In October the 1997 European taurine season ended with the young matador Enrique Ponce as the supreme commander of the taurine world, sharing that responsibility with "Joselito", the only great veteran figura left on top. They were supported by a group of young stars of the 90's generation, headed by Francisco Rivera-Ordóñez and new revelation José Tomás. This group of young toreros, as I predicted, has displaced the vast majority of the veteran stars of the 70's and 80's. Of the veterans only César Rincón was playing a significant role while a few more mature matadors were fighting as members of a supporting cast.
As I have done the for past 3 years I will discuss the roles played by this group of leading performers in 1997, as well the roles of other matadors whose performances have had any relevance. At the same time I will dare to speculate on how these artists could affect the development of the 1998 season. But first, I will point out some general trends that are affecting the essence of bullfighting.
THE TAURINE SEASON
A positive development has continued during the '97 season. It was the reinforcement of the tendency of the audiences to show preference for the more conventional bullfighters over the unorthodox ones. As a result we have seen the young classical toreros such as José Tomás and Rivera-Ordóñez grow in stature, while the popularity of the so called 'tremendistas', such as "El Cordobés" and "Jesulín de Ubrique", has decreased. Also, most of the new matadors and successful novilleros are performing with a classical style to gain public favor. I foresee that in 1998 the aficionados will continue to impose their taste for traditional bullfighting.
On the other hand, two trends have been accentuated during the season that reflected negatively on the fiesta. One has to do with the nature of the bulls, and the other with the excessive concern with numbers and records shown by the toreros, bull breeders and promoters to the detriment of quality and even of profit.
Starting in the 70's the audiences, following the lead of the Madrid fans, have been demanding bigger and bigger bulls, and the bullfighters have demanded animals with less temperament or casta. So the bull breeders have responded by inbreeding voluminous animals with less ferocity and mobility. Too often during the season, magnificent looking animals have appeared in the rings, only to be withdrawn later for showing passivity or weakness. When those animals remained in the ring, the matadors were unable to convey to the public the sense of danger and emotion that are necessary for a performance to be interesting. This problem is likely to persist in the 1998 season, since even if the public and bullfighters demand leaner and meaner bulls, the bull breeders could not supply them, because genetic changes in animals do not produce results overnight.
Another tendency, that has not only persisted but has increased, has been the obsession by bullfighters and managers with numbers and records regarding the corridas fought and the trophies earned. The record of corridas held during a season in Spain and France was broken in 1997; 832 in 1996 and 862 in 1997. Too many of the corridas have taken place in towns having bullrings without the capacity to produce enough revenue even to cover expenses. The intention of many matadors was to add corridas, without regard to the immediate economic benefit, but with the goal of appearing as high as possible in the matador ranking at the end of the season. It is worth noting that in spite of more fights being held in 1997, total attendance has been smaller. If bullfighting would follow the economic law of supply and demand far fewer corridas would be scheduled for the '98 season. However I do not believe that will happen as long as the record 207 active matadors are competing to make themselves known, and some figuras are trying to break performance records. Already in February, as I write this, a few corridas have been celebrated in towns, the names of which names are difficult to find on the map, and several fights are scheduled in other small towns weeks ahead of the traditional opening of the season in March.
Now let's glance at the matadors' overall standings at the end of the '97 season and, based on their accomplishment in 1997 and along with some subjective factors, I will speculate on what roles they are likely to play in the upcoming European season. To facilitate this discourse I will catalogue the matadors who have fought in 1997 with certain notoriety in two broad groups: the vanguard and the rear guard. Each group will be divided into subgroups, in which I will include matadors who share similar circumstances based on their 1997 achievements. Then I will editorialize about their probable roles in the incoming season. It is not my intention to judge or compare their individual intrinsic values nor their historical perspectives, but simply to express what they have accomplished in 1997, and what they may accomplish in the '98 European season. Following the name of each matador I will insert some figures within brackets which represent the number of corridas fought as well as the number of trophies awarded to each performer in 1997 (corridas, ears, tails), as published in 6 TOROS 6, Escalafón de matadores 1997.
But first let's say goodbye to a brave matador.
