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Mexican Bullfighting Trivia

Published May 29, 2008 - (Updated Jun 21, 2012)


The word "bullfighting" raises controversy around the world, but there seems to be agreement on one fact: once you’ve been to a bullfight, chances are you will no longer be neutral about the sport. Either it’s an event that you’re passionate about and will go to numerous times in the future, or your first event will be your last.

There is a lot if information about the gruesome aspects of the sport, but what you’ll read below, are some lesser known facts that you may find interesting.

Bullfighting costumes consist of a montera (bicome hat), a silk jacket primarily embroidered in gold and the traditional skintight pants. Custom made costumes can cost thousands of dollars each and matadors must have at least six of them for a season. Many modern matadors choose a selection of vibrant colors to be highlighted in their costumes. Like World Wrestling Foundation competitors, these athletes take pride in their distinctive and fancy “uniforms.”

Bullfighting schools are common in Spain, but there are very few in Mexico. Although the sport is banned in the United States and Canada, there are a small number of schools in the Southwest region of the USA, where you learn all the fundamentals of the sport without actually facing an animal. The California Academy of Tauromaquia is one of these institutions. After training at their center near San Diego, the class goes on a “field trip” to Mexico. At a ranch just south of the border, in Tecate, students participate in a mock competition at a local ranch.

There are different stepping stones to become a matador, likened to the ranks of competition for a baseball hopeful working their way up to Triple A and finally to the Major Leagues. Unfortunately for aspiring matadors in Mexico there are few bullfighting schools and limited training grounds, as opposed to Spain, where the sport is much more popular and thus training is more available. Inexperienced Mexican "novilleros", must sink or swim against bulls that are beyond their knowledge.

Top matadors have the status and wealth of movie stars. Parents with dreams of power, fame, glory and money for their sons, may push them towards a career of bullfighting, with hopes that they will be the next star! This is not unlike North American parents who envision their children being the next NHL (National Hockey League) star, winning on the PGA (Professional Golfers' Association of America) tour or taking the crown at a Wimbledon tennis tournament.

The quest to becoming a matador is an expensive venture. A professional "torero" is often backed by, or is the son of a matador or bull breeder. In some instances, it has been rumored that young competitors are financed by a syndicate, which gambles on the future of the youngster and naturally shares in his future financial success.

Raquel Martinez, a woman of Mexican decent originally from California, became the first professional female matador in the world in 1981. Although feminine and beautiful outside the ring, she was a bold competitor in the ring.

The youngest matador to ever compete in Mexico, was Rafita Mirabel. He debuted in the ring in Aguascalientes, in 2005, when he was only 8 years old. Rafita faced small animals, but they still outweighed him by 100+ pounds. In Mexico, new matadors usually don’t enter the ring for the first time, until they are 12 or 13 years old. In Spain, an aspiring “torero” can start at 16, but must be at least 18 to actually kill a bull.

The term “bullfight” is actually very misleading English translation of this sport, as the outcome is almost certain. It is not really a fight at all! In most types of sporting events, there is a competition and even the underdog has a chance and an in addition, there is an element of chance or luck involved. But in this sport, the bull is almost always killed, the matador and his team receive accolades and the carcass is dragged out to the butcher shop. However, on very rare occasions, a particularly tough bull can have its life spared by being awarded an “indulto” - a pardon from death. A vet tends to the wounds incurred and the bull goes back to the ranch and spends the rest of his day in an enviable lifestyle of grazing and ‘making baby bulls’. By law, a bull can never be in the ring more than one time in his life.

Fighting bulls are raised as a business, with about 80% having evaluated and destined for the ring and the other 20%, destined to be sold as beef. Those chosen as young animals to be fighting bulls, are raised essentially as wild animals and must be at least four years old before facing a matador in the ring. They have minimal contact with humans and never see a cape until they enter the ring.

A matador’s performance is rated by the fans and the judge. A bad performance provokes boos and jeers (sometimes a near lynching), silence or indifference marks a lackluster performance, polite applause is given for a reasonable showing and an award of one ear, two ears or two ears plus the tail (from the recently deceased bull) is presented for an outstanding performance.

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