MATADORS FOR THE FIRST DECADE OF THE MILLENNIUMBy Mario Carrión
All the decades, centuries and millenniums are just measurements of time with the same absolute values of 10, 100 and 1000 years respectively. Nevertheless the beginnings and endings of those periods of time motivate us to take a historical inventory of human endeavors and to speculate about the future.
This is what is happening in the world of bullfighting, where the taurine season of 1999 has been overanalyzed not only for being the last season of the decade but also of the century and of the millennium. Its importance lays in that the artistic results of the matadors who fought in the nearly 1000 corridas held in 1999, have determined who will be the bullfighters playing relevant roles in the first season of the millenium, and perhaps in the other seasons of its first decade.
Regardless of the historical perspective, the past season was a very interesting one, and the present one promises to be even better, since very few times in the history of bullfighting has there been a bullfighting roster composed of so many mature and young matadors at a given time. In 1999, we witnessed a good number of excellent matadors engaged in a very competitive struggle to assure themselves of the chance to play a significant role this season. They seemed to be aware that in doing so they might have the possibility of being remembered later as members of the exclusive club formed by the excelling stars that defined this new decade.
This article is to discuss which matadors will be the protagonists of the 2000-European taurine season, and to speculate about which matadors will be in the privileged position at the end of season in October of continuing to play an important role during the decade. With only the intention of facilitating my predictions I will categorize the matadors in two large groups: 'The Toreros of Ferias' and 'The Other Toreros'. Each group is subdivided into several subgroups. The criteria I have used for the selection is based in their accomplishments in the past season, reflected in the 1999 statistics in the magazine 6TOROS6 of November, on the merit of their successes in important bullrings, on the impact that their performances have had on the critics, the aficionados and the masses, and, of course, on my own intuition. This last criterion is particularly useful to judge the young matadors whose records are insufficient for a more empirical evaluation. Notice after the name of each bullfighter there appears some data in parentheses. Those figures stand for the numbers of corridas fought and the trophies obtained during the '99-European season: (x corridas, x ears, x tails). If the matador took hise alternative in 1999, the first series of figures refers to the novilladas, and the second to the corridas.
'THE TOREROS OF FERIAS'
In this section I will refer to the bullfighters who will be featured regularly in the main ferias of this season. A few chosen ones are well acclaimed superstars who, along with a couple of other young revelations, command top billing. Then, there are a few established stars, who seem to have reached the limit of their possibilities, who along with several new upcoming matadors who are in their way up, complement the cartels of the ferias. In those cartels, we also find some 'old glory' veterans, who endow the ferias with a certain distinction and a sense of historical continuity.
'The Three Superstars'
It was not surprising that Ponce, José Tomás y "El Juli" were the most shining stars of the past season, since it was expected. But the way that the competition among them developed was unforeseen and superlatively interesting.
At the conclusion of the 1998-season there were rumors that the managers of Ponce and "El Juli" would pair them in the cartels excluding new superstar José Tomás, with the intention of blocking his progress. Later on, José Tomás also accused his rivals of doing so, giving certain validity to the rumor. In reality, at the beginning of the '99-season Ponce and "El Juli" shared many cartels together and there seemed to be an avoidance to fight on a regular basis with José Tomás. But after the overwhelming successes of this matador in San Isidro in Madrid, they could not avoid sharing the cartels with him. Nevertheless the three rarely performed together, and even less in the first class plazas, as in prior years the 'Three Tenors' ---"Joselito", Ponce y Rivera Ordoñez--- used to. Furthermore, the fact that "El Juli's" manager was then Victoriano Valencia, who happens to be Ponce's father-in-law, added credence to the rumor also. Whatever the case may have been, this speculation heightened the interest of the public when those stars started appearing together as a duo or as a trio. Also, the rumor seemed to have motivated them to compete harder to show that they are not afraid to confront each other. This tripartite competition will continue this season but with a new twist, since new factors have entered into the equation.
During the winter there have been some changes that have affected the way that the managers of the three 'figuras' are planing the season of their clients. First "El Juli" broke with Valencia, Ponce's father-in-law, accusing him of conflict of interest. Then, when performing in Mexico, "El Juli" encountered certain problems. He suggested that some of Ponce's associates promoted those inconveniences. Therefore, "El Juli", now with a new manager, who has chosen for him to follow an independent path, seems to have cooled the special relation that he might have had with Ponce. "El Juli" will not appear with Ponce in the first feria of the year in Valencia. The promoter of the feria, who also is Ponce's manager, claims that the only reason for the absence of "El Juli' is the astronomical fees that he commanded. José Tomás will not fight in Valencia either, but for a reason the consequences of which will transcend the Feria of Valencia, and affect the appearances together of the three super-figuras in the main ferias of Spain, at least temporally.
Television is the cause of absence José Tomás and "Joselito". Martin Arranz, who manages both matadors, has only allowed occasional broadcasting of the corridas that his clients fought. He feels that too much exposure on the small screen diminishes the appeal of an artist, and that they also should get more money when their corridas are televised. On the other hand, the promoters of several important ferias have signed beneficial contracts with premium channel companies to televise the complete series of corridas of their ferias. Now, Arranz conditions the appearances of José Tomás and "Joselito" only if their corridas are not televised. The promoters cannot accept this demand, since they are already committed to televise the fights with television companies. So the aficionados of Valencia, Seville, Pamplona and Madrid will miss the anticipated competition of José Tomás with his rivals in their ferias. Furthermore, the position taken by Arranz can be risky for José Tomás if the other top matadors succeed in those early ferias. On the contrary, Ponce, "El Juli', and half-dozen other successful matadors, or their managers, do not seem to be very concerned with overexposure resulting from broadcasting their performances. They probably perceive the TV cameras as money machines dispensing pesetas for their pocketbooks.
All this administrative wheeling and dealing is good for the press and the aficionados to discuss and to speculate about, so they can fill their time until promoters, managers and matadors agree on the common sense of compromising, in order to offer the audiences the cartels with the performers they want to see.