Víctor Méndez (37-28-2) has said farewell to the aficion after 16 years as a matador. Victor has been an honest, courageous, knowledgeable matador who often performed with great success with bulls of the so called 'hard ganaderias'. He was one of the best banderilleros of the last half-century. His farewell season was superior in numbers and triumphs to his '96 season. This year the audiences in many plazas often applauded him not only for his faenas but also for the memory of what he has accomplished during his long career. This Portuguese star will be remembered in Spain and France as a classic, resourceful matador, 'king of the banderillas', and in Portugal as one of the best torero born in that country.
In this group appear all the matadors who fought sufficiently and with considerably success to affect the development of the past season. Here we find established figuras as well as toreros who are at the doors of stardom. Some will success more than the others in 1998, but all will fight sufficiently enough to be able to pursuit their professional goals. They will also be the base for the first important ferias of the season.
"Joselito" started the season with a memorable triumph in the Seville Feria; Enrique Ponce for his part left the bullring by the Puerta Grande in Madrid in May. Everything seemed to indicate that a continued confrontation in mano-a-manos was going to take place between these two superstars. This did not happen often enough, and when it happened the corridas were interesting but lacked the spark of the classical rivalries of competing stars in the past. I was expecting this outcome last year, since I felt that each matador is in a different stage of his career seeming to have different goals. "Joselito", a veteran fighting in his eleventh year as a matador, has been a figura since the first year of his alternativa. He considers himself an artist and 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. On the other hand, Ponce, who took his alternativa in 1990, had to fight all the way up to become a figura. First he dethroned the veteran figuras and later he confronted the young toreros of his generation, relegating them to a lower level. Once on the top he was ready to defend his position at any cost. "Joselito" needed to defend nothing, so that when things did go his way at mid- season, he did not offer Ponce the competition that would have maintained a dramatic tension. Soon the young star Rivera- Ordóñez, and later José Tomás, the revelation of the year, appeared in the rings with the two super-figuras defusing the competition between them. At the same time they provided added attraction to the cartels. These four matadors became the main attractions of the ferias.
Enrique Ponce (108-162-8) has completed his 6th season, fighting more than 100 corridas each year. This is a record of historical dimension, especially if we take into consideration that the vast majority of fights has taken place in first and second-class arenas, and the ratio of trophies for bulls fought is superior to that of any other matador. We do not remember a matador who triumphed so consistently for so long. Enrique possesses unique horse sense and knowledge how that, combined with his tremendous courage permit him to fight almost all the bulls with an apparent easiness that gives the false sensation of being almost effortless. His bullfighting style that, at the beginning of his career, what criticized for lacking depth and art, has acquired the fine artistic qualities reflected in the many fantastic faenas, with which he has won the admiration of peers, critics and aficionados. However the most amassing quality of this still-young matador is his ability to continue learning when there seems to be nothing left to learn. There is no reason to doubt that he will retain his commander-in-chief rank in 1998, and if he is not seriously hurt he might enter the century as the 'numero uno'.
"Joselito" (76-56-0) is a great figura, possessing a majestic and artistic style of bullfighting enhanced by a mastery of the profession, and great courage. All this has allowed him to retain his position of leadership after several serious gorings. He is considered the best classical master of swordsmanship. José is one of those privileged stars that only need a dozen sublime faenas a year to remain at the top, where he has remained for 11 years. He obtained the Seville Feria's 'Best matador" trophy. Later a goring and an injury to his wrist caused him to slow down a bit. So his overall performance at the end of the season was not as brilliant as expected. Nevertheless, he maintains his great figura status, and together with Ponce will the base for the upcoming season.
Francisco Rivera-Ordóñez (90-76-1) started the season with a big triumph in the Seville Feria. He was soon included as the third man with "Joselito" and Ponce in selected cartels of the most important ferias. If we analyze the statistics, the number of trophies obtained by Fran is not great but, as happened with José Tomás, other qualitative factors have made Fran the prince of the young matadors. His classic and pure style strongly impacts on 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. Unfortunately he has often missed with the sword, which has cost him many trophies, but not the appreciation of the public. His personal charisma and his family background have also helped his fast climb to the top. In September an injury to his knee diminished his physical faculties, forcing him to cut short his temporada. Fran will be featured in all the main ferias, but he will have to fight hard to remain in the very privileged position where he is now.
