AT THE VANGUARD FOR THE 2008 EUROPEAN TAURINE
Since the beginning of the present century the changing of the guard of the top bullfighters has been the recurrent theme discussed in tertulias, conferences, and TV programs and has also been the content of many articles in the taurine press.
By the changing of the guard I mean the process by which young new or recycled matadors with star quality challenge the established figures, forcing them to compete to justify their status, or otherwise leaving them to play a supporting role or to retire. This process keeps bullfighting vibrantly alive, the bullfighters competitive, and the aficionados enthusiastic and interested in the development of any taurine season.
The changing of the guard process, for whatever reason, has been slow going for several years until approximately the middle of the 2006 European taurine season, when a few matadors coming from below started to unsettle the existing status quo among the successful stars. This process accelerated at full speed in the 2007 season, when the new stars already in place at he edge of the Bullfighting Olympus continued to pressure the top matadors and, as a reaction, some of the enthroned stars put together exceptional performances that showed why they deserved to occupy their privileged positions at the top. On the other hand, other well positioned toreros could not take the heat, and they started to little by little downgrade their status, becoming members of the supporting cast.
The result of this give and take among the toreros made the 2007 season in Europe one of the most exciting in several years. Also, since the new stars would have to try very hard to succeed in consolidating their recently acquired positions, and since it was also expected that the veteran stars would defend their high positions, the 2008 European Season promises to be at least as interesting if not more so than the 2007 season.
It is my purpose in this article to discuss in a general way the roles played by the top group of established figures and the ones who challenged them during the interesting 2007 European season. At the same time I will speculate as to what roles this selected group of toreros could play during the upcoming temporada that will start in Castellón in February.
On the other hand, it is not within the scope of this article to discuss the accomplishments and the career possibilities of about a dozen veteran toreros, who appear at the top of the final 2007 ranking, based on the quantity of corridas they fought during the European season, since, in spite of the many trophies that they obtained in those engagements, many of them were in 3 rd class plazas. They played and will play a less consequential role than the ten matadors who will be the focus of my article. Such is the case, for example, of “El Cordobés”, the leader in the number of fights, as well as “El Fandi”, Rivera Ordóñez and “Finito de Córdoba”, who were placed second, sixth, and eighth, respectively, in the rankings. Neither will I deal with a few still young toreros who have the qualities and ambition to surge to the top, given the right conditions, such as Juan Bautista, César Jiménez, Salvador Vega and Salvador Cortés.
However before I continue discussing the group that I consider to be the vanguard matadors for the upcoming season, I will summarize the professional panorama in the Bullfighting World before the first changing of the guard in the 21 st century accelerated.
If we were to read the season end statistics of the taurine seasons of the last decade of the past century, we would see that almost every year three or more new toreros were among the leading matadors. This information shows that the process of the rejuvenation of the pool of the top toreros was very dynamic during the greater part of the decade of the 90’s. It started with Enrique Ponce taking his alternativa in 1990, and continued with José Tomás exploding on the scene in 1995, and it culminated when Julian Lopez “El Juli” took his alternativa in 1998.
After that year the renewal process suddenly stopped. Therefore, the three above-mentioned maestros continued to be the undisputable uppermost bullfighting leaders from that date until today. The three were the untouchables, they were in command, competing mainly among themselves since the other toreros lacked either the strength or the will to successfully and regularly challenge them.
Nevertheless, during the 2002 season the changing of the guard process seemed to start moving again when Antonio Ferrera, “El Fandi”, César Jiménez, “El Cid” y other young matadors had many triumphant performances in European bullrings. That season José Tomás surprised the aficionados by retiring in September and, also “El Juli” entered a transitional period during which his popularity diminished a bit. These two events plus the slow fading away, or the retirement of some veteran figuras could have made it easier for the newcomers to reach the top, but none of the upcoming matadors or the half dozen good toreros who took the alternativa after 2002 were able to climb to the very top during the 2003, 2004 or 2005 seasons. Therefore with José Tomás temporarily out of the picture, Ponce and “El Juli” were able to easily continue reigning at will in the taurine kingdom.
Obviously, by the middle of the first decade of the 21 st century the renewal process, although not dead, was moribund. But then the process was revived during the 2006 season when a few new and not so new matadors, like “El Cid”, Castella, José Maria Manzanares Jr. and Alejandro Talavante, started slowly traveling the road to the top, where they would arrive during the 2007 taurine season.
Knowing now of the extraordinary results of the past season, I can assert that the upcoming one promises to be even better, since very few times in the history of bullfighting has there been at any given time, a bullfighting roster composed of so many great mature and young matadors. In 2007, we witnessed a good number of excellent established as well as newcomer matadors engaged in a very competitive struggle to assure themselves the chance to play a significant role in the 2008 season. They seemed to be aware that in so doing they might have the possibility of being members of the exclusive club formed by the excelling stars who will define this taurine decade and possibly the next one.