'The Most Popular'
Julián López "El Juli" (134-282-16), in his second year as a matador, has surpassed all expectations in 1999. He became the bullfighter who sold out more corridas last year. He is a charismatic matador with a broad appeal to the masses who, at the same time, pleases the aficionados with his artistic, creative, domineting and intuitive style of bullfighting.
His accomplishments last year were amazing. He fought in 134 corridas in Europe, missed 23 engagements due to serious injuries, and performed in two corridas the same day four times. He also fought six bulls by himself in six occasions and participated in seven mano-a-manos. He killed a total of 282 bulls cutting the same number of ears and 16 tails, and he left the arenas on the shoulders of his admirers 92 times. As a result of those successes the bullring was sold out in 90% of his appearances. Then this winter this young man continued to perform in Latin America cutting ears, filling the stands everywhere he fought, except in Mexico City where for the first time in his career he encountered an antagonistic audience.
For Julián, quantity is not everything, since this young matador possesses all the qualities necessary to make him one the most important figuras of this decade. He has proven his tremendous courage, since after being hurt by the bull on several occasions, he has come back with the same determination as before. He dominates the animal with facility, and he acts and reacts very intuitively in front of the bulls, as if he knows beforehand what the beast is going to do. Also he is a complete matador, since he fights very elegantly with the cape and performs a variety of impressive quites. He often places his own banderillas in a spectacular fashion. Later, with the muleta, he manages to do a good job with most of his animals. First, he satisfies the aficionados, giving classic and artistic passes, and then he completes his muleta work with adorned passes and daring stands to please the masses. He ends his work killing very effectively although not in a very classic way. He always shows an almost unlimited desire to please the people who come to see him. This motivation has caused him to rush his work at times. This has brought him some bad criticism, which I find unjust since the critics seem to forget that this young man has not had the time to mature, and his fault is the result of the exaggerated sense of responsibility he possesses.
This year Julián is going to find a less sympathetic audience, which is going to be more demanding than last year. This is normal, since the people start testing any matador, when they realize that he has reached the top too fast. They want to be sure that their newfound idol really deserves that place. But I am sure that this precocious matador is going continue to appeal to the masses this year, and in due time, with increased maturity, he is going to silence his critics by performing often with the depth of the classic art that he treasures. I feel that the end of the decade Julian, by then only 28 years-old, will still be at the top.
'The Powerful One'
In 1999, young veteran Enrique Ponce (108-175-8) who, for nine years has retained his privileged position of leadership, secured his place at the top for another year more, in spite of the attempts of the other superstars and eager newcomers to displace him.
Although Enrique was the most successful matador of the '98 season, there was the suspicion that he would lack the motivation to face tough competition provided by the other younger superstars in 1999. Eight consecutive years as a super-figura fighting more than 100 corridas per year is a heavy burden. It would not have been surprising therefore that he would have put a limit on his ambition of remaining on top in the commanding position. But that was not the case since Enrique, once more showed during the '99 season that he possesses the genes of a great champion. He responded to the pressure from his competitors by completing a campaign of numerous great triumphs, as shown by he figures above. There were too many to be detailed here. Nevertheless, it is important to recall that he cut three ears in Seville in September, which allowed him, for the first time in his illustrious career, to open the 'Puerta del Principe' of the Maestranza. He also was granted 3 other ears in Zaragoza, were he closed his campaign in Spain. Besides his successes, Enrique had dared to fight in 1999 by choice several corridas of the brave but dangerous bulls of Victorino Martin, as a gesture to prove his confidence and his power. He has also appeared in one corrida as the only matador, where he fought 6 bulls with success.
Ponce continues to be a matador, who is distinguished by his extensive know-how and by the facility of his bullfighting. Those gifts lead the spectators to believe that Enrique effortlessly dominates the bulls by caressing them. His elegant mastery hides an innate valor and a great passion that allows him to respond to any challenge that threatens his permanent place among the superstars. He will remain there in the year 2000, and judging by the precedents, he is likely to be a star for a few more years.
'An Artist with Depth'
José Tomás (65-108-5) was the absolute winner in San Isidro in Madrid in 1999, not only by number of trophies that he obtained but also by convincing the aficionados and the press that he is one of the more classic and artistic matadors of recent times. The season did not start easy for him; on one hand he was excluded from the cartels with Ponce and "El Juli", and also his performances in the early ferias without being bad were not outstanding either. But in San Isidro, he cut six ears and left the arena by 'The Puerta Grande" twice. He displayed an amazing style of bullfighting, colored by special classicism, depth and truth. The Madrid public used Tomas'style as a yardstick to unjustly judge the other matadors, whom they found to be lacking the quality of their new idol by comparison. After San Isidro this classic torero did not stop receiving trophies and opening puertas grandes in almost every bullring where he appeared. He completed the best season of his career and converted many aficionados into advocates of his pure style, winning them as his fans.
José Tomás has very defined ideas on how to proceed in his career. He seems to swim against the current of what is the norm today. Most matadors make arrangements with other bullfighters and promoters to relieve the pressure of the competition. They also seem to have fixation with appearing in as many corridas as possible for the sake of records and statistics. They also welcome appearing on television to increase their earnings. This in not the case with José Tomás who is handled by a very controversial and independent manager, who often challenges the promoters, limits the number of his appearances and avoids the televised corridas. The result is that this great matador always seems to be under extra pressure that he has until now overcome.
As I mentioned before José Tomás, by not appearing in the ferias of Valencia, Seville and Madrid, may be opening the doors to other eager matadors, therefore putting more pressure on himself. He will overcome this situation and at the conclusion of the 2000-season will continue as a superstar. He has the determination, taurine qualities, and the following for that, and for leaving his imprint on the remaining seasons of this decade.
