July 20, 2001

Bullfight World...
By Lyn Sherwood

The Death of Joselito Huerta

From the viewpoint of the crowd, he was a rather dull, dry torero. His sad, cow eyes, slight frame, deliberate attitude, and an expression that only infrequently reflected a smile, failed to excite them.

Joselito Huerta is performing, today. ho hum.

While his counterparts paced the floor, chain smoked, or slept fitfully during those nervous hours preceding the corrida, Joselito usually played dominoes. And, after the corrida, while the other matadores enthusiastically celebrated with wine and song, Huerta would enjoy a quiet dinner in some unobtrusive corner.

Shy and introverted outside the ring, he always shunned the spotlight. But, in the ring, he was a taurine scientist. While some toreros can shine only with bulls that accommodate their styles, Joselito gave each bull a proper, intelligent, honorable lídia.

I first became acquainted with Joselito Huerta in 1956, when he was registering triumphs throughout the Iberian Peninsula. The Spaniards loved his style, because it seemed so well, so Spanish.

He was born on Jan. 24, 1934, in Tetela de Ocampo, Puebla, Mexico. At 15 years of age, in Mexico City, he saw Paco Ortiz perform, and on Nov. 18, 1951, Huerta made his own debut as a torero, at the Almeya bull ranch in Iguala, Guerrero.

His first appearance in suit of lights was Nov. 9, 1952, in Acapulco. On May 16, 1954, he made his debut in La Plaza Mexico, an afternoon in which he won two ears and left the plaza on the shoulders on his cheering fans.

In 1955, Huerta went to Spain, where he made his Iberian debut in Jerez de la Frontera, on May 2, cutting three ears. He was presented in Madrid on July 24. And, on Sept. 29, in Sevilla, he received his alternativa from the hands of Antonio Bienvenida, with Antonio Vásquez as the witness. On Christmas Day of 1955, Huerta confirmed his alternativa in Mexico City. His sponsor was Antonio Velás-quez, with César Giron as the witness.

Huerta was known not only for his talents, but his pundonor. In the mid `60s, during a Golden Sword corrida in Tijuana, Huerta received a dream bull. It ran as if on the proverbial rails, straight and consistent, without hook or buck. A real toro de bandera. Best of all, it was a safe bull. Its horns were so brocho, they practically touched in front.

But, after a few cursory muletazos, Joselito dropped the bull with one, clean sword thrust. The crowd reacted angrily. The ring filled with cushions. Joselito merely bowed and saluted the fans. Later, I asked him why he had not taken advantage of his opportunity.

"Lyn, didn't you see the horns? They presented no danger. A triumph with that bull would have been meaningless."

For most of his career, Joselito practiced his art without much fanfare. He quietly became a very wealthy man. In the process, he suffered 18 gorings, but most were minor. And, he was one of only a few Mexicans in history who consistently triumphed in Spain, where his seriousness was appreciated. But most of the Mexican Bullfight World merely tolerated him.

Then, tragedy thrust him, dramatically, into the minds of all aficionados. It was Nov. 30, 1968, in El Toreo de Cuatro Caminos, just outside the federal district of Mexico City. Joselito was featured on a card with the popular Mexican, Eloy Cavazos, and the celebrated Spaniard, Palomo Linares.

He invested great effort in his first bull, but was enable to please the crowd. They abused him.

"Sometimes, the fans demand too much," he reflected. "They want you to make more and more passes, and bring the horns closer and closer..."

At the beginning of the third act with his second bull, he made a geometric error, one of the few that he had ever committed. The bull drove a vicious horn into Joselito's lower abdomen, then ripped upward. His intestines flew into the air.

He died in the infirmary, but the surgeons were able to revive him. The next day, the headline of one Mexico City newspaper announced, NO HOPE FOR HUERTA'S LIFE.

He hung on. He endured three surgeries in as many weeks. Surgeons removed pieces of infected intestines. There were other complications. Joselito began to believe that he would die. He looked like a refugee from Biafra. Finally, the surgeons announced that he would live, but he would never face another bull. He might never again walk. The injury was labeled the worst, non-fatal goring in Mexican bullfight history.

Scarcely a year later, Joselito Huerta returned to the rings. But, once again, disaster struck. A horn hit him in the side of the head. He considered it just another golpe. But, he began to suffer severed headaches. Then, a few weeks later, just prior to a corrida, he collapsed and became comatose.

He was flown to Switzerland, where surgeons removed a non-malignant tumor from his brain. The prognosis was that Joselito Huerta would spend the rest of his life in a wheelchair.

A few months later, he again returned to the rings. When I asked him why he did not use his injuries as an honorable exit, he responded, "For more than a quarter century, the bulls have been my life. I must not, at this late date, allow them to dictate to me. I shall decide when I'll retire; I cannot allow the bulls to make that decision for me."

A year later, Joselito Huerta did retire. On Jan. 28, 1973, he removed the pigtail from the back of his head, scooped up a handful of sand from the floor of La Plaza Mexico, kissed it and let it run through his fingers. The crowd cheered. Many wept. At last, they realized that for so many years, they had ignored a true genius.

But, three years ago, Huerta contracted Hepatitis C. And, on July 11, that affliction killed him. He leaves his wife, Martha Chávez de Huerta and Children Iliana, José, Jorge, and Omar.

Adios, Joselito. You were a fine torero, a great gentleman, and good friend. I'll miss you.


Tijuana Review...

by Gary Sloan

The seventh corrida of the 2001 season was celebrated, July 15, and featured Rafael Ortega, Oscar San roman, and Uriel Moreno "El Zapata," facing bulls of Mimiahuapan.

The bulls ranged from 440-495 kilos and were difficult.


Rafael opened with rather tepid verónicas and the media. After two hard pics, Ortega placed banderillas, but found himself in dangerous circumstances. As he fled, with the bull gaining ground, Oscar San Roman dashed out and made the takeaway. The crowd applauded him.

But, the bull, "Joselito," proved to be very difficult and dangerous. But, Ortega managed to work it well, killed well, and won an ear. The matador also managed to win an ear from his second bull, following a very good performance.

San Roman

Oscar was applauded for his efforts to his first bull. He did better with his second bull, although his performance was disjointed and devoid of domination. But, following a good sword, he earned an ear.

El Zapata

Obviously still bothered by a goring that he received a few weeks ago, El Zapata was, nevertheless, eager to succeed. He accomplished little with his first bull, but, with his second animal, he suffered a horrendous mauling, which luckily resulted in no goring. Nevertheless, the performance was good enough to win an ear, although the public petitioned for the second appendage.

Return to the Frontpage