Toreros at the Vanguard in the 2008 European Season
From here on in this work I will review the roles played by the leading performers in the 2007 season and, at the same time, I will dare to speculate how they may contribute to make the 2008 European season as successful and interesting as last year’s. No doubt that that this select group of bullfighters will be regularly featured as the main attractions in most ferias during the upcoming temporada.
Notice that after the name of each bullfighter two rows of numbers enclosed in parentheses appear. The figures enclosed in the first parentheses ( ) stand for the numbers of corridas fought and the ears and tails obtained during the 2007 European season: (x corridas; x ears; and x tails); and the set of numbers enclosed in the second parentheses [ ] shows the distribution of the total amount of ears by the category of the plaza in which they were granted to the matador [x ears obtained in 1 st class plaza; x ears obtained in 2sn class plaza; and X ears obtained in 3 rd class plaza]. This second set of data will help the readers to evaluate the respective importance of the trophies granted to the matador, since it is not the same to cut an ear, for example, en Seville, a 1 st class plaza, as it is in Granada, a 2 nd class plaza , or Zafra, a 3 rd class plaza.
The Three Veteran Super-figuras
In 2007 Enrique Ponce, José Tomás y “El Juli” were the super-figuras still at the helm of tauromaquia, since they have been practically unchallenged since they took their alternativas. Nevertheless, last year the situation was different than in the prior seasons, since last year they had to be ready to face the strong competition from up and coming stars, and each one of the maestros, in a different manner, did defend his turf. Although the three toreros share similar positions at the top, each seems now to be on a diverse career path, and they will apparently face the 2008 season with different approaches to try to reach their individual goals.
The Patriarch and Maestro Enrique Ponce (60-76-3) [17-23-3]
Ponce is in a class by himself. In his 17 seasons as a matador, Enrique has accomplished everything than can be accomplished in bullfighting, and he has the motivation to be in the ring making history by executing exceptional faenas from time to time, and very rarely having a bad afternoon. The man from Valencia is a classical torero who fights with majestic style, executing passes that flow one after the other, like the steps of ballet dancer. He possesses a cold sober courage that allows him to think fast in front of the bulls and to solve any problem with great facility. He no longer needs to compete for numerical leadership, and has focused his efforts on the quality of his work.
Although every season Ponce says his campaign is going to be short, he always ends the season fighting a considerable number of corridas, as he did last year, when, in spite to of having to cut short his campaign i n Murcia on September 12, due to a lesion on his knee, he fought 60 corridas obtaining considerable triumphs, most of them in first and second class bullrings. Enrique started the temporada cutting three ears in Olivenza, and a few days later he cut two ears in Valencia, where he earned the “Most Successful Matador of the Fallas” prize. Ponce was also granted three ears each at the ferias of Toledo, Almería y, Málaga, and two ears each in Barcelona, Córdoba, León, Puerto de Santa María and Murcia . His successes in France where spectacular, since he obtained four ears in Dax and two ears and a tail in Nimes. He opened the Puerta Grande of all the plazas of the towns mentioned above. On the other hand, he did not succeed in his appearances in Seville, Madrid or Bilbao.
Ponce , will face the 2008 season retaining his privileged position. He could fight as often and wherever he wants, and always under the best of conditions, but he has stated one more time that his campaign is going to be short and, at the same time, he is hinting that he has not too much time left as a professional matador, since he plans to spend more time with his wife and his first son, who will be born this winter…we will see.
The Enigmatic José Tomás (16-32-0) [14-18-0] Again in Action
On September 19, 2002, after fighting a corrida at the Feria of Murcia, José Tomás, without giving any explanation or reason, suddenly left bullfighting. It was surprising because at that moment he was, with Ponce and “El Juli”, part of the triumvirate commanding bullfighting without meaningful opposition. Then, after almost five years of being retired from the arenas, he came back to successfully fight in Barcelona on June 17, 2007. Later he performed in fifteen more corridas in Spain and France during the summer, and as I write these lines he is participating in the Mexican winter season.
José Tomás can be proud of his successes obtained in his first short European campaign, since he left the plaza without any trophies in only two corridas of the sixteen in which he performed---Alicante and the last one in Barcelona. He cut three ears each afternoon in Barcelona, Dax, Pontevedra, San
Sebastián, Salamanca and Nimes. Also, he obtained two ears each in Algeciras, Málaga, Almería and Linares. José Tomás also opened the main gates of all the bullrings mentioned, except for the Linares plaza, since his first bull seriously injured him. Furthermore he cut one ear each in Burgos, Avila and Puerto de Santa María. I should point out the fact that José Tomás has not appeared in the most important plazas such as Madrid, Seville and Bilbao, where he should perform during the upcoming year to reaffirm hi s status as superfigura. A ll the arenas in which he fought in 2007 are classified as 1 st or 2 nd class bullrings.