'An Enigma for the 2000-Season'
Miguel Arroyo "Joselito" is a veteran fighter in his thirteenth year as a matador. He has been a figura since the first year of his alternative. He is a refined artist and a classic maestro. He seems to be a perfectionist, always in competition with himself rather than with other bullfighters. He has always been very well paid and has fought as often as he wanted. Nevertheless he seemed to be discouraged when he temporarily left bullfighting after completing a gray season in 1998. Now he is coming back to the bullrings after an 18-month rest. Miguel, without a doubt, will not have problems to enter the most selective programs in the most important ferias this season, after the television issue is settled, since he is one of the strongest favorites of the aficiononados. On the other hand he has to demonstrate that he is up to the task of enduring the heavy competition from the commanding trio formed by Ponce-José Tomás- "El Juli" as well as other eager young stars. He has the advantage of sharing the same manager as José Tomás, but there is the problem that this manager is involved in a fight with many powerfully promoters regarding television rights. As a consequence he is starting the season with the handicap of not being present at the Valencia, Seville and Madrid ferias. The enigma that "Joselito" has yet to unravel is whether he is back to play the role of a patriarchal figura, or to be a determining force for a few more years.
'The Principe from Seville'
"Morante de la Puebla" (51-61-0), the man from Seville, in his third season as a matador finally has arrived at the top. He has to prove this year that he is there to stay.
It is almost impossible not to mention Seville when referring to this artistic matador. In this city, from time to time a torero is born who possesses special inspiration that makes him interpret bullfighting with a particular touch. This gift is labeled 'toreo sevillano'. Those Sevillian matadors give inspired passes during their work that change the logical intrinsic feeling of tragedy felt by the spectators into a relaxing sense of happiness. Often those artists are temperamental, lacking a competitive mood, the reason for which they do not become great figuras, although they can count on unconditional fans that allow them to be active, while they wait for the muses to inspire them. We called those matadors toreros de pellizco. On the other hand, when they succeed as did "Chicuelo", Pepe Luis and Manolo Vázquez, Pepín Martín-Vázquez y Manolo Gonzalez in the past, they become legends whose performances are remembered and praised many years after they have retired. "Morante" seemed to be on the way to becoming a toreros de pellizco, since he had great afternoons in the bullrings, including being declared the overall best matador of the 1998 Seville Fair, but not with the regularity necessary to be recognized as a great figura. His status changed in 1999, when he also was declared the best performer in the same feria. But this time, he followed that accomplishment with a series of successive triumphs in many other arenas, until a bull injured him in San Martín de Valdeiglesias in the outskirts of Madrid on September 10. He had a fractured vertebra for which he was hospitalized for more than two months. This March, he fought his first corrida after the accident, cutting an ear and receiving favorable reviews in the press. The promoter of the Seville bullring has also signed him for a lucrative contract with a guarantee for 50 appearances during this season. The young "Morante" is no longer a promising torero de pellizco, but a new brilliant star in the taurine sky, who promises to be around for a while longer.
'Three Stablished Young Figuras'
These matadors seem to have reached the top of their career. They may have a more or less successful campaigns in the future; they may have more or less appeal in the coming years as figuras, but they are not likely to be superstars.
Francisco Rivera-Ordoñez (82-73-3) since 1996, when he took his alternative, he was regularly billed as a superstar with Ponce and "Joselito". Later, he did not keep up with the competition from his peers in the 1998 and 1999 seasons, allowing José Tomás and "El Juli" to displace him. Nevertheless, he often had great successes and he has continued to be included in many selective cartels of the most important ferias. Fran has a classic and pure style that strongly impacts the audiences. His type of performing requires enormous courage and timing, since he forces the bull to pass very close to his body, dominating the animal by lowering the muleta and lengthening the passes. But he often fails with the sword, which causes him to miss cutting ears. His personal charisma and his family background have also helped him to remain popular, so he will continue to be featured in all the main ferias this season, but he must achieve new triumphs to remain in such a privileged position after the 2000 season
Manolo Díaz "El Cordobés" (96-161-11) has being ranked among the first matadors in the number of performances and trophies for another year. Since 1998 this courageous matador has tried to get rid of the tremendista label by, from time to time, showing the artistic and classic aspects of his style in his performances. Nevertheless he finds difficulty in being accepted by aficionados and critics as an orthodox performer. On the other hand, he has not abandoned his more flashy style with which he pleases the masses, mainly in second and third-rate bullrings. The charismatic and charming Manolo remains as popular as ever to the dismay of many critics, who choose to ignore the good qualities of this matador. He is very knowledgeable about the bulls, controls them easily and has a good sense of timing in his passes and, of course, his courage is extraordinary. This year, while making money, he will continue to charm and entertain thousands of people with his flashy style of bullfighting, and from time to time he will tease the aficionados and critics with doses of his natural artistic talent. "El Cordobés" will be around for a few more years.
Vicente Barrera (68-78-1) finds himself at a neutral point in his career. He accomplishes sufficient triumphs to continue being a feria performer, but he does not obtain enough of them to take a step forward. In 1999 he had an unimpressive year. He performed without brilliancy in the important ferias, except on Valencia where he cut ears in three occasions. On the other hand he cut many ears in other arenas of less importance, and he also performed successfully in his Latin American engagements last winter. Vicente has a very distinctive personality and style. His way of bullfighting resembles the vertical style of "Manolete" which is not the most appropriate for working the slower bulls of today. He counts on many admirers that appreciate his difficult, truthful and dangerous manner of performing. No changes in his status are expected this year. He needs to succeed repeatedly in the main ferias to secure his place as a figura during the remaining years of the decade.
Manuel Caballero, Pepín Líria, and "El Tato " have in common that the three had struggled for several years to be recognized as figuras. The path they have followed has been filled with what seemed to be insurmountable obstacles. They had to fight tough corridas, which they did with great success. They could have become second class matadors fighting those tough bulls until they retired. This was not the case, since Pepín Líria and "El Tato' started forming part of the vanguard of bullfighting in 1997, and Manuel Caballero acquired the status of figura last year. The tough going has given them the ability to be powerful matadors, who equally handle the brave and noble animals with class, as well as dominate the most difficult Miura o Victorino bulls with ease. A handicap that they also share is that it does not matter how big they have become, the promoters and aficionados, who are knowledgeable of their gifts, still expect them to fight those corridas from time to time, that other figuras do not dare to face.
