La prensa

Ahora, viene lo duro… Joselito Adame’s long climb to the top

Author: Mark Schwarz
Created: 25 July, 2014
Updated: 13 September, 2023
5 min read

Mexican matador Joselito Adame is, beyond doubt, the most legitimate aspirant to the long vacant position of numero uno—the number one torero in Mexico. Not since the heydays of Manolo Martinez, Eloy Cavazos, and Curro Rivera, has Mexico had a torero with the combination of technical capacity, mature artistry and crowd appeal as the 24 year old from Aguascalientes. Since taking the alternativa and becoming a full matador in 2007 in Arles, France, Adame has overcome every obstacle placed in his path—and there have been many—to convert himself into Mexico’s undisputed ace and a rival to the greatest figuras of Spain.

After years of malevolent neglect from the controlling interests in Mexico, Adame earned three consecutive Puertas Grande (leaving the bullring on the shoulders of the crowd, a diluted, but still noteworthy, measure of a particular afternoon’s success), this year during the Mexico City winter season. In all, Adame appeared four times during the season, a risky bet for a leading matador, and cut a total of 8 ears, coming within spitting distance of obtaining an unheard of 4th consecutive Puerta Grande. A string of equally impressive triumphs in the important plazas of Leon, Guadalajara, Pachuca, Texcoco and Aguascalientes proved that Adame’s claim was legitimate, and, along with the still fresh memory of his successful appearances in Madrid’s Las Ventas bullring in 2013, softened up the egregiously difficult Spanish market, where Adame was contracted for the Valencia fair in March, and two appearances each in the all-important ferias of Sevilla and Madrid.

So much for the easy part.

The mother country, and especially Sevilla and Madrid (ESPECIALLY Madrid), takes its responsibility to taurine posterity with a ferocious, obsessive, gravity and must therefore be assured that any torero with pretensions of joining the elite passes a demanding test (or, more correctly, testS) in order to receive the imprimatur. If you also happen to be a foreigner, the tests, their number, the interpretation of their results, and their significance for future success border on the Kafkaesque.

The particulars vary with individual toreros, but a typical experience runs something like this:

A torero from the Americas (or, increasingly, France) has an exceptional performance (or series of performances) in a smaller, but significant, plaza. Critics take note. The potential phenomenon is contracted to appear in the plaza of a larger, more important city—especially Sevilla or Madrid.

He also does well in this performance. An offer is made to perform at a future date during the important Feria de la Primavera (Sevilla) or San Isidro (Madrid). He will be facing the largest possible bulls from a ranch which is known for the intransigence of its stock, or, possibly, a ranch which has had a few bad showings lately, is now in need of a triumph, but which no leading matador will risk facing until a reasonable chance of success can be entertained.

During this performance, one of two possibilities are realized—

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1) He fails to cut ears, or even show very well. This, of course, is totally expected. He’s a foreigner, he’s not dealt with bulls like these or a public this knowledgeable and demanding, but, presuming his general disposition to the opportunity has been sufficiently respectful, he’ll be thanked with polite applause and given a vague offer of a substitution or, maybe, another opportunity; next year, sometime, or…

He triumphs with either, or both bulls. He cuts ears. He electrifies the crowd and the critics, who sing his praises and proclaim him the new Messiah, or reasonable facsimile. He’s the new fenomeno. There are interviews. Photo shoots. Magazine covers. Maybe a substitution for a wounded comrade in another of the feria’s cartels. A smattering of contracts in the plethora of summer or fall fairs across the breadth of the Spanish countryside where he will appear with greybeards on the way down, or local color guys who have this one corrida every year, never-wases who have no other skill—and the bulls from the hard ranches—las ganaderias duras.

He perseveres. He may triumph. Grudgingly, promoters and the established figuras realize that he can’t be avoided. The press and popular opinion call for more appearances, better bulls, for the leading lights to accept the challenge.

He is contracted for a performance in Sevilla, or Madrid, with the aforementioned cast of questionable talent, reducing the size of the crowd and, therefore, the potential impact of a new triumph. The bulls will be the largest to be found on the Peninsula, from any of a number of aggressivity challenged breeding ranches and one of two things will happen… (see first chance above…) or, (and this terrifies taurine Madrid) or, he triumphs, in which case, he may get a few contracts…and the process repeats itself.

The last truly successful foreigner in Spain—and the world—has been the great French born, Sevilla raised Sebastian Castella—who in many respects is Spanish by cultural affinity more than French—he was a schoolboy when his father moved the family to Sevilla. Although a leading apprentice torero—or novillero—it took Castella almost 7 years to finally break the techo de vidrio in Madrid and consolidate himself as a legitimate figura. Even the great Julian Lopez, “El Juli”—long acknowledged as one of the greatest toreros of all time, has cut two ears in Madrid as a matador only once in his career—after nearly 8 years as a full matador, and unquestioned mandon of the international taurine scene.

Such is the world that Joselito Adame now faces. Thus far, he’s confronted the challenges of the business side of the profession with the same quiet confidence as he confronts his bulls—and thus far, it seems to be working.

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