José Tomás is an exceptional torero who fights with tremendous class and has a pure style that has always appealed to knowledgeable aficionados and taurine critics, as well as to the general public. Besides his intrinsic great taurine qualities, due to his introverted personality and his eccentric behavior, an aura of mystery has grown around his persona that has converted him into a living legend. So the ‘new’ José Tomás is now attracting more interest from the general public than before, and at the same time he is gaining more supporters among the aficionados. This development has momentarily converted José Tomás into the most commercial torero for the 2008 season. Nevertheless, it is always difficult to predict what type of campaign this particular man is going to pursue. Is he going to fight from the beginning of the season to the end, facing the aficion at all the important plazas and competing regularly with other stars? Or is he going to shorten his campaign, or is he going to retire again? For the moment his new manager Salvador Boix has said that his torero would not take part in any televised corrida, the same as before his retirement. This decision means that he will not appear on the cartels of the ferias of the Fallas in Valencia, April in Seville or San Isidro in Madrid. Nevertheless, whatever José Tomás does, there cannot be any doubt that the 2008 season is going to be more appealing with him taking part in it.
Julián López "El Juli" (82-110-2) [27-37-46] Solidly Enthroned at the Very Top
"El Juli” was one of the most successful novilleros of the 90’s when he still was a youngster. He has always shown that he has all the qualities necessary to be a great fi gura . Since he took his alternativa he has proven that he has tremendous courage and intelligence, which allow him to dominate the animal with great facility, acting and reacting very intuitively in front of the bulls, as if he knows beforehand what the beast is going to do. He also fights very elegantly with the cape, performing a variety of impressive quites, and he satisfies the aficionados by giving classic and artistic passes with the muleta . After he completes his classic work, he tends to continue his work giving a variety of complementary and daring passes to please the masses.
This desire to please people brought him exceptional popularity, but also some severe criticism, which I find unjust, since the critics seemed to forget that the young Julian was so eager to succeed that, at times, the lighter passages of his performance were the result of his exaggerated sense of responsibility.
Well, at the beginning of the new century, Julian apparently realized that being a superfigura was not enough for him, since he also wanted to be recognized as a purist and classical artist. Therefore, under the tutelage of his new manager maestro Roberto Dominguez, “El Juli” started the process of changing himself into a more classical and serious torero, by basing his performances more on basic toreo and by eliminating or diminishing the more superficial parts of it. In the process he lost some of the freshness and variety of his toreo and, consequently, his popular appeal diminished.
By the middle of this decade the critics and the knowledgeable aficionados were pleased with the changes he made, but the public in general and some of the critics became more demanding with the young maestro, especially in Madrid, since they falsely perceived that his more settled style of performing was the consequence of Julián being too complacent and secure in his position, where he was hardly challenged. At the same time, by the 2006 season, even some of the impresarios started to refuse his conditions for fighting, and excluded him from some ferias, as happened in Seville.
Therefore, at the beginning the 2007 season, the upcoming stars probably thought that displacing “El Juli” from the top would be an easy task. They were wrong, since the fire that this exceptional young man has inside came out burning everyone who challenged him in the ring. The consequence of these challenges was that Julian reacted by completing the most successful season in 2007 that he had in years. This time he did it pleasing the masses as well as the good aficionados and the demanding critics.
Julian’s accomplishments in last year’s European season were amazing. Of all the three major stars he was the only one who completed the whole campaign, since he started in February and finished in October. He fought in 82 corridas , including seven mano-a-manos, and h e killed a total 173 bulls cutting 110 ears and 2 tails, a symbolic one in Moron and another one in Murcia. Also he left the arenas on the shoulders of his admirers 37 times, including the 1 st class plazas of Madrid, twice in Barcelona, Arles, Nimes, Málaga and San Sebastián. Furthermore, he performed in all the important plazas competing without discrimination with Ponce and José Tomás as well as with the newer stars “El Cid”, Castella, Manzanares, Perera, Talavante and others. .
The man from Madrid opened his campaign on February 25 in Morón de la Frontera with a sensational triumph since he spared the life of one of his bulls. From there he continue weaving a series of highly successful performances in almost each plaza where he appeared. For example, the aficionados from Arles, Barcelona, Nimes, Alicante, Burgos, Teruel, Avila, Santader, Bezier, Málaga, San Sebastián, Logroño, Albacete and Murcia, could testify to this, since they witnessed how Julián performed great faenas and cut multiple trophies. But Julian’s most remarkable success took place in Madrid, were he completed two exceptional classical faenas, cut two ears and left the arena through the Las Ventas’ Puerta Grande. Also, he cut an ear in Seville. On the other hand, Julian had unremarkable performances at the ferias of Pamplona, Bilbao and Zaragoza. In this last plaza he reached the mark of one thousand corridas fought.
It was remarkable that when in September Ponce, Manzanares, Castella , Morante y Cayetano were unable to fight because of injury or illness, Julián did not hesitate to substitute for them, although some of them were toreros of lesser category. His intention was to help the impresarios and not disappoint the audiences.>
I am sure that that maestro and classic artist Julian López “El Juli” is going to remain firm in the same high position during the 2008 European season defending his turf like a lion.