Manuel Caballero (69-104-4) was on his way to the top when he took the alternative in 1991 after being a star novillero. Then his career faltered until 1996, when he slowly started to climb back from the botton. He achieved many of his successes fighting often difficult corridas during the 1997 and 1998 seasons, until he became a real star finally last year. The regularity of his performances was impressive in 1999. Note the large amount of trophies earned. Manuel had great performances in most of the ferias where he appeared. He cut ears with every type of bull, shining the same in dominating the difficult ones, as showing flashes of artistry and class with the nobler animals. The high point of the season took place in Albacete, his hometown, where he cut a total of 10 ears in three corridas, in one of which he fought six bulls alone. He was also named "The Overall Best Performer" of that feria. He followed his European campaign with spectacular accomplishments in America, being declared the "The Overall Best Performer" of the Feria of Lima, Peru, and 'The Best Matador" of the winter season in Mexico City. He will often be sharing top billing with superstars this year, and after so much effort on his part to become a star, we can be sure that Caballero will continue being one for the foreseeable future.
Pepín Liria (71-103-5) has completed an impressive season, obtaining more than one hundred trophies and leaving many arenas by the puerta grande. It is interesting to note that a majority of his successes have taken place in important bullrings, and in many cases facing difficult bulls. Like Caballero, he was declared "The Overall Best Performer" at the Feria of Murcia, his home town, where he cut several ears and one tail. Pepín may not be a stylish matador, but he is a very powerful torero, able to triumph using his knowledge of how to control the bulls with infinite courage. For two years now he has fought as a figura and finished his campaigns ranked among the first in the number of performances and trophies. He ranked sixth last year. There is no reason why he will not repeat the same deeds this year as well as no reason why Pepín will not continue active for a few more years, especially if we consider that he is always ready to face the most terrible animals if necessary.
Raul Gracia "El Tato" (58-65-4), after a few years of steady progress in his career, Raul struggled during the first half of the past season. He seemed to have lost his self-confidence, which resulted in poor performances, including his appearances in Seville and Madrid. An illness might have contributed to his lack of success. An injury to his hand also kept him on the sidelines for almost the entire month of July. But a fighter is always a fighter, so in August, he started to recover his good form, which permitted him to cut ears in several ferias, culminating with his exciting performance in Zaragoza, his home town. This season is not going to be easy for him, since he will be billed on many hard corridas. He is already in Seville with the rough Cebada Gago and Miura bulls. Raul has the courage and the know-how to succeed with any kind of enemies. He will overcome this bad situation this year, and will recover the position he had in 1998, when he played a relevant role in the most important ferias.
The Three Promising Young Stars of '98
Miguel Abellán (72-90-1), José Ignacio Useda-Leal (54-48-0) and Eugenio de Mora (48-46-0) were strategically placed to take the final and more difficult step toward the top at the beginning of the '99 season because of their many triumphant performances in 1998. However, for different reasons this progress did not happen that year, and at the beginning of the 2000-season we find them still waiting to take the big step forward, but with Abellán way ahead of the others. It is interesting to note that the same Madrid audience that catapulted these three matadors to fame slowed their progression last season, since in 1999 none of the three repeated the successes they had in 'Las Ventas' in 1988.
Miguel started last season without much success. He obtained trophies only in bullrings of minor importance. He did not participate in the Feria of Seville, and in Madrid, the site of his past triumphs, he had a gray performance the afternoon of the confirmation of his alternative, and he also had the misfortune to be seriously injured in his second corrida there. The aficionados started to doubt -the future of this brave and classic matador, whose style is along the lines of "Joselito" and José Tomás. But then, in the Feria of Algeciras in June, Abellán initiated a series of successive good performances in many less important arenas as well as in some significant ferias in Spain, France and Latin America. Furthermore, and what is more important, he recovered the trust of the aficionados and critics, who are now asking not whether Miguel would become a great matador, but when it is going to happen. He cut two ears and left the arena by the puerta grande in the first important feria of the year at Valencia in March, and he will make his first appearance as a matador in Seville in April. This first year of the XXI Century can be when Abellán will became a figura for this decade. To accomplish this, he needs to succeed big in Seville or Madrid this year.
De Mora had a bloody season, since he was injured three times in Spain and once in Latin America. Those injuries caused him to miss many engagements and negatively influenced his spirit, although not his bravery. He obtained many trophies, but very few in places where they count. His best performance might have been in Toledo, where he dared to confront six bulls, cutting five ears. Eugenio is a sober, serious matador, who bases his performances on the slow timing of his muleta to dominate and control the thrust of the bull. De Mora needs a good season to regain the position he held in 1998. He can do it this year, since he possesses the necessary determination and he also has a good manager, who will provide him with many opportunities to succeed.
Useda Leal was also unable in 1999 to fulfill the promises that his outstanding success with the Victorino's bulls in Madrid indicated in 1998. He is another torero of the Madrid school, of a refined classic style that appeals to the good aficionados, who are still waiting for him to step up in his profession. His short career was not easy until his 1998 triumph in Madrid, which finally provided him with the chances to fight in the main 1999 ferias. He had his opportunities but, without failing, he did not succeed either. He will be given more chances in the important ferias this year, but he must find the way to have more great afternoons, or else he may find himself back at ground zero, fighting difficult corridas in unimportant places.
'One Step Forward'
Two still young but veteran matadors are listed here, whose status declined after being figuras for a few years, and one who is overcoming many obstacles to find his way step by step to the cartels in the ferias. The three completed a fairly successful campaign in 1999, which will allow them to appear at many important ferias to continue pursuing their quests.
