While the other matadores maintained solemn expressions during their formal parade into the plaza, Eloy Cavazos, the 5'-2" “Little Giant,” sauntered along as if he were on his way to pick up his best girl for the junior prom.
As he would throw back his head, smile, flash his dimples, and challenge 1,000 pounds of brave bull, the crowds went wild. Men envied him; women wanted to mother him; and young girls screamed at the apparent David & Goliath confrontation that was developing on the sand.
But, when he raised the sword, a hush would overcome the entire plaza. Eloy would literally throw himself over the horns, usually delivering a perfect estocada. In spite of his elfin stature, he was one of the finest swordsmen in the world.
Later, during his triumphant turn of the ring, the aficionados would smother him in flowers, wineskins, and an occasional baby bottle. His ebullient personality, flashing dimples, and legendary courage made him one of the most popular toreros of the Mexican scene from the late-1960s through the new millennium. Eloy’s charismatic presence engulfed the plazas de toros.
He was born in Monterrey, Mexico, Aug. 25, 1950. From the beginning, bullfighting was the dominant factor in his life. His father was the live-in guard at Plaza de Guadalupe, the home town bullring. Thus, Eloy was constantly surrounded by toreros. But, he was always so short, most people discouraged him from even thinking about being a torero. Eloy, however, knew that he could do it.
When he was only 14, he appeared in more than 100 novilladas. On one afternoon, he fought two bulls, in each of three different plazas de toros. At the end of the day, he commented, “I’m hungry.”
And, in Monterrey, they loved him so much, they re-named one of their bullrings, “Plaza Eloy Cavazos.”
In 1984, following one of the most successful careers in Mexican bullfight history, Eloy Cavazos announced that he would fight one more year, then retire to his ranch, his family, and his various investments. The bulls had made him wealthy, but it was time to call it quits.
When matadores of the importance of Cavazos retire, they work a final corrida in each of the major plazas de toros in which they have performed, finishing in Mexico City and sometimes a last corrida in the torero’s home town. Such is especially true of matadores from Monterrey, the cradle of Mexican bullfighting.
Eloy’s retirement campaign brought tears to the eyes of the aficionados, including those few journalists who, through the years, had been critical of Cavazos for relying more on his personality than on his talents.
On March 10, 1985, for his retirement ceremony in Mexico City’s La Plaza Mexico, Eloy was the sole matador on a card of six bulls. Two weeks later, for that which he insisted would be the last time that he would dress in the suit of lights, in his beloved home town of Monterrey, the diminutive torero again faced six bulls. At the end of the afternoon, he had cut 12 ears and four tails.
Thereafter, Eloy suffered an illness, which was reportedly the result of eating poorly-prepared, or unsanitary, pork. Surgeons removed parasites from his brain. But, they were unable to remove his gusano, that mythical worm of afición that lives in the belly of every torero and feasts upon his fear. When the fear is removed, as in retirement, it is said that the gusano feasts upon the man.
Eloy’s gusano was getting hungry. To stifle it, he performed in an informal charity festival, and in one of them, suffered the most grave goring of his career. The horn that ripped open his stomach nearly killed him. That would be, he insisted, really his last fight.
During the next couple of years, the rumors persisted that Eloy was bored, and that only his concern for his family was keeping him away from the bulls. But, eventually, the gusano overcame even that barrier. Like the addict who falls off the wagon, Cavazos again began training. In 1987, he announced his return from retirement. And, by 1988, he was back, stronger than ever.
His schedule was limited. He worked only a couple of afternoons a month. But, Eloy’s fans and supporters seemed content. Two corridas a month is better than no Eloy, at all. And, he was performing better than he had, even before his short-lived retirement. Those new aficionados who saw him for the first time were amazed at the ease with which the tiny maestro dominated his bulls, and especially the way that he killed.
How long would he continue? How many seasons would the Little Giant perform, before again retiring? Those were questions that everybody pondered. But, all found reason to rejoice in the fact that Eloy Cavazos had returned, and they were enjoying it while it lasted.
Well, that time has arrived. Cavazos has announced that the 2008 season will be his last. It will marking his 44th year as a Matador de Toros. Does he really mean it, this time? Will he make still another return to the rings? Those are questions that only Eloy can answer, and only time will reveal the truth.