José Tomás (79-67-2) has become a figura after completing only his first year as matador. In bullfighting, it usually takes 3 more years to be recognized as such. José also became a figura doing things in an unusual way. After cutting an ear in his confirmation of his alternativa in Madrid in 1996, he decided to be selective, and he elected to fight mostly in important rings and under good conditions, instead of just, as is the norm today, performing in corridas for statistical purposes. He fought only 36 times. It was a dangerous game. Last season, after being named the "Best Matador" of the San Isidro Feria in Madrid, he became the sensation of the season and an instant figura. He continued rationing his appearances and succeeding on them. His plan worked because of the special quality of his style. He fights with tremendous class and a pure style that appeals to the select aficionados as well as to the general public. As in the case of Rivera-Ordoñez the statistics seem to be meaningless, since he is the most appealing matador for the next season. He has to prove in 1998 that he deserved his fast rise to figura status. I feel that he will do so.
Two Who Finally Reached Stardom
Unlike Rivera-Ordóñez and José Tomás, "El Tato" and Pepín Líria have struggled to be recognized as figuras. It has taken them several years of fighting tough corridas with great success to finally find their place in 1997 among the best at the vanguard of bullfighting.
Raúl Gracia "El Tato" (88-129-6). indicative of Raul's struggle is the fact that in spite of receiving the 'Best Matador' trophy of the '96 Seville Feria, he was not included in many important cartels in that season, and he also had to go back to fighting the hardest animals. Again in 1997, he triumphed in the same feria executing a faena that is considered one of the best of the 1997 season. He continued his campaign cutting ears in many important plazas, culminating with his exciting performance in Zaragoza, his home town, where he only fought five of the six Victorino bulls, of the six he was scheduled to face that afternoon, because he was gored by the fifth one. Although he probably will continue to fight some of the Victorinos and other difficult animals, Raúl will finally play a relevant role in the most important ferias. To secure his star status he needs now to do well in Madrid where the luck has not been with him.
Pepín Líria (60-117-27) has completed an impressive season. Following the example of José Tomás, Pepín decided to demand his inclusion in important cartels, rather than fighting more frequently. Obviously he made the correct decision based on the results as shown by the number of trophies listed above. That, however that is not all, since we have to take into account that the majority of his successes have taken place in important bullrings such as Madrid, where he cut an ear, and in Seville where he left the arena through the 'Puerta del Principe' after cutting several ears of the six bulls he killed by himself. 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. The '98 season will count with Pepín as a new figura. Líria as well as "El Tato" have accomplished one of the most difficult tasks in bullfighting, o" have accomplished one of the most difficult tasks in bullfighting, that is to become figuras after they were pigeonholed as "guerrilleros".
These two toreros, who completed their third year as matadors the past season, had in common that neither fulfilled what the aficion expected from them in 1997. Nevertheless both had a good season, are in good standing and in position to realize their potentials in 1998.
Vicente Barrera (79-90-1) is one of the modern matadors with a more distinctive personality and style. He performs in a way more in keeping with the difficult and dangerous manner of "Manolete" than with the norm of the modern practices. In 1997, his techniques matured without affecting his emotional impact. Surprisingly, he did not take his last step to the top last season. It might have been because he did not succeed in Madrid, and he did perform in the Seville Fair. Nevertheless, he achieved great success in many important ferias in Europe as well as in his Latin American engagements. He remains in a very good position to start the '98 season as a figura. To ascend to the next level it is imperative that he win battles of Seville and Madrid.
Víctor Puerto (64-90-7) is another young man who has obtained figura status in 1997, but without fulfilling the expectation that followed his being the 1996 overall winner of the San Isidro Feria. Víctor has un undefined style which alternates between the classical and the spectacular. Without fearing the cliche, I can say that good fortune was not in his side in 1997. Víctor did nevertheless overcome the design of destiny with a tremendous determination and, at the cost of several gorings and multiple minor injuries, he managed to have a successful year. He will fight often in 1998, but he needs to define his style and to have significant triumphs, not only to advance in his profession but to defend his present position.
'The 'Tremendistas': In Search of New Identity
The three matadors "Litri", "Jesulín de Ubrique" and "El Cordobés"--the so called 'toreros tremendistas'---who 2 years ago brought the youngsters and many women, in addition to the regular aficionados, to the rings, have had their popular appeal diminished, especially in the most important plazas where the aficionados and critics are demanding that they should exhibit a more traditional manner of fighting. In 1996, they responded by trying to refine their styles to gain favor and approval, and by avoiding to be scheduled together in the same corridas. They also continued to try to change their styles with different degree of success in 1997.