The stars of Victor Puerto (64-159-15) and "Finito de Córdoba" (52-81-3), after shining for a couple of years, slowly darkened. Nevertheless, in 1999 both matadors took a gigantic step toward reclaiming their roles in the important ferias that they once had. The season had similar results for them: consistency in obtaining trophies (note their statistics above), but not in the first class arenas, since more of their appearances were in less significant bullrings. The lack of engagements in the main ferias resulted from neither of them having luck in Seville or Madrid in the Spring of 1999. Also, both have taken another step forward last winter by completing successful campaigns in Latin America, Victor in Peru and Ecuador, and "Finito" in that country and in Venezuela. And this March, these two matadors started the season cutting ears in their first few engagements, which is another indicator of their march toward stardom. The very determined Víctor has an undefined style that alternates between classic and a more flashy form, which pleases the masses. On the contrary, "Finito" is considered one of the more artistic and finest active matadors, but he often displayed a certain apathy, which caused his downfall. Nevertheless, the determination that he has shown since last year has placed him on the road to reclaiming his old privileged position. These two young veterans need to repeat the successes they had in 1999 once more, but this time in the more relevant places. They will have opportunities to accomplish this, since they are already scheduled to take part in several ferias. They can still play a meaningful role in this decade.
On the one hand, the classic bullfighter Eduardo Dávila Miura (52-58-2) never was a figura, but he was a promising matador on his way to being one in 1997, when he took his alternative in Seville. Then, sicknesses and several injuries become strong obstacles to his progress. He seemed to be doomed, but last year Eduardo surprised everyone with successes in Seville, Madrid and other important arenas, which opened the doors for him to join cartels of other ferias. But it was not easy since he had to fight hard corridas over and over again. He often fought well those types of animals, but not without paying a high price with his blood, since he was seriously injured in Gijón. He is not a stylish matador, but he is a very powerful torero, who is able to triumph using his knowledge of how to control the bulls, with infinite courage. He has just proved his skills by cutting one ear of each of the dreaded animals of the Cuadri ranch in his appearance in the Feria of Castellón in March. As all matadors who have missed a step in their careers, he needs to have a couple more successful campaigns to reach the status of figura. His career path resembles the struggle that Liria and "El Tato" had to endure to be recognized as stars.
'The New Matador'
Of all the 37 novilleros that received their alternatives in 1999, only the Frenchman Juan Baustista (50-79-5) (5-4-0) became a matador with a record good enough to merit his inclusion in many ferias of this season. He already fought in Valencia in March and he will make his appearance as a matador in Seville in April. He fought 50 novilladas obtaining many trophies. His presentation in Madrid was outstanding. He left the arena in triumph by the 'Puerta Grande', which catapulted him toward his alternative. He was invested as a matador in Nime, and confirmed his alternative in Madrid in October with a difficult corrida. Nevertheless, that day he proved that he could also handle the bad bulls. Later, in Latin America, he had very good performances in several corridas. He has secured many engagements for this year, especially in France, where the aficionados have placed all their hopes on him to become the great figura they have been waiting for for some time. Juan is an intelligent artist with enough courage to make the desire of his countrymen become a reality.
Here we find several veterans with more than 15 years as matadors. Their statuses vary from two who were superstars in the 80's to others who were in their prime as figuras in the decades of the 80's and the early 90's. They are survivors, who still have sufficient appeal to enhance any cartels in any place, and who can also produce unforgettable performances. But realistically, one has to realize that, in spite of what they still might accomplish in this new century, it would be almost impossible for them to duplicate the impact that their endeavors had in the seasons of the last quarter of the past century. They played more meaningful roles then than now. It is very difficult to foresee how much longer these artists will be active, since their motivations can change from one day to the next, depending in their specific circumstances. A common circumstance is the fact that they are active because they like it, since they do not need to prove anything to anyone any longer.
"Espartaco" (68-77-3), who received his alternative in 1977, was the leading superstar of the 80's until he was forced to retire in 1995 due to a knee injury. He came back last year expecting to perform in just a few corridas. Nevertheless, he completed a full season performing in nearly 70 corridas, and participating in most of the important ferias, where he often succeeded. This courageous maestro fought last year with more art and majesty than ever. He plans to continue active and competitive this year. His name already appears in the early ferias. Unfortunately, in Valencia he was seriously injured in March. He said that he expects to be recovered to fight in Seville in April, where he is one of the main attractions of the feria.
Juan Mora (46-25-0), in spite of not obtaining many trophies, he had a good season, since many of his performances took place in first class arenas. It is interesting that a matador like Juan, who is considered an artist, has succeeded more often with difficult bulls. He fought five corridas of Victorino Martín cutting five ears. He also had great performances in Colombia last Winter. He has rebounded from having a mediocre season in 1998 to having a successful one in 1999. He seems to be ready to have another good year.
The stylish José María Manzanares (28-11-1), the superstar of the 80's and 90's, had a rather poor season last year with only a few good fights, where he had the motivation for giving a sample of his majestic art and his mastery. He has announced he will definitely retire at the end of this season, after 30 fruitful years of a professional life as a matador.
Emilio Muñoz (20-14-1) completed his 20-year career as a matador in 1999. He started the season very well by cutting ears in Seville, Jerez and Algeciras. Later, without apparent reasons, he did not appear in many ferias, and in the few engagements that he had, he often fought without brilliance. Emilio is one those toreros who, when the chips are down, is able to put together again a few beautiful performances that allow him to revive his declining career. He will again take part in the Feria de Seville and the results of his performances there will affect the direction his career is going to take this year.
Luis Francisco Esplá (22-23-0) is unique in this group, since his performances are not based on art, but on an excellent technique that permits him to confront, dominate and control any difficult bull. He did not fight much last season, due in part to an alleged boycott by the promoters, caused by his activities in demanding more money for the bullfighters when the corridas are televised. Truly he has not fought many fights in last few years either. Nevertheless, just when the season was almost over, he had a masterful performance in Madrid last October. He delighted the aficionados with the completion of emotional and masterful work that allowed him to obtain two ears from his lively bull and earned him the right to leave the arena by the 'Puerta Grande', which privilege he cavalierly declined. He injured his knee in his last appearance at Zaragozar. He is scheduled to face six bulls as the only matador in a corrida at Zaragoza in June this year, and his stocks are up for the 2000 season.
