October 30, 1998
by Lyn Sherwood
The 1998 Tijuana bullfight season isn't likely to be recorded as one of the best in recent history, but it wasn't without its highlights. Attendance was low, mostly because of a long break in mid-season. Such, at least according to the empresarios, was because they were forced to scrap their plan to offer corridas every other week, in favor of weekly presentations. They didn't invest much time or money in attempting to attract aficionados from north of the border. And, as the majority of Tijuanenses can't afford to buy tickets on a weekly basis, the weekly turnouts were low, they claimed.
However, this observer cannot agree with that assessment. First of all, with the exception of La Plaza Mexico, Tijuana is the most economical place in the world in which to see bullfights. Even if prices should be raised, the aficionados from both sides of the border would respond, if they were offered cards featuring decent bulls and featuring at least one genuine figura. The real answer, we believe, is that those in charge in Mexico City didn't seem willing, at least in 1998, to purchase front line toros from front line ranches, nor to contract the toreros that fans are willing to pay to see. Such was especially true, this year, when considered against the competition provided by the San Diego Padres.
Where was Armillita Chico? Why were Eloy Cavazos and Jorge Gutierrez contracted only once? Where was Luis Fernando Sánchez, Leonardo Benitez, Alejandro Silveti, and several other popular figures? Why was El Conde, who made such a positive impression in his singular appearance, not contracted for more corridas? The same question applies to Oscar San Roman.
Why were we given such a steady diet of comparatively pedestrian toreros, such as Antonio Urrutia and Enrique Garza? And, of greater importance, where were the herds from Hernando Limón, Tequisquiapan, Rancho Seco, Reyes Huerta, Las Huertas, Trincheras, Las Golondrinas, and other front line ranches? Those, I believe, were the issues that were really responsible for the meager attendance figures, for even semi-talented matadors can triumph with authentic, first class bulls.
And, what really caused the hiatus in mid-season? Well, Plaza Judge Luis Pajón, rejected a herd of Pepe Gárfias bulls for being small and weak. The empresarios yelled, "Foul!" and threatened to cancel the season. Yet, several weeks later, when the dispute was resolved, and the well-fed Garfias herd was finally presented, they were disgracefully small and weak.
Other ranches that presented bulls for which the ganaderos should have been ashamed included Santiago, José Julian Llaguno, Célia de Barbosa, Mariano Ramirez, Begoña (Mimiahuapan), Francisco Rivera, and Piedras Negras.
The ranches presenting the best bulls of the summer were Yturbe Hermanos, for Mario del Olmo, Mauricio Portillo, and Fernando Ochoa, and the Refugio Peña sextet, for the Golden Ear corrida. The Yturbe Hermanos herd also included the best bull of the summer, "Sombrerito". The Refugio Peña bulls were particularly outstanding, although their matadores were not up to their challenges.
Others ganaderías worthy of mention came from Corlomé and Los Hermanos Armillita. An outstanding novillada from San Antonio de Triana was offered to César Castañeda and Paco Aviña, in mano-a-mano action, and the novillada from Jesús Cabrera, presented in the season opener to Castañeda, El Juli, and Aviña, was a fine encierro.
The judging was, at best, inconsistent. One week, Sr. Pajón would be tough and unyielding; the next, he would suffer diarrhea of the hankie. But, his biggest sin lay in not granting vueltas, or at least slow drags, to some of the truly outstanding bulls of the summer.
But, there was one, very bright spot. The Tijuanenses finally showed evidence that they are learning something. They were rough on their previous golden boy, Mayito, and they refused to accept the cheap antics of Antonio Urrutia. Perhaps, there's a pony in there, after all.
Counting corridas and novilladas, the season saw rewards of 35 ears and one tail. Of those, only 25 ears were deserved. But, on the other hand, six ears that should have been cut, were not. So, except for those who earned, but didn't cut ears, the trophy count was pretty much of a wash. The following toreros stood out in regular season actions.