"Litri" (92-94-3) in 1997 has completed his transformation from a flashy torero into a more classical one. His season had lows and highs, but he completed some great, solid, and artistic faenas such as those he had in the plazas of Seville and Bilbao. "El Litri", in his 11th professional year, has became a different torero who satisfies aficionados and critics, very different from the spectacular performer that he was 2 years ago. This 'new' "El Litri", with less popular attraction but with more depth in his style, is the one that the audiences hope to see in 1998.
"Jesulín de Ubrique" (87-124-9) was also a changed torero in 1997. He has always been an excellent and spectacular torero with a charismatic personality, given to irreverent behavior, which has overshadowed his fine taurine qualities. The foundation of his toreo consists in his ability to dominate most of the bulls with the smooth and slow play of his muleta. In 1997, we saw a man in search of his taurine soul, who tried to abandon the easy way to win over the masses for a more difficult way of bullfighting, with the aim of gaining the respect of the aficion. In the process his popularity has somehow diminished. He gave several classical performances such as the one in Ronda and Seville, which muted his critics, reminding them of the type of fine torero that he was as a novillero. In spite of the many trophies he has obtained, this season was an average one, since many of the ears he was awarded were obtained in plazas of minor importance. He continues without the favor of the Madrid aficionados, who do not forget his past frolics. He will continue to be an important player this year while he follows his quest of going back to his roots as a more serious and conventional matador.
"El Cordobés" (90-172-15) did not succeed in Seville and he did not fight in Madrid the past season. He has continued in his role as a torero 'tremendista' fighting and often succeeding in second rate plazas. "El Cordobés" could be an artistic performer but he conveniently chooses to fight with great courage in an unorthodox fashion to please the masses. At the beginning of the season, as "Litri" and "Jesulín' did, "El Cordobés" tried to change his style of performing, but considering the difficulty and the possibility of losing 'his public', he reverted to being the same 'tremendista' that he had been before. He is still charming the audiences of the second and third-rate bullrings, but his appeal has diminished in the first-rate arenas. To reach the status of being a great figura, he needs to come back to the important ferias in 1998, and to find the success that has lately eluded him in most of those places. If this does not happen in the upcoming season, he will still continue to popular, to make money, and to entertain thousands of people with his flashy, but courageous style of bullfighting, while wasting his natural artistic talent.
The Feminine Matador
Cristina Sánchez (61-86-8) has completed her second season as a matador. After completing a mediocre winter season in Latin America she fought a great number of corridas in Europe with considerable success, but she did not confirm her alternativa in Madrid, nor did she appear in many important bullrings this year. She probably has decided to mature as full fledged professional before taking those decisive steps. The handling of the sword continues to be her weak point, which has cost ears that she would have been awarded. Regardless of what might happen in 1998, Cristina has already done what no woman has done before: to perform on equal terms with the greatest matadors. This year she will have to perform and to succeed in those main plazas, as she did as novillero, to advance in her career and to become the first woman figura in the history of tauromaquia.
Two Attacking and One Holding Back
These three young matadors are well placed to advance in their careers in 998. The first one is on his rise, the second is in a stage of recovery, and the third has been too cautious to go on the offensive.
Canales Rivera (61-77-3), in his second campaign as a matador, had dull appearances in Madrid, but he had significance performances in some important ferias. He was seriously gored twice, but returned to the arena with equal or increased courage and determination. He is a brave classic torero who is going to fights often in 1998 to show his worth and to improve his standing.
Manuel Caballero (54-7-3) is on the verge of becoming the figura that he promised to be when he took the alternativa in 1991 after being a star novillero. Then he struggled, but in 1996 he started a slow climb that continued with many triumphant appearances during the European and American seasons. He achieved many of his successes fighting often difficult corridas. He did so in the Fall Feria in Madrid, where Manuel cut ears in a performance worthy of the Puerta Grande with Victorino bulls. He was also named "The Overall Best Performer" in the Albacete Feria in September. He stumbled in Pamplona, where he could not kill one of his bulls, but he recovered rapidly. He has earned his inclusion in the main ferias in 1998 where, without any doubt, he will at last find the opportunities that will place him closer to the status of figura.