Five Matadors of the New Century at the Vanguard
In addition to the great figures Ponce, José Tomás and “El Juli”, who became matadors in the 90’s, there were five new stars who, by having great successes, were in the taurine vanguard during the 2007 season. Also, the five are well positioned to continue being significant protagonists during the upcoming European temporada. They are, in order of seniority, “El Cid”, Sebastián Castella, José María Manzanares, Miguel Perera and Alejandro Talavante. Although they have walked different roads to get where they are now, and the roles they played until last year were varied in intensity, they have in common that they took their alternativas sometime during this century.
Manuel Jesús “El Cid” (87-130-2) [17-37-75] the Oldest New Star
Of the five matadors in this group, the Sevillian Jesús “El Cid” had the roughest road to walk to become a figura. It has taken him six years to overcome what seemed to be insurmountable obstacles to arrive at the top, where he finally arrived in the 2006 temporada, when he was 32. But not until the conclusion of the 2007 season, in which he had the most successful campaign of his career, did he feel secure in his well-deserved high position. He will not have to continually prove that he belongs there.
After an unimpressive career as a novillero, often fighting the biggest and roughest bulls, “ El Cid” became a full-fledged matador on April 24, 2000. Since he did not have many chances to fight in the important ferias, he kept active by participating in the so-called circuit of the ‘hard corridas’, in which impressive and difficult bulls of bull breeders such as Victorino Martín, Miura, Cebada Gago and others are fought. In those fights he had meaningful successes, especially with the Victorino bulls, and, little by little, by the 2005 season he had already found openings in the main ferias, fighting more manageable bulls, and sharing the billing with some of the established figuras. Nevertheless, he completed an irregular campaign in the 2006 season, creating some doubt about whether or not he was solidly anchored as a star bullfighter.
These doubts were unfounded since he has proven adequately that he has staying power by completing an excellent campaign in 2007. He started the season in Cabra on February 24 obtaining four ears, and he ended it at Jaén on October 16, where he also cut two ears. In between these dates he continued to succeed, giving lessons in good toreo. In total, the man from Saltera cut 130 ears, and two tails in the 87 corridas he fought. Seventeen of these trophies were granted in 1 st class rings, and 37 in 2 nd class plazas. He opened the Puerta Grande of 49 plazas, including the bullrings of Seville, Barcelona, Pamplona and Bilbao.
However, what took place at the Plaza Vista Alegre in Bilbao on August 25 made his campaign more than special. That afternoon he fought six huge bulls of Victorino Martin by himself cutting four ears. Just as important as the trophies obtained, was the professional manner in which “El Cid” performed during the whole affair, from when he entered the arena until he left it on the shoulders of the aficionados. He masterfully fought the good animals as well as the bad ones, showing that he had not only unusual technique to dominate the animals, but also cold and sober courage, and great class.
The only negative factor of Manuel Jesús' campaign consisted in that he was unable to obtain trophies in his three appearances in Madrid, where he had often done it before.
Considering the class, courage, and determination that he possesses, it could be safely predicted that “El Cid”, now fully recognized as an established star, would be regularly included in the important ferias of the 2008 taurine season, where he will continue to play an important role.
Sebastián Castella (67-67-3) [24-26-17] the French Conqueror
Sebastián Castella has been performing as a matador for seven years since he took his alternativa four months after “El Cid” did. He became a matador in his native Bezier, France, on August 12, 2000 at he early age of 19. Although it also took him five years to regularly participate in the Spanish ferias as a figura, he did not have to undergo as many hardships as “El Cid” did on the way to achieving that goal. The reason was that after his alternativa he played a meaningful role in the French taurine ferias, where he fought many times every year. Also, he was very successful in his performances in Latin America where he often fought; therefore, he did not often have to confront hard corridas to survive in the profession. Then, once he was given the chance to fight regularly in Spain, it took him less than three years to become one of the most interesting toreros of the moment. The year 2006 was the year of his ascension, and the past year the one of his confirmation as a star.
Castella, before everything else, is a torero who possesses courage and determination without limit. He maintains his cool under the worst of the circumstances, as if he does not have blood running in his veins. However, that would not be enough to qualify him as great torero, since he possesses a rare taurine quality difficult to describe, which he shares with maestro José Tomas and young Talavante. The Spanish journalist Enrique Moreno, at a conference at the New York City Taurine Club said that this style of performing is a new form of “tremendismo”, the “modern tremendismo”, which he defines “not as sensationalism, but rather as an exaggeration of the harshest aspects of reality”. In this way of bullfighting, at times, the classic passes are performed by the torero with a total disregard for the consequences, making the spectators react to his toreo with the brain as much with as with the heart. This may help to explain the enormous attraction that Castella possesses and the numerous triumphs he has accomplished in both the 2006 and 2007 seasons.
