Yes, really. I flipped around the stations after the Charlie Brown special on Sunday night and ran into a live bullfight on a
station. Live. In all my years of watching Mexican
television, I have NEVER seen this.
I came in at the end of one bout. The bull was, well, kinda small. He spent most of his time trying to run away from the matador. For his part, the matador did at least finish things very cleanly with a sword thrust and the bull died immediately.
I got to see the entirety of the next bout. The matador was interviewed beforehand. (The bull declined.) For the beginning of the fight, the bullfighter sat on his knees in front of the bull chute, holding his cape out in front of him. Oh My God! A large, angry bull suddenly burst out and the matador barely dodged him. This is a larger bull. I’ve seen bigger, but I would not be comfortable in an enclosed space with this bull.
The matador was able dance around him for a while, tiring him, before the lancer came out on an armored horse. The bull got the worst of this engagement. If you think a cape isn’t a lot of protection against a charging bull, try a pair of small javelins. The matador managed to jab two sets of these into the bull’s shoulders. The matador returned with a cape, and while the bull was in the act of dying, he was more dangerous. The bullfighter got a little too close and was trampled briefly. The TV coverage gave several replays of this.
Here was the greatest act of courage, in my opinion. The matador was not injured, but went back to face the bull. He returned with a sword for the final act and drove it hilt deep between the beast’s shoulders. This did not finish him off. It got him good and angry. The matador went at him with three more swords, nearly getting gored each time. Finally, the bull laid down, beaten. Another matador finished him with a dagger to the back of the head.
Strangely, I didn’t feel sorry for the bull. The average domesticated bull goes down with a shot to the head, never seeing it coming. The fighting bull is not leaving the ring alive, but at least has a chance to die well, perhaps even taking out a tormentor or two. “Sometimes the bull wins,” as they say. Given the anger they display, if you could ask them, this is probably how they’d want to go.
For the bullfighter, it’s an act of courage, bordering on insanity. I read a Sports Illustrated article once, profiling a matador. The list of this man’s injuries was chilling. He'd broken nearly every bone in his body and had had even testicles torn out. No one accuses a matador of doing what they do because they hate bulls. Like a big game hunter, they respect their opponent. Likewise, the audience respects the bull too. They admire the matador’s courage and skill. They know the bull is doomed, but very capable of ensuring a tragic end for the bullfighter. It’s not a sport, it’s actual life and death.
Here's a view of the stadium.
The image is from this blog, by a person who clearly knows more about this sport than I do. It's from a couple of years ago. There are many other pictures there.