Javier Conde (42--53-3) is a charismatic performer who interprets bullfighting in a personal and artistic manner. Javier's career has not developed as well as expected, perhaps because he postponed his responsibility of fighting in Madrid and in other first class arenas. He also allowed a romance to distract him in 1996. In 1997 he had a better season, but has continued without fighting in Madrid or Seville. He has waited too long and the upcoming season might be his last opportunity to become figura. It will not be easy for him since the competition will be very great and his determination has been dubious.
Two Veterans Reclaiming Their Places
These two great matadors were in commanding positions at the beginning of this decade, but their appeal diminished during the '95 and '96 seasons. Both started a comeback last season with differing results. They also took different roads to accomplish their goals.
César Rincón (44-35-0) in those 2 years was affected by injuries which prevented him from completing the European seasons. In 1997 he appeared in many important ferias in Spain were he did well but was not outstanding. In Madrid, the plaza that made him a figura, César had merely mediocre performances which slowed his progress. Nevertheless, he had some great performances in other plazas, especially in France, that reminded the audiences that Rincón wanted to be back on top. The Colombian, in his many performances in America this Winter has also shown that he does not want to belong to the supporting cast. He has succeeded in Ecuador, Colombia, Mexico, and Venezuela. So he is ready to continue pursuing his climb to the top in the '98 European season.
José Ortega Cano (57-78-4) had a gray season in 1995 and a bad one in 1996. Without luck in Seville, and without having opportunities to appear in Madrid and in other important ferias, he decided to fight as many corridas as possible, in less important arenas, to regain his confidence. He seems to have done that as indicated by his number of trophies. His goal is limited since he is aiming only to recover his form to enable him retire with dignity. He hopes to say a triumphant 'adiós' to the audiences of most of the important arenas, where he has appeared as a figura for many years.
The Rear Guard
In this broad classification I will list the names of other matadors who have performed a sufficient number of corridas to be noted. Some matadors aspire to be in the vanguard, others are permanent features in this category, and a few are past figuras who, while waiting for the sunset of their glorious careers,
occasionally charm and amuse the aficionados with their mastery.
The Novel Matadors
A record 33 novilleros obtained the rank of matador in 1997. Sadly, a majority of them do not have enough merit to take this important step. Nevertheless for first time in the last few years a group of novilleros entered the higher rank in 1997 with the quality to shine as matadors during the upcoming season. None of those novice matadors has confirmed his alternativa in 1997, or fought sufficiently to permit speculation as to the outcome of their careers might be. In 1998, these few are going to have the chance to show what they have. I would not be surprised if one or two of these youngsters finds a place among the best of the matadors at the end of the upcoming season. The second set of figures shown after their names refers to the novilladas fought and trophies obtained in the 1997 season.
The courageous Antonio Ferrera (35-58-3), (0,0,0) has a spectacular style which appeals to the masses but does not completely please the aficionados. He took his alternativa in March and has fought more of his corridas in his native Extremadura region and in France with popular success. He is not afraid to be announced in the hard corridas. Eduardo Dávila Miura (19-21-0), (2-4-1), a classic and valiant torero, was doctored with success in the Seville Feria, but an untimely sickness as well as two gorings cut short his campaign. His appeal has not diminished in spite of his bad luck. "Morante de la Puebla", (12- 20-0), (17-15-0), is an artistic torero from Seville who possesses a flourishing style. He had a brilliant career as a novillero, although he did not perform well in his Madrid appearances before his alternativa. As a matador, however in his 12 corridas he surprised everyone by performing better with the toros than with the novillos. Eugenio de la Mora (9-25-3), (16- 23-1) has shone in most of his performances as a novillero, as well as a matador in 1997. He is a sober and classic matador who dominates the bulls with great skill. He enters 1998 as a fine prospect for stardom. Manuel Amador (4-3-0) (13-11-0), is a torero who shows flashes of art in his performances. Manuel was almost forgotten as a novillero, when he had a fantastic performance in his farewell engagement as novillero in Madrid. Then he took his alternativa in his native Albacete, which resulted in another great performance worthy of the Puerta Grande. Mari Paz Vega (1-1-0), (26-46-5) is a courageous and fine performer. After a successful year as novillera, she was invested as a matador by Cristina Sánchez on Cáceres in September 30th--a historical happening since it was the first time that a woman granted the alternativa to another female.-- It is very probable that in 1998 Mari Paz will fight in arenas of minor importance to gain experience as a matador before appearing in important plazas.