In terms of trophies won, Enrique Garza, who received seven ears, must be recognized as the season triunfador. But, he also won the roses for committing the biggest blunder of the season, attempting to open the third act with a péndulo, while seated in a chair, without ever having practiced that ancient suerte. For his trouble, he suffered a small goring in the caboose. But, as willing and courageous as was Garza, he simply did not demonstrate enough artistic talent to ever be classified as anything resembling a first category matador. And, as far as his celebrity with the banderillas is concerned, every pair that we saw him place, this season, was of the same style, al cuarteo from his left side, and his placements were no better than any competent subaltern could have easily accomplished, without the fanfare.
The Best Torero
The best torero of the season was Fernando Ochoa. He cut five ears in his three appearances, and served notice that he is destined for historic greatness. We saw in him a torero who is extremely intelligent, profoundly courageous, and filled with pundonor.
Those Who Impressed
Several young toreros stood out as potential figuras of the immediate future, not the least of whom was Uriel Moreno "El Zapata". Although he frequently put too much salsa picante on his carne asada, he showed excellent details with cape, banderillas, muleta, and sword. Keep an eye on him.
Another who showed great promise was Mario del Olmo. This diminutive youngster has everything that it takes to become a first category matador. He works well with cape and muleta, and has a wonderful personality, but he needs to concentrate more on his sword work.
Following a long tenure as a novillero, César Castañeda became a matador, this past season, and demonstrated that he is worthy of the title. He cut three ears in his first post-alternativa corrida, and of greater importance, demonstrated that he is honest and courageous enough to give the proper lídia, even to difficult bulls. He is very good with the cape, sticks, and muleta. But, his early promise with the sword failed him, later in the summer.
In his lone appearance, Alfredo Ríos "El Conde" cut only one ear, but demonstrated that he may be the most athletic torero on the circuit. We want to see more of him.
We were also impressed by the debuts of Spaniard Andres Sánchez and Ricardo Montaño, and very impressed by Ernesto San Roman,.
In his singular performance as a novillero, we were delighted by the then-15-year-old Spaniard José Julián "El Juli," who won the only tail of the summer. He has since received his alternativa in France, and is impressing the Spanish aficionados with his natural talents. He's a child prodigy, an ace of the near future, if he can avoid a bad goring.
Paco Aviña gave his best as a novillero and may, one day, become a decent matador. But, his Tijuana actions, this summer, due entirely to his lack of experience, were mostly scary. We feared for his life.
The Senior Toreros
Although each has only one appearance, we were very impressed by the actions of Jorge Gutierrez, Eloy Cavazos, and Manolo Arruza. Each was able to demonstrate why he has been a figura for so many years. Arruza offered a wonderful afternoon, on his retirement card. And, Cavazos is performing better, these days, than he did before he "retired," 13 years ago.
But, we were far less than impressed with the work of Mauricio Portillo, Rafaél Ortega, Federico Pizarro, Antonio Urrutia, Ismaél Gómez "Mayito," and Guillermo Capetillo. We have cut some slack for Pizarro, who wasn't afforded much of an opportunity to demonstrate his talents. But, we think that it is time for Urrutia, Capetillo, and Mayito to hang it up and surrender their opportunities to toreros who are willing to give honest, proper lídias. Urrutia and Mayito might make good banderilleros, and Capetillo could concentrate on his acting career, or else help his father on his artichoke farm.
Rafael Ortega was especially disappointing, for in past seasons, he has demonstrated that he is a vary talented torero. But, in recent temporadas, he has cheated every Tijuana aficionado, including his supporters, with cheap demonstrations of tremendísmo.
Urrutia has had good days in the past, but we believe that such represent the extent of his growth. Everything else has been downhill. In his mano-a-mano with Enrique Garza, he was soundly, terribly, and totally humiliated.
Thus, we bid farewell to Tijuana 1998, and hope for better seasons in the future.