PERSPECTIVE FOR THE 96 SPANISH TAURINE SEASON... AND BEYOND by Mario Carrrión
The taurine season --temporada de toros-- in Spain traditionally starts with the la Feria of the Magdalena, Castellón, in March, and ends with the Feria of Jaén in the last week of October. . Before and after those ferias several corridas are held; but the majority of the successful bullfighters do not participate in them, unless they are concerned with numbers, or they need the money or the exposure. Generally, they prefer to have a break between the Spanish season and the Latin-American season, which begins in October in Peru.
This '96 temporada is going to be very interesting because a culminating process of the replacement of veteran bullfighter stars with younger ones will take place during the months that the season will last. This trend started in 1990 and accelerated last season. This rather fast replacement of the figuras is not the norm. Usually a few promising matadors appear every year to challenge the veterans, 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. These competition results in a nice balance between experienced bullfighters that are challenged to counteract with their mastery the daring enthusiasm of the newcomers. But if the flow of newcomers diminishes for a few years, as has happened since the mid-70's, then the lack of pressure from the bottom permits the senior matadors, unchallenged, to stay active longer, even when their careers are in decline.
In the 70's and 80's most of the younger men seemed unable to dislodge the veterans 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 took commanding positions did not last long in the leadership, allowing the displaced veterans to reclaim their places. This situation even allowed some known stars from the 50's to emerge from retirement to perform as novelties for a few years. Antonio Ordoñez, Manolo Vázquez and "Antoñete" did this with great success.
The 1995 statistics published by the Spanish magazine Aplausos last November shows that of the 26 bullfighters who fought 30 fights or more in Spain, France and Portugal in 1995, only 5 performers took the alternativa --the ceremony granting the rank of full fledged-matador- before 1988. The other 21 are young matadors of recent alternativas. I expect a few of those young men, along with the veterans Manzanares, Ortega Cano, César Rincón and "Joselito" to be the stars of the '96 season. I also predict that the successful young matadors at the end of this temporada will lead the world of bullfighting into the new century, but they will need to be challenged by a few novillero who might emerge from a large group of wanna-be matadors, since all the stars of the 80's would be gone.
During the '95 season in Spain, the record of the number of corridas held was broken: 803 (by comparison: 145 in 1950; 323 in 1960; 654 in 1970; 498 in 1980, and 541 in 1990). The indications are that this year the number of corridas might approach last season's.
When mentioning the matadors in the next segment, a figure will appear in parenthesis after the name; it refers to the number of corridas fought last year in Spain, France and Portugal. I want to advise the reader that this number should not be the only predictor for ranking the bullfighters. There are other variables related to quality that define the success of a bullfighter, his permanency in the public esteem and his place in history.
To discuss the expectations for the matadors for this season more easily, I will place them in groups and subgroups of bullfighters that share similar career situations.
A. The Veterans
In this group I have included matadors who have been active for more than 10 years, some are at the top of their game, others just coasting, or fading away.
a. "The Soon to Retire Figuras"
The following bullfighters have announced their retirement this year, or are contemplating it, while they are still important figuras. They might not draw the masses in their corridas but they please the aficionados and the critics. They might not give everything they have every afternoon, but from time to time they offer majestic exceptional performances that keep everyone talking. They will leave because they want to, not because the public is tired of them. They will perform in the most important ferias this year:
- José Maria Manzanares (44) is in his farewell season after 25 years from his alternativa. Today, José Maria for his art, permanency and mastery is one of the bullfighters most admired by the public as well as by the professionals. He is planning to go out in great style, since he has announced that he will fight two corridas killing six bulls by himself as if he weree a hungry novice.
- José Ortega Cano (61), for half his career he was a struggling performer who got few fights, but in the later years he became a great figura, overcoming dangerous gorings and displaying exquisite art and domination of the bulls. His performances last year were irregular, possible a consequence of a tremendous goring that he received in Colombia, and the distractions of his marriage to a famous singer. He might retire this year and like Manzanares he also will leave with a bang.
-"Espartaco" (35), truly a master of the art of bullfighting, was the most popular matador during the 80's and the leader in the number of performances for seven consecutive seasons, from 1984 until 1991. During the last two years he has had health problems and professional accidents that have frustrated him. He is the kind of performer that, to compensate for his lack of artistic flair, has always given everything he has and more. He does not know how to coast. At this moment, because of a problem with his knee, he is not planning to fight until June. The people want him back on the top, but I doubt that he will stay active for long.
b. "The Veteran Figuras"
The matadors in this group, although having reached their peak, are ready to fight to remain on top for a few more years:
-"Joselito" (75), a complete classical torero, performs with class and fine style and rarely disappoints the aficionado. He might be the recipient of the respect that the connoisseurs have granted to Manzanares after his retirement.
