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Formerly great bullfighter offers pitiful spectacle in Guadalajara

February 5, 2013

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Legendary Mexican matador Rodolfo “El Pana” Rodriguez entered the Nuevo Progreso Plaza de Toros to the strains of mariachi music on Sunday to open Guadalajara’s principal bullfighting season with one of his last ever performances.

Thick plumes of cigar smoke filled the air as wealthier guests took their seats in the shade, while those of a more modest background sweated it out in the sun. All came prepared for the occasion, wearing sombreros and swigging tequila from leather bags known as botas.

After seeing a 500-kilo bull bled by his assistants and impaled with bandilleras (wooden spikes decorated with colored paper), Rodriguez baited the beast with the customary red flag and sought to deliver the estocada, a single, fatal thrust in which the sword is driven up to its hilt between the bull’s shoulder blades.

This aging professional seemed to have lost his touch, twice attempting in vain to deliver the killer blow. Upon his third attempt, Rodriguez buried the sword, but missed the desired spot. Instead of dying instantly, the bull staggered, blood gushing from its mouth, before finally collapsing to the ground.

The crowd hissed and jeered while aids dashed into the arena to administer a fatal blow to the head and mop up the crimson mess. This was not how the bulls are supposed to die.

Younger Spanish matadors Morante de la Puebla and Alejandro Talavante gave better performances, but the crowd remained underwhelmed by the spectacle once three of the six fights were over.

Rodriguez returned for round two, but drew further derision from the audience after failing again to kill the bull in an even remotely dignified manner.

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The same afternoon, hundreds of demonstrators stained themselves in red paint and marched across Mexico City, calling for a nationwide ban to this controversial blood sport. Around 9,000 bulls are slaughtered every year in Mexican bull rings, the abolitionists say.

Advocates argue that this is part of Mexico’s cultural heritage, but then so too was gladiatorial combat part of Italy’s past, but no one in their right mind would defend such a practice today.

In what was due to be Sunday’s final corrida, Talavante finally provided some entertainment, artfully luring his bull from one side of him to another without moving an inch from where he was stood. The crowd responded with cheers, waving white handkerchiefs and tossing their sombreros into the ring as a mark of appreciation for the matador’s skill and bravery.

But the event, which had drawn on for nearly three hours, was not over yet.

His ego wounded at being outdone at his Guadalajara swansong, Rodriguez paid out of his own pocket for a third bull to be brought in to face him. Yet the audience had already lost interest and once again Rodriguez proved incapable of performing the estocada.

What followed was a truly pathetic spectacle: an old man, once respected as a great matador, impotently stabbing a collapsed bull until it finally gave up the ghost.

This time no one threw their hats into the arena once the deed was done. Most of the spectators had already left.

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