After a long recovery of more than three months from the dangerous injury to the lung that Sebastián Castella suffered in Cali, Colombia, on december of 2006, he started his 2007 campaign in Arles, France, on April 6. The injury did not diminish his courage, since he cut four ears and a tail that afternoon, and he also continued his triumphant quest in the plazas of Mexico and Spain during the rest of the season. However, he was forced to cut his campaign short due to anemia. He fought his last corrida of the European season in Dax, France, on September 8 in a mano-a-mano with “El Juli”, where he had an inspired performance. This was the case during the rest of the season. From Arles he went on to fight two corridas in the Seville Fair, where he cut one ear. After that he went to Mexico, where he fought seven corridas in eight days in which he cut a total of twelve ears and opened five puertas grandes. Back in Spain, among other important triumphs, he opened the Puerta Grande of Las Ventas in the San Isidro Fair on May 18, four days after he was granted another trophy in the same plaza in the Corrida de la Prensa, following a dramatic performance under a heavy rain. In total, he cut 67 ears and three tails--- 24 in 1 st class plazas, and 26 in 2 nd class plazas-- in his 67 performances in Europe. Also, on 25 occasions he left the plaza on the shoulders of the fans by the puertas grandes.
It is necessary to point out that Castella could have obtained many more trophies and performed in more corridas. He lost trophies because of his failures with the sword; and he did not fight more corridas because he started the 2007 season late and finished it early due to health problems. Furthermore, his rupture with his long time manager Luis Alvárez and with his artistic director José Antonio Campuzano might have contributed to finish his campaign early.
The anemia did not stop the French matador since, recovered from his sickness, he is performing with great success in Latin America this winter. Then, after pleasing the Latin American aficionados, he will return to the Old Continent, as a taurine Napoleon, to continue conquering European fans in the 2008 season.
José María Manzanares (56-65-0) [12-16-37] the Classic Young Matador
Even before José María Manzanares, the son of the great torero of the same name from Alicante, fought as a novillero, the insiders of the bullfighting business were talking about the exceptional qualities that the youngster had to become a great bullfighter. Then, he became a successful novillero without having to struggle too much, due in part to the connections of his father. The red carpet was extended for him; he fought chosen bulls in selected cartels. In the process he created great expectations, which motivated him to become a full-fledged matador. He took his alternativa in Alicante in June 2003, the town where he was born 21 years before. That day he succeeded, cutting two ears and a tail, but from then on he became rather complacent and he did not take advantage of the many opportunities that were offered to him, although from time to time he showed the exquisite style in his performances that he should have produced more often.
Therefore, by the end of the 2005, there was some doubt about his future. Nevertheless, something happened to the young matador during that winter that would change his career. He underwent a full transformation that converted the easy going young man with little ambition to succeed, into a determined man wishing to pay any price to became a great star. This determination permitted him to regularly exhibit the greatness of his pure and traditional way of bullfighting. Therefore, he completed a good 2006 season and a better 2007, in spite of cutting his campaign short because of being ill.
José Maria started his 2007 campaign in Olivenza on March 3 obtaining the first ear of the 65 that he cut in the 56 corridas in which he participated. He could have fought on many more occasions, but he lost several corridas due to the serious goring that he received in Alicante in June, and he lost many more when he cut the season short in September, because he felt weak from the effects of the dengue fever he contracted when he was fighting in Latin America the previous winter. He fought his last fight in Linares on August 30.
Here I list some of the achievements that the young matador obtained during the 2007 season: 12 and 16 of the ears were granted in 1 st and 2 nd class arenas, respectively; he cut one ear each in Valencia, Seville and Madrid; opened the puertas grandes of 19 plazas, among them Toledo, Granada, Alicante (twice), Huelva, Barcelona , San Sebastíán and Málaga, were he was awarded with the “Best Faena of the Fair” prize; and he opened two puertas grandes the same day, in Granada in the morning and in Toledo in the afternoon. Furthermore, before starting the European season, Manzanares also left the plazas of Bogotá and Mexico City on the shoulders of the aficionados.
During the 2007-8 winter season Manzanares did not perform any corrida in Latin American ferias since he was not fully recovered from the dengue fever and the doctor recommended that he not travel.
It is noteworthy to point out that at times when his successful labor was not duly rewarded with a double trophy, the quality of his toreo was such that whatever he had accomplished in the arenas remained in the minds of the aficionados for some time.
Now, Manzanares is completely healthy and ready to begin the 2008 season in which he is expected to defend his privileged position, which he will do successfully, since his classic toreo appeals to the most demanding critics and aficionados, at the same time that his newly acquired determination and courage please the general public.
Miguel Angel Perera (50-85-5) [12-32-41] at the Front Line of Bullfighting
After completing half of the 2004 season as a top novillero, Miguel Angel Perera had a sensational performance in Las Ventas in Madrid on May, 2004. This triumph catapulted him toward the alternativa, which he took in Badajoz on June 23 of the same year. He was then 24 years old.
