on the cartels of the fair circuit.

Recently the process of the rejuvenation of the pool of the figuras, which was very dynamic during the first half of the decade of the 90's, suddenly stopped after the 1998 European season, when Julián López "El Juli" and Miguel Abellán took their alternativas. "El Juli" became one of the most important and popular contemporary matadors, and Abellán was the last matador to join the elite group of figuras that regularly are featured in the fair programs. From then until last season, none of the novilleros taking the alternativa nor any of those matadors playing a secondary role in bullfighting has been able to surmount the barrier barring them from stardom.

If the flow of newcomers diminishes for a few years, an unwanted situation could be created in the fiesta brava, in which the established figuras can sail along, remaining unchallenged in their privileged positions. Consequently, they might feel that they are entrenched at the top away from competition from any aspiring stars, limiting themselves to obtaining only sufficient success to maintain the status quo. This lack of stimulus to excel on the part of some of he leading matadors generally causes diminishing enthusiasm of the aficionados for the development and outcome of any given season.

It seemed that this was going to be the case at the beginning of the new century since, as we just mentioned, no new stars have brightened the bullfighting sky for the last three years. But fortunately the tremendous successes of Antonio Ferrera, "El Fandi" and César Jiménez during the 2002 European season have unsettled the status quo and put the renewal process in motion again. This process might continue in the 2003 season since, in addition to the three matadors mentioned, there are a few other young men, who took the alternativa last season, and some novilleros that will become matadors at the beginning of the upcoming season, plus the matador Fernando Robleño, all of whom posses the qualities and determination to compete for stardom.

Let's take a glance at the background of the process of renovation and who might be the probable protagonists of the changes in the 2003 European season.

In the 70's and 80's most of the younger men taking the alternativa seemed unable to dislodge the established figuras from the top. The consequence was that, year after year, in the end-of-season statistics very few new names appeared among the leading bullfighters of that era. Furthermore, often those few new names that, for a while, took commanding positions did not last long in the leadership, allowing the displaced veterans to reclaim their places. But, starting in 1987 with the tremendous success of José Miguel Arroyo "Joselito", and continuing during the first half of the decade of the 90's with a series of talented novilleros succeeding as matadors, the renewal process was accelerated.

Consequently, very few names of the leading matadors of the decades of the 70's and 80's could be found in the rankings and on the corrida calendars of the 90's, or in the statistics of the first two years of the new century, since most of the matadors playing a stellar role in later years became full-fledged matadors after 1987.

Few changes of consequence happened in the 1999, 2000 and 2001 seasons in the upper ranking of the bullfighters and none was anticipated for the last season. It was expected that at the conclusion of the season in October 2002, Enrique Ponce, Julián López "El Juli" and José Tomás, would continue as the matadors' supreme leaders. It did not happen, since José Tomás surprised every one by announcing in September in Murcia that he was retiring from bullfighting. Also, it was expected that the exclusive group of figuras, formed by "Joselito", "Finito de Córdoba", Manuel Caballero, "Jesulín de Ubrique", "El Cordobés", Víctor Puerto, Francisco Rivera Ordoñez, "Morante de la Puebla", Eugenio de Mora and Miguel Abellán, plus the specialists of the 'hard corridas' Pepín Liria, Juan José Padilla, Eduardo Dávila Miura and Luis Miguel Encabo, as well as a couple of senior maestros and a few regional matadors would be monopolizing the places on the cartels of the fairs. This did not happen either, in part because many of those maestros were injured by the bulls, but mainly because Antonio Ferrera, David Fandila "El Fandi" and César Jiménez, three gifted and determined matadors, unexpectedly entered the picture to upset the status quo.

Ferrera, since he took the alternativa in 1997, has struggled to be recognised as figura. It has taken him five years of fighting tough corridas with great success to finally find his place among the best at the vanguard of bullfighting in 2002. In those years, despite of his many triumphant afternoons, he was not included in many important cartels, and he also had to keep fighting the hardest animals. He was considered a valiant and great banderillo, but an unimpressive classless second-rate bullfighter. Moreover, he started the 2002 season achieving great success in the Castellón Fair, receiving the 'Best Matador', trophy, and he later continued cutting ears in almost every corrida in which he appeared. But this time, he finally played a relevant role in the most important fairs, taking the place of many important matadors who were out because of injuries.

The results of Ferrera's performances are impressive since in 75 corridas he obtained 133 ears and 13 tails, and opened 31 'puertas grandes', including the ones from plazas as important as Madrid, Pamplona, Bilbao, Valencia, San Sebastián, Málaga, Dax, (France), Nimes (France) and Salamanca. Furthermore, he pardoned the life of three bulls, and on two occasions he had the daring to confront six bulls by himself. He accomplished all those deeds with courage and determination in spite of being seriously gored twice. Nevertheless, the most significant fact of his success is that Ferrera has added depth, class and some touches of art to his baroque and spectacular style of bullfighting.

