Bullfighter’s Return Stuns a Hardened Sport – NYTimes.com


Bullfighter’s Return Stuns a Hardened Sport - NYTimes.com

MADRID — Five months after surviving a horrifying goring, Juan José Padilla, one of Spain’s leading bullfighters, wears a patch over his left eye and cannot chew any food, even after a series of surgeries to reconstruct part of his face.

But his recovery is startling for a man who was last seen in images shown around the world stumbling out of a bullring, holding his bloodied face and screaming, “I can’t see!” as his shocked fans looked on.


Mr. Padilla will take a further step on Sunday, when he will re-enter the ring in the western town of Olivenza, making a comeback at a speed that has stunned the rest of the bullfighting profession.


“Sunday will feel like a dream come true, after some very hard months, and I’m fully aware that nobody thought I would be back now,” he said.


Last Oct. 7, Mr. Padilla was gored after slipping on the sand of Saragossa’s bullring. The bull’s horn pierced the fighter’s lower jaw and came out through his left eye socket.


Since his hospitalization, Mr. Padilla says he has spent his time between medical visits training hard, adding that he had killed as many as 10 bulls on private farms in preparation for his return.


Still, fighting with an eye patch will be a challenge at this level of bullfighting, making it particularly dangerous for Mr. Padilla whenever the bull brushes past him on his blind left side.


Despite his injuries, Mr. Padilla, 38, said that he had been encouraged by his wife and two children, although he acknowledged that his comeback did create “some divisions” within his family.


“My parents couldn’t understand why I would want to return,” he said.


Mr. Padilla’s decision comes amid an intense debate in Spain over bullfighting, attacked as a barbaric ritual by animal rights activists but defended by its supporters as a central component of Spanish culture.


His goring, which followed another accident a year before when Julio Aparicio was pierced through the throat, has done little to alter the debate. Mr. Aparicio has also returned to the ring, and Mr. Padilla insisted that his comeback was not about raising the general level of sympathy and admiration for bullfighters.


Mr. Padilla had been wounded before, notably to the neck in 2001 during a fight in Pamplona — although that injury took less than a month to heal. This time, the left side of his face had to be reconstructed with titanium plates and mesh.


“I’m somebody who has always accepted the risks of my profession, as well as its rewards,” he said.


While matadors like Mr. Padilla have been unbending in their commitment to bullfighting, the larger fortunes of the profession have undergone turmoil in the last several years.


Since 2007 and the start of the financial crisis, bullfighting has come under pressure in Spain because of public subsidy cuts, slashing the number of fights by more than a third. Catalonia stopped bullfighting in September, after its regional Parliament voted to ban it.


But in November, the conservative Popular Party, led by Mariano Rajoy, returned to power after almost eight years of Socialist government. Mr. Rajoy is himself an aficionado of the sport and his party has long spearheaded efforts to enshrine bullfighting in the national cultural patrimony.


As evidence of the political swing, Spain’s national television announced last month that it would again show bullfights, after abandoning its coverage in 2006 under the Socialist administration.


“I’m here to promote bullfighting and not to get involved in politics,” Mr. Padilla said, “but it’s obviously good to have a government that defends our interests.”



Bullfighter’s Return Stuns a Hardened Sport – NYTimes.com.

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