The beginnings of Perera as a matador were smooth since two influential managers, who were impresarios of several important plazas, helped him at different times. During those two years and a half Miguel Angel formed a part of selected cartels of most of the prestigious ferias, where he had some outstanding successes. As a result he seemed to be on his way to becoming a top torero. But that did not happen, in part because he was gored several times and also because at some crucial moments things did not work out his way. So, instead of jumping all the way to the top, he continued to perform in the ferias but just as a promising matador. Nevertheless, he continued to be considered a good torero who still had a good chance to advance in his career, since he had few failures and he always tried his best to do well.
Finally, the moment arrived for him to climb to the top. It started to happen about the middle of the past season, when he went from plaza to plaza earning more and more trophies, at the same time that he surprised everyone by fighting with the same courage and dedication as he ever had, but now he did it with more class, charisma and mastery than before. In other words, he found himself as a torero and the people found him. An ironic coincidence of Perera’s revival is the fact that it happened after the winter of 2006 when the torero broke with his last influential manager and he chose retired matador Fernando Cepeda as his new one. Cepeda was new in the field of managing toreros and lacked the professional’s connections that Perera’s former promoter had. This change hurt Perera at the beginning of the season when Cepeda was unable to get many engagements for his torero.
Perera started his third season as a matador in Olivenza on March 3, where he cut an ear. Two weeks later he earned two ears in Valencia. Then in April he only fought two corridas, both in Seville, where he had uneventful performances. He only appeared in one corrida in May. It was in Madrid and he was unable to perform with any of his bulls, because a bull injured him a few minutes after entering the arena. He reappeared in Plasencia and obtained a trophy on June 6, and the following day he fought in Madrid again without success. But starting in Alicante on June 26, which was the eighth corrida of his campaign, and when he only had twelve more scheduled to go until the end of the season, he started to fight regularly, often appearing on the cartels of many ferias substituting for other injured toreros. In Alicante he had a super performance with two difficult bulls of " Fuente Ymbro" and, despite of the fact that the animals were difficult, he cut two ears and opened the plaza’s Puerta Grande. From that date forward that type of performance became his norm, since Miguel Angel fought 42 more corridas cutting ears in 33 of them, and leaving the arenas as a winner on the shoulders of his fans on 26 occasions. Then, in the two final months of the season he obtained five trophies in 1 st class plazas; he cut three ears in Barcelona, one Seville and another in Zaragoza, where he said farewell to the 2007 European season on October 13.
Miguel Angel Perera has been the comeback kid of the 2007 season, in which he has matured as a torero, adding more classic quality and mastery to his firm and emotional toreo. His new manager Cepeda would not encounter any problem to sign many contracts for Perera to fight on selected cartels for more of the European ferias.
Alejandro Talavante (73-72-0) [12-25-35] the Youngest Rising Star
I do not remember when a very young torero went from being an almost unknown novillero after taking the alternativa to one of the brightest stars of the moment in only one year an a half.
This has been the case with Alejandro Talavante. After almost three years as a novillero without succeeding in any of the 1st class bullrings, he made his debut in Madrid in the early spring of 2006. His performance was just so-so, but he was given the chance to fight again in the novillada at the San Isidro fair in Madrid on May 25. But this time, his performance was so impressive that, in spite of his miserably failing with the sword and not cutting ears, he was awarded the “Best Novillero of the Feria” trophy. You could say that a new star was born, and that afternoon Talavante was the talk of that town and many other towns. A few days later, he took his alternativa in Cehejin on June 9, to later complete a good campaign always fighting on important cartels. He triumphed on many occasions, although he had some ups and downs. Those changes were a consequence of his lack of consistency using the sword, and also of the lack of maturity as a matador in order to control difficult animals. Furthermore, in a couple of performances in Latin America he disappointed some of the aficionados.
It is necessary to remember that Talavante’s success came too fast when he was barely an 18 year old teenager at the time of his alternativa. Nevertheless he ended that season in good standing to be included in the cartels of the important ferias of the 2007 season, where he could fulfill the high expectations that he had created among the aficionados.
Talavante did not disappoint anyone, since h e could not have had a better beginning in the 2007 season. He started in Moron on February 25 by cutting two ears, and he opened the Puerta Grande of Valencia in March plus the doors of Madrid and Seville, three 1 st class rings, and in this last city he cut an additional ear in his debut corrida. He later would leave 15 more plazas through similar puertas grandes, including the ones at the plazas of Nimes, Alicante, Puerto de Santa Maria, Huelva, Pontevedra and Jaén, where he fought his last corrida in Europe last year. Talavante also obtained a trophy in Pamplona, in Valencia, Valladolid and Granada plus many other plazas of lesser category.