The '90 generation of bullfighters, who replaced most of the veterans of the 70' and 80's, already includes a group of matadors who, for one reason or another, after occupying top ranking positions find themselves now playing less significant roles. What they have in common is that in order to recover their lost positions they have to 'start over again' by succeeding repetitively in the important arenas, fighting under less desirable conditions than did before, and competing with hungry and younger rising stars, who usually have the advantage of novelty. It is not an easy task.
Julio Aparicio (35-32-31) had a bad season failing in Seville, Madrid and other important plazas, but succeeding occasionally in less important ones. Nobody can deny that he is a great artist, but almost everyone is getting tired of waiting for Julio's inspiration. Manolo Sánchez (35-32-3), an exquisite torero, completed a better season than 1996, but a goring in Madrid kept him out of commission for more than 2 months. He is still very popular in the Castillian region. "Pedrito de Portugal" (33-28-0), a fine Portuguese matador, has shown an unusual pattern in his career. During the last 3 years, he performs every Winter often and successfully in Latin America, where he has figura status. Then he returns to Spain with great expectations which where he fails to fulfill, although he always leaves the impression that he can do well at any moment. In 1998 Pedro has to go for broke since he might not have many chances left to achieve in Spain the same status that he has in America. Rafael Camino (32-41-2). The figures showing the number of trophies obtained by Rafael do not define his campaign in 1997, since more his successful performances took place in second-or third- class arenas, while his appearances in Seville, Madrid and other first rate plazas were uneventful. It will be difficult for Rafael to go back to the enviable position he held a few years back. Fernando Cepeda (25-30-2), a great stylist, always gave a touch of class to his performances, but has rarely had a determining successful fight that would lift him to another level. In 1997 he had a better season than in 1996. I do not think that his status will likely change in 1998. Antonio Borrero "Chamaco" (20-19-1) started the season by cutting an ear in Seville, giving the impression that his career what going to take off again, but later Antonio failed to find himself, cutting short his campaign. Also, "Finito de Córdoba" (19-10-0) temporarily abandoned the arenas after not being able to straighten out a crooked season. "Finito" is considered one of the finest active matadors, but he often displays an apathy that robs him of the applause. He can still recover what he lost, since he has great qualities and many followers. He needs to show more determination in 1998.
Some Artistic Veterans and a Tactician
Here we find several veterans who still have sufficient appeal to enhance a cartel and can occasionally produce an unforgettable performance. Of these artists, one has been a great figura, two are living legends and the rest are good toreros. Their common denominator is that when they are inspired they produce sublime performances. Nobody is expecting miracles from them in 1998, and just hope to be lucky enough to witness one of their exquisite performances. Emilio Muñoz (20-15-1) had a bad season with three gray performances in the Seville Feria and two bad ones in Madrid. When everything in the season seemed lost, he performed beautifully in El Puerto, Seville and Jaén before the close of the season. Juan Mora (22-18-0), had a bad year. He had taken a step backward. He is not going to have many chances to spring back in 1998. Curro Vázquez (15-8-1) has not found success in his return to the arenas after a few years in retirement. He also lacked opportunities to fight enough to be comfortable with the bulls. He had only a couple of good artistic performances. Whether he will remain active or not in 1998 is a riddle . Pepín Jiménez(25-30-2), the fine torero adopted by the Madrid aficion, has completed one of his most successful season with excellent performances in Madrid as well as in several plazas in his native Levante region. Now let's go on to the living legends. The sixty- some-year-old Curro Romero (18-6-0) continues giving art lessons in the arenas at his age, 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. Once more in 1998, the legendary Curro will fight four corridas in the Seville Feria, then he will fight only as much and, wherever, he wants. Rafael de Paula (9-2-0) tries to ration his art, as Curro does, but with less success, since he is much worse physical shape than the other living legend. The question pertaining to Curro and Rafael is not how much and well they will perform in 1998, but how long will they be able to continue facing the bulls. The other veteran, Luis Francisco Esplá(22-23-0) is unique in this group, since his performances are not based on art, but in a excellent technique that allow him to confront, dominate and control any difficult bull. He had a good season in 1997 cutting ears in Madrid and Alicante. He ended the season after being seriously gored while performing in El Puerto.
