March 28, 2008

Bullfight World
By Lyn Sherwood

The New Focus Is On Child Toreros

The late, great Juan Belmonte received the bug of afición to be a matador when he was a mere child. There are photos that show him “killing” his brother, during an early training session in his living room. He was only seven years of age.

Since then, especially in light of the many new bullfight schools in Spain, young matador wannabes are initiating their careers while still wearing short pants.

However, as Spanish laws don’t permit anybody under the age of 18 to perform in an organized event, today’s pre-pubescent toreros all come to perform in Mexico, where there are no such laws. José Julian “El Juli” is a prime example. He is, today, one of the world’s highest rated matadors.

One of the most celebrated toreros in the world has never killed a bull. How is this possible? How has this kid, Rafita Marabal—whose age is somewhere between 12 and 15 (it keeps changing)—shown up on television programs and on magazine covers, throughout the world? Yet, to date, although he has performed as an “added attraction” in many important bullrings, he has yet to actually raise a sword to a bull, so perhaps he is undeserving of the accolades that he has already received.

Mexico has no law regarding the minimum age of toreros. Thus, the baby bullfighters, the kids who are looking for opportunities to torear, but are prevented from doing so, because of the Spanish calendar, often travel to Mexico and South America. And, a few of them have been quite successful.

A case in point is El Juli, who came to torear in Mexico when he was only 16, and has since become one of the leading matadors in the world. But, El Juli graduated from one of the most exclusive bullfight schools in Madrid,. He was a totally competent torero, long before he ever made his professional debut.

Another is 14-year-old Spaniard Jairo Miguel, who a year ago, nearly died in a Mexican plaza de toros. The horn penetrated close to Miguel’s heart. A few months later, Miguel suffered still another goring, not nearly as serious as his first one, but nevertheless an indication that he is, after all, just a kid.

For his second birthday, his father, a retired matador, gave the boy a cape. That marked the beginning of that which promises to be a very profitable, albeit painful and dangerous career.

The latest baby bullfighter to capture headlines is the French/Mexican Michel Lagravere “Michelito” Peniche, who became attracted to bullfighting at the age of five. Today, Michelito has killed more than 60 bulls, and has the scars to prove that the bulls don’t care that their adversaries are only kids.

Most of the authentic taurine focus is on Michelito, who seems to possess a degree of talent that supercedes his juvenile competitors. Michelito has been very active in South America, where he has impressed audiences in some of the bullfight world’s most prestigious plazas de toros.

But, the emergence of the baby bullfighter boom has inspired mixed reactions from the press and other interested entities. Anti bullfight campaigner Alyx Dow, of WSPA International, a global animal welfare organization, said, “We are disappointed to hear that children are being trained to fight bulls in Peru.”

But, that opinion isn’t shared by promoters such as Victor Leyton Diaz, of Lima, Peru. “Cultural attractions like this attract tourists”.

And, a Mexican promoter signed Jairo Miguel to a very lucrative, five-year contract that will earn him 190,000 euros, per year.

What does the future hold for these kids who dream of some day earning the doctorate of matadorship? Only time will tell. And, sometimes, for the torero, time is a more deadly threat than all of the bulls in the world.

But, Bullfight World will be watching these kids, as they progress. Or, not.

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