-César Rincón (66}, is a Colombian of unusual professional development. For several years he was virtually unknown except in his native country. But in 1991 in Madrid his career took off like a rocket catapulting him to the top, where he has been since them, and apparently plans to stay, in spite of the serious gorings he has suffered, and the challenges presented by the newcomers. His work is classy and very emotional.
c."The Almost Figuras"
The following are artistic bullfighters that are a notch below the figuras because of their lack of consistency. Nevertheless they often surprise the audiences with unique performances. They are a good complement for the cartels in the ferias.
-Emilio Muñoz (36), was a figura for a couple of years, but could not fulfill the created expectation. He became discouraged and retired. Later he came back and he had great artistic performances, but he was unable to reach the top again ...I think he will keep on trying.
- Juan Mora (37), unlike Emilio, was never a star, but for several years his occasional artistic performances with the encouragement of the aficionados have allowed him to stay active waiting for his big break.
d. "The fighters"
This is a group of bullfighters who have cemented their fame based on their ability to dominate difficult and huge bulls that the figuras avoid. Their trademark is courage and professional know-how. They are also spectacular in placing banderillas. Their names regularly appear in the main ferias but fighting tough bulls such as the legendary 'miuras' or 'victorinos'.
-Víctor Méndez (44), is Portuguese. He is, at the present time, the most successful in this group. For the last few years, he has always fought more corridas than last year. There are rumors that he might retire soon.
-"El Fundi" (51). Until a couple of years ago his efforts were not rewarded, but now the number of his performances shows he has placed himself in the lead of this type of bullfighters.
- "El Soro", who is the most spectacular of all with the banderillas, has always fought 50 or more fights per year. However last year he did not perform due to recurrent problems with his knees. He will reappear in June to reclaim his place.
-Juan Francisco Peláez (20), the most complete matador of the group is easing his way out of the ring.
-Tomás Campuzano (19) and his brother José Antonio (22), where close to be stars in the 80', but they have stayed around too long. They have courage and mastery, but unlike the others in this group they do not place banderillas. Only a miracle would permit them to reclaim the places they used to have...but they do not give up, even with the monumental bulls that they often confront.
e. "The Super-Veterans"
They are two great figuras from the past, one who never left and another who came back from retirement.
-Curro Romero (9), is a 62-year old inspired and temperamental gypsy who possesses a unique kind of art, but since his courage and strength have abandoned him, most of his performances are disastrous. Once in a while though, one of his fights can be considered sublime. In Seville and Madrid Curro is one of the highest paid performers. He has become a legend. He is scheduled to perform in three corridas in the Feria of Seville where he is an icon.
-Palomo Linares, who was one of the most successful matadors in the 60's and 70's, have returned to the ring a couple years ego. He is in his 50's and is still in great physical shape. He has fought very well cutting many ears, but not in important rings. He is a multimillionaire and I feel he is back just to recover the passion of his youth. The audience has not seemed to be clamoring for him to stay... he might definitely retire this year or next.
B. Bullfighters of the 90's
a. "The Three Leaders in Numbers"
The common characteristic of the matadors in this group is that they interpret bullfighting in an unorthodox manner. Their temerity and daring have an immediate impact in the masses, but they often are severely criticized by the 'purists' as well as by the press, who, in a certain way resent their having succeeded without their approval. These bullfighters have brought younger audiences, and a greater percentage of women to the ring, who are new to the fiesta brava, and who are more interested in the spectacle than in the niceties of the fights... and those fighters put their lives on the line to please the crowds. In return they are mobbed and idolized by that public which rewards them with big money and with fame. I have observed that when they try to be more traditional and take the high road, their fans do not respond to them with the same passion. In the important arenas the aficionado still rules making the success of those fighters there more difficult than in rings of lesser category.
-"Jesulín de Ubrique" (161) has broken the record of performances and trophies since statistics has been recorded for two consecutive seasons, despite his inability to succeed in Madrid. He is an unassuming youngster (22 years old) with an engaging personality that has gained him tremendous popularity. If he is not gored he may again be in the lead position at the end of this season.
- "El Litri" (133) is the most conventional of the three matadors, although like the other he displays some flashy flair in bullfighting. He is also the most veteran, having received his alternativa 8 years ago. His career has received a boost during the last two seasons when he has appeared together with "Jesulín" and "El Cordobés," which he does often. The younger audiences have "discovered" him.
-Manuel Díaz "El Cordobés" (126), is the most unorthodox, and the most charismatic of the matadors, and is the one who provides the most unusual "show". It is interesting that in his fights he gives several excellent classic passes first, as if he would be saying "Eh, I can do this," and then, making some exaggerated gesture he gives his people what they came to see; he jumps, he hits the bull with his head, and totally dominates the bull by scaring the animal...while his audience goes wild in spite of the protests of some aficionados.