These are matadors that from necessity or because destiny have become specialized in performing regularly with the so- called 'hard bulls' such as Miura or Victorino Martín. Some of the matadors in the group have carved careers as craftsmen of bullfighting. They are very skillful performers who possess a good understanding of the behavior of those difficult animals. Others are more refined matadors but less qualified for the task. They fight those corridas to survive professionally until better opportunities come their way. The advantages of these toreros include the fact that they appear often in the main ferias, and that they are relatively well paid; the problem is that their accomplishments are rarely rewarded by promoters including them in more desirable cartels.
"El Fundi" (36-73-4} is the most effective in this group. He had a good year in 1996, although his engagements in Madrid and Seville were uneventful. He will continue to lead this group in 1998. Oscar Higares (31-22-0) became a regular feature in this type of corrida, and he will continue to be one in 1998. Most of his fights took place in important plazas where he obtained moderate successes. He was awarded an ear in one of his several appearances in Madrid. Miguel Rodríguez (30-34-4), and Javier Vázquez (24-22-0), are classic matadors who in 1996 seemed poised to take a step forward in 1997, but they remained static. They have good qualifications and proven courage. They will continue to try to improve their status in 1998, but their chance of be included in better cartels have diminished considerably. Tomás Campuzano (21-42-6), the veteran who for many years was a top matador, performed with considerable success in 1997, but most of his fights took place in small towns. The stylish Domingo Valderrama (17-21-1) is the least gifted to confront this type of bull, but he is the most inspired matador in the group. He persists in challenging his destiny. He cut an ear to a Miura bull in the Seville Feria where he will probably perform this again season.
One Step Forward
Among the remaining active matadors who are trying to find their place, a few names come to mind who in 1997 did better than the year before in trying to advance their careers. They still have a long way to go, and the obstacles in their paths are almost unsurmountable, but if opportunities are presented in 1998, they will not waste them, since they not appear to have given up. Luis Miguel Encabo, (36-53-5), has fought most of the time in Madrid, and its environs with considerable success. Paco Cervantes (28-49-5), a fine torero, completed his 2nd year as a matador. He triumphed in most of his appearances which were mainly in small town plazas. He has not yet confirmed his alternativa in Madrid. El Molinero (23-36-1), and "El Califa" (21-38-4) fought primarily in their respective regions of Aragón and Andalucia. Both need national exposure in 1998. The stylish David Luguillano (20-19-2) returned to the arenas after his life- threatening goring in 1996 performing some memorable faenas. He also had success in the arenas of Castilla, his native region. Juan Carlos García (15-12-0) was declared the winner in the famous San Fermín Feria, in Pamplona. He also obtained trophies in Barcelona and other important plazas. He has great possibilities for advancing his career in 1998. He has the qualities and the determination to do it. Rafael Castañeta (14- 20-2), a Peruvian, had a good performance in Madrid, surprising the aficionados. Later he earned the prestigious "Cristo de los Milagros" award in Lima.
In short, it can be said that in the '97 season, Enrique Ponce consolidated his status as a super-figura, and "Joselito" also remained at the very top, but without giving Ponce the anticipated competition. For now, these two figuras can feel safe that nobody, at least momentarily, is ready to take their places. On the other hand, we cannot say the same for Rivera-Ordóñez and José Tomás, and other few figuras, who shared room at the top with Ponce and "Joselito". All them must fight hard to advance or consolidate their positions.
The upcoming season is likely to be very lively and competitive for the figuras of the 90's decade who displaced the veteran leaders of former decades. Now their turn will come to confront a force composed of matadors like Caballero, trying to recover lost positions, various neophyte matadors, and probably some promising novilleros such as Mariscal, Abellán, Iniesta, or "El Juli", who plan to be inducted as matadors some time during the season.
To advance the names of who the new stars might be by next October, when the season ends, would be a risky guessing game since, unlike last year, at this moment there are various candidates with class, courage, and the determination to be the chosen ones. I will, therefore, safely predict that a few new names will be listed along with the established leading matadors, or even displacing some of them, at the conclusion of the '98 taurine European season.