It is necessary to mention that the charismatic and innovative star of the 80's, Paco Ojeda, who recently has been acclaimed as a masterful rejoneador, will reappear this season as matador, but the nature of his commitment is unknown. Is he back to fight in a few easy corridas, or is he going to be engaged in competition with all the other stars? That is the question.
'The Senior Citizens'
This year attending certain corridas you may think that you have been transported back in time to the middle of the last century. Take for instance, the corrida programmed for Jaén on April 16, where the combined ages of the three matadors, "Antoñete", Curro Romero and "El Cordobés", total 199 years. Another sexagenarian torero, Andrés Vázquez is expected to join the 'senior matador club'.
Curro Romero (24-9-0) and Antonio Chenel "Antoñete" (9-6-0) are living legends. The 67-year old Curro, who received his alternative in 1959, continues at his age to give art lessons in the arenas, but not often. People go to see him, just to have a glance at a sample of his art. He gets paid like a figura, and he fights as much as he wants. He had a good year in 1999, cutting ears in Seville, Baeza, Valencia, Burgos, Huelva, Guadalajara and Jaén. Everyone says every year "this will be the last season for the old Curro" but like the famous bunny in the battery ad, he keeps on going and going. Again, this year he is supposed to fight four corridas in Seville, where he is considered an idol. is one year older than Curro, but his work in the ring also has the freshness of spring. He completed a short but successful season. His performance in Jaén last October was the most outstanding. Last month he broke his arm when training, but he said that "I will be ready for Jaén". Well, yet another year when the batteries of "Antoñete" and Curro will go on ticking.
Manuel Benitez "El Cordobés" is the most popular torero ever born. In the 60's and 70's he was commander-in- chief of bullfighting. After retiring he had an aborted comeback in the 80's, and he again went back in retirement after a few fights. Unlike Curro and "Antoñete", his work in the arena is based in a courageous, athletic and risky style that requires a total commitment from him. He plans to fight about 10 corridas. One feels that a torero with that style of performing might have a difficult time when he is 64.
Another 'senior' new member entering the Club will be Andrés Vázquez who, after many years of retirement, is recharging his taurine batteries to come back. Andrés, at 62, is the junior member of this exclusive club. He is a classic and valiant matador, who opened the 'Puerta Grande' of Las Ventas 12 times. Nevertheless, he never had an easy career in spite of his successes. He fought many hard corridas to maintain the high status he had in the past. He will reappear in June and his manager has said that Andrés will participate in a dozen corridas. He will have to produce good work fast, as the audiences will not wait for his inspiration to kick in, as they wait for the muses to inspire the legendary Curro and "Antoñete".
THE OTHER MATADORS
I will refer to those matadors here, who because of different circumstances, do not appear in the ferias on a regular basis. I have included toreros of dissimilar status and possibilities in this broad category, such as young matadors trying very hard to find a way to succeed, and others who were stars, or were close to stardom, but missed a step on their way and are still trying to climb back. Some good veteran matadors, who are in the twilight of their careers, are also included in this group. The chances for all these toreros to find a permanent niche on the feria circuit vary greatly.
Nevertheless, they share a common denominator. They have to struggle to find a place at the top or just to remain where they are. They must have two or three successful campaigns to be regularly featured on that circuit. Moreover, the opportunities for them to progress diminish with each year that those performers remain in their present positions. All Those matadors often fight in arenas where their successes count for too little. To get noticed they should be featured often in important ferias, but the few times they participate in them, they have to face the difficult bulls that the figuras avoid. They are inside a labyrinth, from which only a few matadors escape each year. For our discussion purposes we will list matadors sharing certain similarities at this point and time in their careers in five groups: 'The Novice Matadors', 'The Young Matadors' 'The Mature Matadors', 'The Veterans' and 'Matadors with Touches of Art'.
'The Novice Matadors'
Of the 37 novilleros who received their alternative in 1999, only a few have completed solid campaigns as novilleros, that allowed them to be matadors with the necessary attraction and preparation to be programmed in important cartels. However, close to one dozen of those young toreros will have the chance fight a few corridas, and to probably be featured in the ferias of their home town regions. Due to their limited professional backgrounds, their futures are difficult to foresee. They have a very rough road ahead. Lets set forth which of these new matadors might have most promising future.
The fine and classic Alberto Ramírez (25-29-1) received his alternative with great success in Castellón, his home town, last year. He participated in several ferias and had three successful engagements in Barcelona. He was seriously gored, but returned to the arenas with his courage intact. Alberto is definitely well situated this year to continue his progress.
Mexican Ignacio Garibay (23-31-2) (1-4-0) became a matador in Torreón de Ardoz, Madrid, after obtaining significant triumphs as a novillero. This winter he has been included in the main cartels in Mexico, where he is on his way to becoming a figura. He returned to Europe this season ready to see if he can duplicate the success he just had in his country.
Jesús Millán (26-21-0) (2-2-0), as a novillero, he cut an ear in Madrid and performed well in a few other places. Then, he started his career as a matador in Zaragoza by leaving the bullring by the puerta grande, after cutting two ears. He succeeded once more a couple of days later in the same arena. Aragón, his native region, is where he is mainly going to find opportunities to repeat his deeds. Also the following young men have had some successes in their first year as matadors, but they have only regional appeal since their campaigns as novilleros were not outstanding: Manuel Bejarano (2-3-2) (11-16-2), Antonio Barrera (11-10-2) (10-32-4) Gómez Escorial (3-7-0) (9-9-0), Portuguese Mario Coelho (16-14-1) (10-12-0) Diego Urdiales (8-8-0) (3-4-0) 'and Samuel López (8-9-1) (2-5-0).
The Young Matadors'
They are toreros who did not have an easy transition from novillero to matador. They have been performing as matadors for just a few years. Their careers are not completely defined. Some have fought enough to be well known, and they are in place to take one more step toward being regularly included in the ferias. Others are still in the process of maturing as professionals. They have to fight any corridas they are offered, without being too choosy about the conditions. At the most, they have a couple of seasons left in which to define their conditions and to reach their goals of becoming stars. They have novelty, youth and enthusiasm in their favor.
