November 19, 1999
by Lyn Sherwood
"Julimania" has impacted, full force, on Tijuana. In an extraordinary post-season corrida, 18-year-old Matador Julián López "El Juli," the Madrid kid who came out of nowhere to capture the enthusiasm and imagination of aficionados throughout the world, will perform, this coming Sunday, at 2 p.m. in an afternoon that is expected to register only the second total sell-out in the history of the "Beautiful Bullring by The Sea." Not since Antonio Ordoñez, the subject of Ernest Hemingway's "The Dangerous Summer," attracted a capacity crowd to that bullring, more than 30 years ago, has any matador generated so much excitement and anticipation. To the bullfight world, El Juli is as bid as Pokémon.
Baby-Faced 18-year-old Julián "El Juli",
the world's numbe one matador will perform in an extraordinary
post-season bullfight, Sunday, Nov. 21, at 2 p.m., in Tijuana's
"Beautiful Bullring by The Sea."
Yet, prior to 1997, few aficionados had ever heard of "El Juli." Today, the innocent-looking, 18-year-old, who in only his first year as a full matador, has become a millionaire and an international sensation. He has performed in Tijuana, previously, but only in the capacity of a novillero. He was scheduled to make his Tijuana debut as a professional matador, last May, but had to cancel, after suffering a goring in Sevilla, then retired to the infirmary and the awaiting surgeons, who operated on a horn wound in El Juli's left leg.
He quickly bounced back and performed in more than 135 corridas, this past summer, in Spain, France, and South America. This past August, he fought 32 times in only 30 days. But, in September, he suffered another serious cornada, in his left thigh. Only three weeks later, he returned to the rings, performing as if his life depended on it, which in fact, it did.
"Gorings are the price to be paid for being in such a dangerous profession. It's the way that one is consecrated as a torero and as a man," he said.
The baby-faced torero, who looks like he should be carrying a teddy bear, rather than a sword, faced his first, young bull, in a village festival, when he was only nine years old. At 11, he enrolled in the Madrid bullfight academy, and four years later, embarked upon a career in which the average matador receives the last rites of his church six times. But, Spanish laws don't allow novilleros under 16 years of age to perform in novilladas picadas, only in the económicas, with smaller, younger bulls, without picadores. So, he and his manager/father flew to Mexico, where El Juli became an immediate hit. In his first nine months in Mexican bullrings, he faced 102 bulls and was awarded 70 ears and three tails.
He became an instant success in Mexico City's "La Plaza Mexico," the world's largest bullring. In one of his 1997 performances, which was witnessed by more than 40,000 spectators, he became the only Spanish novillero in the history of that prestigious plaza to register an indulto, in which the bull's life was spared. Tears flowed down El Juli's cheeks, as the cheering fans lifted him atop their shoulders and carried him from the plaza. Mexico proclaimed him a bullfight genius, a child protegé. Empresarios throughout the world clamored to contract him.
He then dominated South America with apparent ease. In one afternoon in Quito, Ecuador, he was awarded four ears and a tail.
At 16, in his novillero debut in Madrid's Plaza de Las Ventas, the world's most demanding aficionados rocked the stands with olés and music, as El Juli faced all six bulls.
On Sept. 18, 1998, in Nimes, France, El Juli received his alternativa of matadorship. He was carried out on shoulders in each of his first 20 performances as a matador. When he turned 18, as a full matador, he took Spain by storm, filling the plaza de toros, wherever he performed. At the conclusion of the 1999 Spanish season, he was proclaimed the número uno of that world capital of bullfighting.
Since then, his repertoire of bullfighting disciplines has grown dramatically. He knows how to perform 30 different cape lances; he places his own banderillas; and he's an absolute master with the red muleta.
In this Sunday's Tijuana performance, for which he will be paid $100,000 El Juli will alternate with two stars of Mexican bullfighting the exciting Uriel Moreno "El Zapata" and Tijuanense César Castañeda, facing six bulls of Doña Celia Barbabosa. As all three matadors place their own banderillas, the competition among them promised to be spirited.
Tickets are currently on sale in the downtown Plaza El Toreo bullring. Any remaining tickets will be sold at the "Bullring by The Sea," Nov. 21.