La prensa

Eloy Cavazos re-appears in Tlaquepaque

Author: Mark Schwarz
Created: 11 April, 2014
Updated: 13 September, 2023
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4 min read

Pablo Hermoso de Mendoza (left) and Eloy Cavazos
Pablo Hermoso de Mendoza (left) and Eloy Cavazos

Just when we thought it was safe—appealing—even, to return to the Plazas de Toros de Mexico, the apparently eternal Eloy Cavazos, has returned to the ring. Less than a year after stating that he was retiring “definitively” from any kind of performance due to worsening problems in his right shoulder, the diminutive 64 year old maestro from Monterrey has returned to action in the century (116 years, exactly) old plaza “Centenario” in Tlaquepaque, Jalisco, near Guadalajara.

“El Pequeno Gigante” cut two ears from his hyperactive opponent from the Montecristo ranch and left the remodeled plaza on the shoulders of the appreciative crowd, along with Spanish master rejoneador Pablo Hermoso de Mendoza.

Normally, Cavazos’ appearance wouldn’t be newsworthy. Since his last “retirement” from formal performances in 2009, Cavazos—renowned for his amazing physical shape and unflagging charisma—has been a frequent, and coveted, participant in benefit festivals throughout Mexico. His “cartel”—”box office” has barely waned in nearly 50 years of professional activity and his name is all but a guarantee of a sell out; he is beloved as Mexico’s most capable and successful taurine ambassador since the great Carlos Arruza of the 1940s and 50s.

Why this particular return is exciting so much press, then, is a bit worrisome. While there is no credible argument to be made against Cavazos’ capacity as a true “figura de epoca”—a trend setting, internationally recognized expert— the 1,000 watt smile. His uncanny ability to play the (admittedly gullible) crowd, his essential decency, and legendary discipline hide a darker side that deformed and defanged Mexican toreo in the generations subsequent to the undisputed reign he and alter-ego and fellow “regiomontano”, Manolo Martinez, constructed and enforced in the 70s and 80s. In Cavazos’ case, the 90s and 00s as well (Martinez died in La Jolla in 1996 waiting for a kidney transplant).

During their 20-year hey-day, the Martinez/Cavazos diarchy essentially controlled the historically rickety Mexican taurine infrastructure, making themselves the twin ejes—axis—increasing their own appearances while systematically reducing the probability of serious competition from foreign or domestic enemies, human and bovine.

Cavazos himself performed in 127 “corridas” in 1977, setting a dubiously valid taurine record that was so egregiously flawed that no one affiliated with official statistics of the art ever cites it as fact. Dangerous new matadors from outside the traditional family networks were blacklisted and blocked (the great Rodolfo Rodriguez, “El Pana” is perhaps the most notorious example). The Mexican bull—by nature smaller and differently aggressive than their larger, more temperamental Spanish cousins, was degraded to the point where any serious threat to the toreros was almost regarded as an error in breeding.

Martinez, perhaps, was instrumental in the watering down of the Mexican breed’s ferocity and trapio (their physical and behavioral presence in the ring) due to several brutal gorings over the course of his exalted career. Cavazos is quietly famous for the unusual frequency of short horned opponents as his career stretched into the decades, and nasty rumors about brother and peon de confianza David—hacksaw in hand—preceding the master’s arrival at the corrals of the ring to “arrange” those natural defenses that somehow evaded the rancher’s best efforts to alter the morphological DNA. While the lack of a serious Mexican figura appears to have been overcome, the frightening denaturing of the Mexican toro bravo—to what taurine critic Horacio Reiba refers to as the “post-toro mexi-cano” continues to negatively affect the spectacle in profound ways.

If the return of Cavazos to formal performance is imminent —a possibility hinted at by taurine website Al Toro Mexico director Juan Antonio de Labra—what can we expect?

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Mexico seems to be on the verge of a true renaissance of toreo mexicano. Promoters such as Casa Toreros, the pioneering empresarial group that now manages Tijuana’s “Monumental de Playas,” as well as a growing number of increasingly important plazas and fairs throughout Mexico, have begun to promote a fiesta of integrity and vigor, by offering the best of an admittedly thin crop of toros bravos, opportunities to unjustly forgotten senior toreros, and fomenting the capacity of still green novilleros.

Diffusion of the art through social media has been extremely well received, and a new generation of aficionados is learning to advocate for a more serious fiesta and protest when it feels it has been disrespected.

At this point, Cavazos has little to gain—or lose—from such an undertaking; his reputation has been made, and, ambiguous legacy aside, it is unassailable.

He alone is the survivor of the last gilded age (not gold or silver, but, maybe, teflon or aluminum…) of Mexican toreo; Martinez, Antonio Lomelin, Curro Rivera and Mariano Ramos, even the great David Silveti—contemporaries and competitors—all have died, leaving Cavazos—not at all ironically—as the repository of the artistic and technical legacy of the post-Arruza era. Which Cavazos will reappear now? The inspirational “Pequeno Gigante” of his early years, or the smooth but disconnected master of final episodes—content to trade vivid memories for cold cash? Stay tuned…

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