José Luis Moreno (40-30-1) was included in many ferias in 1999, due to his phenomenal success in Madrid in 1998. It seemed that he had arrived to form part of the elite, but the lack of success in four performances in Madrid and two serious gorings elsewhere, put the brakes on his acceleration to the top. He still has his determination as well as a good manager, so José Luis will have enough chances this year to continue his climb, but starting from a lower step. On the contrary, the Andalucian Juan José Padilla (20-44-1), from whom not much was expected last season, passed from being a matador of regional fame to be a matador in his way to stardom. He started changing his destiny in San Fermín in Pamplona, followed by a series of good performances in important ferias. Then a bull seriously gored him in Huesca, which forced Juan José to cut his triumphant campaign short. This year he is well placed to continue his quest.
Alberto Elvira (10-23-0) is another matador who could not fully enjoy the fruit of his successes last year. He confirmed his alternative in Madrid cutting one ear. Then, he continue winning trophies in almost all his few performances, until a dangerous physical problem sent him home in July. This season he needs to repeat his good performance in Madrid, so as not to be stuck were he is now. Luis Miguel Encabo (33-46-3) also had great performances in Madrid in 1998. Yet, when he did not have the same good luck in that arena in 1999, he had to complete the season facing too many hard corridas in arenas of lesser category, where he collected many trophies. His most relevant engagements took place in Teruel and Barcelona. Luis Miguel is a classic, courageous and powerful performer, who must find a way to succeed in important arenas this year, otherwise he is in danger of being pigeonholed as a 'hard corrida specialist'. Also, Antonio Ferrera (31-45-0) is another bullfighter regularly facing hard corridas, and yet he managed to cut ears in almost each presentation. He fought very few corridas in first class bullrings, where he needs to enter and succeed this year, so he can enhance his status. He will base his campaign in Extremadura, his native region and France, where he had good performances in the past.
Canales Rivera (32-36-0) also had most of his engagements in towns, where like Ferrera, he succeeded by opening ten puertas grandes. He appeared in Madrid twice. His first presentation was uneventful, and in the second he took a turn around the arena. Canales Rivera in 1999 recovered his self-confidence that he possessed in 1997, when he was appearing regularly in the ferias. He lost his enthusiasm in 1998, due to repetitive injures. This season, he will chase those elusive triumphs in the main arenas, which eluded him in 1999. He has determination and a good classic style of bullfighting that will allow him to be a winner again.
The valiant "El Califa" (26-22-0) has improved his status by taking small steps each year, but last year when he was forging ahead at a faster pace, two injuries temporarily slowed him down. This year he is back doggedly pursuing his goal. He already had an important performance in the Fallas of Valencia, and he is scheduled to fight in Madrid in San Isidro in May. He will surely take another step forward soon. The courageous Mari Paz Vega (5-8-0), the only active woman matador, is not a feminine rarity in the arenas as was the case with Cristina Sánchez She is competing very hard to find a place among the men in the bullfighting world. She did not have many engagements in Spain last year, but she has been appearing in Venezuela and Mexico with considerable success. Mari Paz will confirm her alternative in Mexico City and Madrid this year. The results of these corridas will weigh heavily in her professional future. Other young matadors also had some successful engagements last year, but they have not yet gained national fame. They are: "El Pireo" (21-41-3), Gil Belmonte (23-30-) Aníbal Ruiz (12-13-1) and José Antonio Iniesta (12-17-0).
'The Mature Matadors'
These compose of a group of performers in mid career, who are still trying to climb to the top. Some have almost been there and missed the boat. Others are slowly scratching their way up. They are sometimes featured in good corridas, but most often they will appear in the rougher ones. Once a performer remains in this group for a few years, it has traditionally been very difficult to become a real star, since they have a hard time convincing audiences and promoters that they still can reach that goal. On the other hand, they have a name recognition factor, which makes them attractive to the promoters, so they can be included them in some important ferias as supporting cast members.
The fine Portuguese matador "Pedrito de Portugal" (25-30-1) and the classic performer Manolo Sánchez (19-17-0) were regular features on the feria circuit for a few years, but they failed to have enough good performances at crucial moments. The stylish Pedrito started a comeback last year. He showed a more competitive spirit, which allowed him to perform with exquisite class, competing with the figuras on several occasions. Nevertheless, he still did not succeed in Madrid or Seville, which was necessary in order for him to recover his status. He is again scheduled to fight in Seville and Madrid this spring. This time, he must perform well in those appearances to be able to continue his comeback. On the other hand, Manolo Sánchez completed a season with unimpressive results, with the exception of performances in Valladolid, his home town, where he cut ears. This season may not be easy for him unless he triumphs in Madrid, were he will fight in April.
Miguel Rodríguez (31-31-0),Oscar Higares (24-31-0) and Juan Carlos García (15-14-0) are courageous and competitive classic matadors. They had great possibilities for advancing their careers, but they have always found insurmountable obstacles in their way. They have incorporated great techniques in their manners of bullfighting, which permit them to fight the most dangerous animals with mastery and ability. They are often forced by the circumstances to participate in difficult corridas, in which they frequently manage to obtain trophies. Miguel has the advantage to having gained popularity in Latin America where he participates in several corridas every year with success. The probabilities are that their situations will change little this year. But they will not give up trying.
José Ignacio Ramos (25-25-1) had a short but successful season last year. Most of his fights took place in ferias in Castille and the northern region of Spain. This season he will repeat his appearances in those ferias, but to change his status he needs to perform in other important bullrings of Europe. After a few years without having been noted as a matador, Vicente Bejarano (24-15-1) underwent a professional rebirth. He cut ears at the Seville Feria as well as in other important cities, and he would have performed more often if he would not have been injured twice. In spite of his successes in Seville, the promoters unjustly left him out of the Sevilla Feria this year. This blow is worse than his injuries, since he was planning to use Seville as a platform for launching of his campaign. Ruiz Manuel (13-16-1) was another matador who took a step forward in 1999. He had great performances in the Feria of Almeria and in Barcelona, and a good one in Madrid, where he is scheduled to fight again this year. The same cannot be said about artistic Javier Vázquez (9-3-0) who had the worst campaign of his good career, which includes the honor of being named "Overall Best Matador of San Isidro" once. The year 2000 does not look promising for him now.