No less impressive was the triumphant campaign of "El Fandi", in which he fought 72 corridas cutting 167 ears and 15 tails. He obtained one ear in the corrida of the confirmation of his alternativa in Madrid, and another in his repetition at the San Isidro Fair. He left the bullring without taking a trophy with him on only nine afternoons. Furthermore, he left the arena on the shoulders of his fans 52 times: in Granada five times; Alicante, Pamplona, Valencia, Santander, Malaga, Bilbao, Salamanca, Murcia, Jaén and others. He also pardoned the life of two bulls; one in Granada and another in La Línea (Cádiz). He ended the season on a high note, since in his last five corridas, he obtained 18 trophies and opened four 'puertas grandes'. "El Fandi", like Ferrera, is a fantastic banderillero, and when they perform together, their mano-a-manos with the banderillas are spectacular. Moreover, this torero has gained the admiration of the fans as well as critics last season because he gave his rather unorthodox way of bullfighting a classic make over. To his form he added depth and art that were reflected in his many fantastic faenas last year. Like many other matadors last season, he also was very seriously gored in Bilbao, missing several engagements.

"El Fandi" took his alternativa in 2000, and his first two years as a matador were not easy, in spite of his many triumphs. He often fought difficult bulls with great success in plazas of minor importance, mainly in the Andalucian region. However, he was categorized as a matador without great future, with a dynamic inartistic style. He proved us wrong.

On the other hand, César Jiménez, jumped from being a noteworthy novillero at the beginning of the past season to be a rising star featured in the cartels of the fairs together with the figuras. There has been no similar fast rise to success since 1998 when "El Juli" and Miguel Abellán did it. Last year César participated in 15 novilladas obtaining 21 trophies and opening the 'puertas grandes' of the bullrings of Nimes (France), Valencia, Murcia and Madrid, where he fought six novillos in his farewell appearance. He became a full-fledged matador in Nimes (France) on May 9, cutting three ears. He shared the cartel with Paco Ojeda and "El Juli". In spite of his success as a novillero and in his alternativa, he fought only one corrida in May and two more in June, obtaining trophies in his performances. Then, he started to fight regularly, in many cases replacing his fallen comrades, ending his campaign with a total of 39 corridas, in which he earned 73 trophies. Furthermore, he left the arenas on the shoulders of the fans 22 times, from plazas as important as Nimes (France), Burgos, Tarragona, where he cut four ears and a tail, Santander, Valencia, where he was the recipient of 'Best Matador' trophy of the fair in July, Victoria, Almería, Guadalajara and Logroño, where he also earned 'Best Matador" trophy.

César's performances as a matador were far superior to those as novillero. As a matador, he conveyed the impression of being an accomplished maestro rather than a novice torero. César could become a great figura, since he possesses a majestic and artistic style of bullfighting, enhanced by a mastery of the profession and great courage. He will be confirming his alternativa in Madrid in 2003.

Indeed, Ferrera, "El Fandi" and Jiménez remain in a very good position to start the 2003 season as figuras. To stay at that level it is imperative that they have similar impressive campaigns in 2003 as they had in 2002.

These three gifted toreros might have company in their challenge to the top matadors in 2003, since some other new matadors and novilleros have shown in their 2002 campaigns to have the tools and the courage to become stars. Now, to reach their potential, they need to accomplish new deeds with the bulls in the arenas during the upcoming year. Nevertheless, I dare to predict that the some of these young men will be up in the ranking with the established matadors at the end of this season. Without elaborating I will list the names of these promising toreros. Also, following the name of each torero, to give and idea of the type of campaign they had, I will insert some figures within brackets, which represent the number of corridas or novilladas fought. as well as the number of trophies they obtained in the 2002 European season (corridas or novilladas, ears, tails):

 

Let's conclude by stating that the process of renewal that started in 2002 will be in full swing during the upcoming European season, which is likely to be very lively and competitive. Enrique Ponce and "El Juli", who are fully consolidated in their status as super-figuras, for now can feel safe that nobody, at least for the moment, is ready to take their places. On the other hand, we cannot say the same for the group of figuras headed by Manuel Caballero and "Finito de Córdoba". These stars of the 90's decade, who helped to displace the veteran leaders of former decades will, in turn come to confront a force composed of matadors Antonio Ferrera, "El Fandi" and César Jiménez and the already mentioned neophyte matadors. All them must fight hard, some to advance in their careers, others to try to be number one, and most to consolidate their positions. Hence, this anticipated competition will make the ongoing renewal process fun to watch.

Return to PERSPECTIVES