Enrique Ponce (120). I place this young man in a class by itself. In 5 years as a matador he has taken the high road by respecting traditions, while at the same time getting the attention of the younger audiences with the quality of his serious work, since sensational showmanship is not part of his repertoire. Every year Ponce shows more improvement as a classical torero. He fights with majestic style, giving passes that flow one after another, like the steps of ballet dancer. He possesses a sober courage that allows him to think fast in front of the bulls, to solve any problem with great facility. His actions convey the false impression that what he is doing is easy. In 1992 and 1993 he finished the seasons as the leader in quantity as well in quality, since most of his great triumphs were achieved in first class ferias. He no longer needs to compete for numerical leadership, and should focus his efforts on the quality of his work.
c. "The Contented Figuras"
There are two superb toreros perceived as having great artistic quality but they have not shown to have a very competitive spirit to defend their positions. Their careers seem have settled into a pattern: they hit the high note often but not regularly, which is what is keeping them from being great figuras. Both will be among the ten top bullfighters this season and they will command the attention of the aficionados thereafter.
-Julio Aparicio (50) is the most veteran and most artistic of the two, but also the most unpredictable.
-"Finito de Córdoba" (85), who although he had mediocre fights in Seville and Madrid last year, had outstanding performances in other plazas, which invigorated his career. He is a very classic matador but a little cold at times.
d. "The Novelties"
One of the most important happenings in the last two seasons was the success of a few new bullfighters acquired the instant recognition of the aficionados, and some of whom are being given the status of figuras. A good development shown by the newcomers is that they practice a serious traditional style of bullfighting. This season is of primary importance to them, since they have to confirm their commitment to excellence in order to claim the title of figura.
- It has been years since a bullfighter has climbed to the top faster than Francisco Rivera Ordoñez (90) did last season. He is related to legendary toreros. "Paquirri," his father, was killed in the ring, and Antonio Ordoñez, his grandfather was one of the best, in my estimation the best, matador of the last 50 years. Francisco's career as a novillero was good but not spectacular, but his triumph in the Seville Feria last year, and in successive fights in other important ferias, made him the most interesting fighter of the season. He will have a star billing this season. His responsibility is tremendous since he has to prove that the successes of last year were not a fluke, while the aficionados will be comparing the work of a novice with the legendary deeds of his ancestors.
-Vicente Barrera (70), is also the grandson of a great matador. He fights with a pure, sober style and depth, coloring his performances with a unique flair that produces genuine emotion in the spectators. The type of bullfighting he practices is very dangerous. If the bulls respect his physique as he pursues his quest, he will became a great star.
- Javier Conde (36), in his first year as a matador last season, gained the respect of the public. His style is also very true and personal, a little less classical than the style of Barrera but maybe more inspirational. A very promising bullfighter.
-"Pedrito de Portugal" (51), is Portuguese. After being a leading novillero, in his first two years as matador Pedrito encountered some difficulty adjusting to his new status, but he has found himself again in the last Latino American season where he was very successful. I expect that with his good qualities and the help of the good promoter he has, he will fulfill the expectation this season that he created as a novillero.
-Pepín Liria (54}. This novel matador has travelled a harder road that the previous matadors. His promoters were not as good as those of the others, so he struggled to get opportunities to fight, and to be successful. Now he is in a good position to stand out and be counted among the best.
-José Ignacio Sánchez (30), Victor Puerto (28) and Paco Cervantes (12), are all really fine toreros who will be given the chance this season to find their places in the sun.
e. "The Opportunity Seekers"
They are composed of a group of performers who are still trying to climb to the top. Some have almost been there and missed the boat and others are slowly scratching their way up. They will sometimes be featured in good corridas, but often they will fight in rougher ones. Once a performer remains in this group for a few years, it has traditionally been very difficult to become a real star, although some, such as José Ortega Cano, have made it.
-"Chamaco" (36), is an unorthodox performer; Manolo Sanchez (36), Fernando Cepeda (18) and David Luguillano (15) have an artistic style; Javier Vázquez (36), Rafael Camino (28), "El Tato" (34), Manuel Caballero (19) and Miguel Rodríguez (21) are classical toreros; Luís Pauloba (28), Oscar Higares(36) and Domingo Valderramas (25) are becaming specialists in confronting the 'miuras', 'victorinos' and other similar bulls.
- I could mention a few more names who fought a few corridas last year, but none that I recall has shown enough signs indicating that their careers will advance.
In this analysis I have tried to predict who the protagonists of this season will be, and I have also theorized that the younger figuras of this season will also appear in the Spanish ferias at the beginning of the new millennium. I feel I am right, since my experience has taught me to interpret certain predictors. Nevertheless the history of bullfighting is full of surprises, of stars that suddenly became opaque and moons that unexpectedly shine, which add a percentage of mystery to any prediction. In the world of bullfighting we say "el torero compone y el toro descompone"... something like the bullfighter makes plans and the bull spoils those plans.
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