Leonardo Benítez (11-9-0), from Venezuela, and Rafael Castañeta (4-7-0), from Peru, who are figuras in their countries, will be participating in the European season, where they lack the attraction that they command in their native countries. They will have difficulties getting fights in Europe.
They are matadors who received their alternatives before the year1 1990. What we said about 'the mature matadors' also applies to the veterans, but with a notable difference. The latter do not seem to possess the same determination to scale any mountain as 'the mature matadors' have. Perhaps, because they have already been on the top, or because they know that they do not have the time left in their careers to climb there. They seem to be making time to retirement, fighting as much as they can and under the best conditions possible and performing with mastery when circumstances permit.
"El Fundi" (37-58-3) is considered a 'hard corrida specialist'. He is not afraid to be announced with those types of bulls and he is effective and successful at fighting them. He had a very meaningful career without being a figura, and he will continue to do so until he retires. He has the respect of the aficionados and his fellow matadors. José Luis Bote (21-16-3) is a classic maestro, who throughout the years has been badly punished by the bulls, and yet he has survived through pure perseverance. He did very well in Madrid last year, but his efforts were not duly rewarded. He will fight again in San Isidro in Madrid to try to gain contracts for this year. On the other hand, Frenchman Fernández Meca (20-23-0), who, after a 10-year career confirmed his alternative in Madrid and had several successful performances in Spain and France last year, will increase his number of contracts this year, especially in France.
The classic Rafael Camino (21-21-1) and the excellent and artistic José Antonio Campuzano (8-3-0), have been figuras in their prime. Rafael continues having engagements in third rate arenas, where obtaining trophies does not carry much weight. He will probably continue to pursue the same type of campaign for a few years more. José Antonio has always had a considerable number of engagements; but now after a 25-year career, the promoters have almost forgotten him and he fights whatever he can get. He might retire this year.
'Matadors with Touches of Art'
In this category we encounter young, mature and veteran performers endowed with a special gift that allows them to occasionally produce an unforgettable performance. They are artists who, when they are inspired, complete sublime performances or maybe only create a few artistic passes, but they need the cooperation of good-natured bulls. They base their performances on form more than on content and technique,. and they also lack predictability and regularity. This probably robs them of becoming outstanding figuras, and conditions the audiences not to expect miracles from them. The aficionados just hope to be lucky enough to witness one of their exquisite performances. Generally, these artists manage to have a long professional life, characterized by a combination of low and high points in their careers.
The most veteran in the group, Pepín Jiménez (27-41-4) has recovered from a fracture of his arm that made him to quit successful season he was enjoying last year. Pepín is one of the favorite toreros of the Madrid aficionados and an idol in the Murcia region. He cut one ear in Madrid and obtained trophies in most of his performances elsewhere. His season was earmarked by regularity, which is uncommon in this type of performer. Pepín is tuned up to have another good campaign this year. He has already fought three corridas and cut three ears, and he is scheduled to have appearances in San Isidro. Unfortunately, he was gored in his last presentation. Another artist, who had a relatively good season in 1999, was David Luguillano (15-14-0). Although in his performances in Madrid and Seville he could only show samples of his art, he did very well in most of his other 13 engagements, especially in his native Castille region as well as in northern Spain. On the other hand, Fernando Cepeda (22-7-0-) had a rather unimpressive season, cutting seven trophies only in 22 appearances. In Madrid he fought five corridas showing only touches of his class. He needs to do something more this season, in which he may not have many engagements.
Javier Conde (40-45-3) is a charismatic performer, who interprets bullfighting in a personal and artistic manner. His performances are unsettling, since in the same afternoon he can be great with one bull and awful with another. He fought often in 1999, obtaining many trophies, but the great majority of those appearances took place in unimportant arenas. The consensus among the connoisseurs is that Javier had the opportunity and the qualification to become a figura, but his determination has been dubious, and therefore, is his future. Julio Aparicio is reappearing after having taken a couple of years of vacation. He took the break motivated by having had two bad seasons, including demoralizing failures in both Seville and Madrid, where he had many followers. Previously, he was a regular in the ferias and he was very close to stardom, but the aficionados got tired of waiting for Julio's inspiration. Nobody can deny that he is a great artist, but he needs to prove this season that he is back with the same art but with more determination. He is going to have many opportunities to prove it, since he will have a considerable number of engagements.
The newcomer to this group is Manuel Amador (17-7-2) who in two seasons as matador is acquiring the reputation of being an artistic performer. One doubts if he has the permanency to prove that he deserves this honor.
It is always daring to predict the roles that the matadors are going to play in a new season, and even more in a new decade, since there are many unpredictable variables in the world of bullfighting, the emergence of new performers on the top being the most prevailing one. Who would have said two years ago that the most popular matador today would have been "El Juli"? Nevertheless, a thorough analysis of the present situation, as I have tried to do in this long report, allows one to predict with a great percentage of probability who those performers might be.
I do not see significant changes at the very top, at less for the first half of the decade. Then, "El Juli", Ponce and José Tomás will still be in command since nobody, at least momentarily, is ready to take their places. "Morante" will be enthroned as 'the king of the art' while most of the aforementioned 'toreros of Feria' will be complementing the cartels of the ferias. Moereever, as it happens each year, a couple of the struggling toreros will find their ways to the top, as Caballero, Liria and "El Tato" have done in the past and, of course, some of the few presently promising novilleros will join the stars in two or three years to compete with them for places at the top. I would not even dare to guess whom those novilleros might be since for the aspiring matadors, besides inherent taurine qualifications, good management, opportunities and luck all play a major role and count for a lot.
Return to PERSPECTIVES