Examining his statistics we see that he was granted 72 ears in 73 corridas, proportionally less than the other four toreros in this group, but it is necessary to point out that his lack of expertise in killing caused him to loose many trophies after completing extraordinary faenas. Also the great merit of his trophies earned was the fact that many of them were granted in 1 st and 2 nd class rings. His worst performance with the sword took place in his hometown of Badajoz on June 24, where his 1 st bull was taken back alive to the pen because he was unable to finish it off, and almost the same thing happened with his second bull. In this season when so many toreros visited the infirmary, Talavante did it only once, when he was gored, not very seriously, in Valladolid on May 12.
To the numerical accomplishments of this young artist which are reflected in the statistics, we have to add the element of Talavante’s style of toreo that is not measurable. It consists in a difficult-to-define quality that elicits an intense, almost primal, response from the audiences. When I wrote about Alejandro’s performances in the 2007 Seville April Fair I described this effect in the following manner:
Talavante managed the muleta executing passes that make the bull pass so close to his body that it was difficult for the naked eye to see the distance existing between man and animal. The effect was as if one would be looking at a living Minotaur. The animal’s horns came so close to the youngster that it gave the impression that only a miracle could make it possible for the man to escape unharmed. But, then, Talavante very softly managed with a sly flick of the cloth, to lead the animal away almost in slow motion, performing a natural or derechazo, endowed with an unexpected classical beauty. This courageous artist has the rare ability to almost instantaneously transform series of tremendismo passes into classical ones.
Lets hope that Talavante continues on the same path the next season, and that he progresses by maturing professionally, and also that he finds the right spots with the sword. If he does we are going to have a figura who may give us pleasure for a long time. And even if he does not improve, I will be happy to continue enjoying watching the imperfect star perform as he did last year.
Two Special Cases: Cayetano and ¨Morante de la Puebla”
Cayetano Rivera Ordoñez and ¨Morante de la Puebla” are two matadors who will be important protagonists in the 2008 season after both of them having had inconclusive results in last year season. Cayetano is a novelty because it is expected that after a delay of one year he will be appear in all, or most, of the main plazas to show the scope of his toreo; and the unpredictable Morante because, although his appearances will be limited, there is great interest to see if he still can perform with the same inspiration and grace as he did when he said once again “see you later” in June of last year.
Cayetano Rivera Ordóñez (45-59-0) [4-17-38] the Dynastic Matador
Cayetano Rivera Ordóñez belongs to an extended dynasty that goes back four generations, since he is the son of “Paquirri”, the grandson of Antonio Ordoñez, and the great-grandson of “El Niño de la Palma”, and he is also related to several more past and current toreros. He grew up in a taurine environment but, unlike his brother Francisco, he did not show any interest in being a professional torero. He did other things away from bullfighting, including getting married and divorced; then one day, when he was 28 years old, he decided to become a bullfighter, and he did---just like that. Doors opened for him and he was given many opportunities to fulfill his wish to be a matador.
His uncle, the fine retired matador Curro Vazquez became his manager and he secured many engagements for his nephew, even before Cayetano had done enough to merit it. Soon the aficion and the critics found out that Cayetano was not only fighting because of his background, but also because he was succeeding, and because he has the qualities required to be a star matador.
He made his debut as a novillero on March 26, 2005, and during that season he fought 52 novilladas achieving significant triumphs. The following year he made his triumphant appearance as a novillero in the Maestranza of Seville and performed a considerable number of novilladas before taking his alternativa, which was given to him by his brother Francisco in Ronda on September 9. He was then 29 years old, an age when some matadors are retiring. He added seven corridas more to his curriculum before ending his successful campaign.
His manager decided that his 2007 campaign was going to be a measured one in which he would not perform in Seville, Madrid or other important plazas, to give the inexperienced matador more time to mature. This disappointed many aficionados and critics who were anxious to see Cayetano competing in the main ferias with the other promising stars.
Cayetano’s 2007 campaign was good, although physically challenging because of injuries, in which he accomplished some outstanding triumphs, such as cutting four ears in Barcelona on June 17, in the corrida in which Jose Tomás reappeared. The total results were not as good as expected. One cause was that Cayetano was injured four times, which put him out of contention for part of the season. These gorings happened in Sanlúcar de Barrameda on June 9, in the Puerto de Santa María on July 29, at Antequera in his comeback on August 26, and finally in Albacete on September 17. This last injury forced him to cut his campaign short. Later, when he recovered from his last injury, he performed in Venezuela en November where he had some good performances.
In spite of so many injuries Cayetano’s accomplishments in the last European season were noteworthy, since his courage did not seem to be affected by his injuries, although they affected his physical form. He fought 45 corridas having outstanding performances in several of them. He obtained 59 trophies, of which he only cut four ears in 1 st class plazas, all four in Barcelona, and 17 in 2 nd class arenas. He left the plazas in triumph by the Puerta Grande on 17 occasions, including the arenas of Oviedo, Cáceres, Jerez de la Frontera, Granada, Barcelona and León.
The dynastic torero Cayetano has a classic and pure style that strongly impacts the aficionados and the critics who are interested at the same time to know how he fits into his dynastic background. His personal charisma and his public family background have also helped him so far to be popular with crowds other than the taurine ones. So, regardless of the fact that the outcome of his campaign did not completely meet the expectations, the cocktail combination of taurine qualities and extra-taurine popularity will motivate the impresarios to feature Cayetano in all the main ferias of the next season, where he will have many chances to grow in stature and to mature as a torero, and probably to become a star.
“Morante de al Puebla” (16-12-0) [3-5-4], The Principe from Seville
José Antonio Morante "Morante de la Puebla", the artist from Puebla del Rio, Seville, has proven one more time in the 2007 season that he is a great torero as well as an unpredictable person, since on June 20 his representative announced to the press that Morante was temporarily retiring. He did not explain the reason for this action, although later it was said that the main reason for Morante to stop fighting was that he felt uncomfortable with the behavior of his manager, retired matador Rafael de Paula. The logical thing would have been to dismiss his manager and continue his campaign. Morante’s failure to fulfill all his commitments during the season was not a complete surprise to us, since he did something similar in April of 2004 after unsuccessfully fighting six bulls in Madrid, and being excluded from the Seville Fair cartels. At that time, in a press conference, Morante let the people know that he had taken that drastic action because he was having some psychological problems, and he was going to seek treatment. But the recent decision was more shocking since until he stopped fighting in June he had had significant successes, especially in the Maestranza where he cut two ears in his second corrida, and later earned one ear in Madrid after creating an inspired faena which was highly praised by the Madrid aficionados and all the Spanish press.
Let’s take a glance at what happened after the Sevillian torero retired the first time in April of 2004, and how he did in his short campaign last year. He remained away from the arenas of the world from May 2004 until March 5, 2005, when he successfully performed in Olivenza. He completed the 2005 season having performed in 48 corridas cutting a total of 42 ears. After fighting in Latin America during that winter, he completed 57 corridas back in Europe, in which he was granted 37 trophies, in the 2006 season.
After performing in Latin America again, he initiated his 2007 campaign at Morón on February 7, where he cut two ears and opened the Puerta Grande, and the same month he obtained another trophy in Ecija . In March he performed in the important Las Fallas Fair of Valencia without making any noise, but on April 20 at the Maestranza of Seville he had a sensational triumph cutting two ears, compensating for the bad performance he had had in the same ring three days before. In May he participated in two corridas scoring only in Jerez, where he put together one of his famous artistic and inspired faenas, but he did not do well either in Madrid or Barcelona. On the other hand, he cut one ear in Las Ventas the afternoon of June 6, when he fought six bulls by himself. He went back to Las Ventas three days later, but this time he disappointed the audience. Then, he cut two ears in Granada the following day and after that success, the surprise came, since he terminated his business relationship with Paula and said ‘adiós toros’, canceling the many engagements he still had to fight in many ferias. In total, the statistics show that he completed only 16 corridas obtaining 12 ears.
Morante’s “adios” became merely an “hasta la vista” because he already fought in Mexico City this year on January 6. He left the arena in triumph there after having very good performances, cutting an ear on each of his two bulls. Also, he has announced that he will only fight about 25 corridas in 2008 in Europe.
Morante interprets bullfighting with a particular touch of ‘toreo sevillano’, a style of filigreed elegance. At the same time, he is a temperamental artist, lacking a competitive attitude, but he can count on unconditional fans who allow him to buy time, while they wait for the muses to inspire him. Therefore during the upcoming season, José Antonio, who is entering his eleventh year as a full-fledged matador, is not likely to become a superstar, but he will easily secure his planned 25 engagements for this 2008 season and, if he so desires, he could star in another 25 corridas more…or none if he reacts to one of the illogical summons of his variable moods.
It is always daring to predict the roles that successful matadors in a given season are going to play in the next season, since the beauty of bullfighting lies in the difficulty of predicting the outcome of any logical expectation. For example, who would have said two years ago that a pair of the most notable matadors of today would have been “El Cid” and Castella since when they took the alternativa in the year 2000, they were struggling to survive as professionals?
Since there are many unpredictable variables in bullfighting it is always possible that a promising matador could be relegated to obscurity, while an almost unknown one could be shining on his way to the top, as was the case two years ago with Alejandro Talavante.
Nevertheless, the thorough analysis of the present situation, as I have tried to do in this report, allows me to predict with a great percentage of probability that nine of the ten matadors I have featured in this article will be the leading matadors appearing in most of the taurine fairs of the 2008 season. “El Juli”, Ponce and José Tomás will still be in command as they have been until now, but they will be challenged, as the were last year, by “El Cid”, Castella, Manzanares, Perera and Talavante and, at the same time, Cayetano, as a novelty, will be there behind these five pressing for recognition. Of course, those nine performers will shine at the top of the 2008 statistics in November. And what about the tenth man, the artist from Seville? Well he, with his ups and down and his eccentricities from time to time, will continue to enliven the upcoming season.
*Posters from Pedro Escacena and photographs from my files and from Muriel Feiner
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