THE CLUB THAT RISKS DEATH TWICE A WEEK!
One, Enrique Ponce from Valencia is the all time Pontiff wizard of this exclusive Club having performed the trick ten times. If you add performances in South America—Ponce has survived capping bulls for his livelihood EVERY OTHER DAY OF THE ENTIRE YEAR for ten consecutive years!
The first member of the exclusive 100 Club I met was the great Torero Luis Miguel Dominguin, lover of Ava Gardner, making chairman of the board-- Frank Sinatra Hollywood’s biggest cockhold. “Dominguin” was the established Matador of the 50’s when the young upstart Antonio Ordoñez came along. It was a fierce rivalry, (known as a mano a mano combat) in front of a wide eyed polarized audience throughout Spain in 1955. Hemingway immortalized the epoch in his famous pieces for Life magazine called “The Dangerous Summer”. Papa telegraphed his story across the Atlantic at a charge of nine $ per word which made him the most expensive writer in history, for the times.
Following Luis Miguel Dominquin’s achievement the 100 Club went into oblivion for almost 20 years until the Beatle of the bullring came along, Manuel Benitez “El Cordobes.” He excited everyone! Manolo is as charming a person as his constant and effervescent smile portrays. By himself he brought back the masses with his daring feats and frightening escapades. When the owners of the seven largest rings decided he was charging too much too perform he went to every small ring in Spain and became even more popular. El Cordobes kick started the whole toro ritual again and brought a new generation back to the Fiesta Bravo. God I remember his duck walk as he entered the plaza. Both feet’s toes splayed out as wide as possible as he entered walking on his back heels. A Charlie Chaplin vaudeville routine relived. He knew every eye in the plaza was focused just on him. After the initial capping, picking and banderillas he would take the center of the ring and jump up and down until the toro charged….then, just before the bull got near him he would whoosh the muleta (red cape) behind his back and the bull would miraculously swerve just missing the star. Breath taking. We all stood mouth agape. No one ever applauded for the longest time still trying to format in their own minds what they had seen and could not quite believe.
There were others, one Miguel Marquez. But after EL CORDOBES who wouldn’t be vulgar and uninteresting? The Club again fell asleep and it was after 17 years that another action torero full of antics appeared, Juan Ruiz “Espartaco”. From 1982-92 he finished number one drawing attraction in eight of the ten years. Very gutsy, very bold but certainly not my type of matador, a sheer clone of what once was original and unforgettable. In the more than one hundred times I watched Espartaco I only stood twice to my feet to applaud.
In 1992 the greatest of the 100 club, Enrique Ponce made his appearance. I first viewed him as a novice in a little town near Valencia where you can run in front of the bulls in the morning and watch the boys cape in the afternoon. Enrique was just wonderful and from then has continued to impress the masses. Ponce brought back to the 100 Club a lot of dignity and class.
Then calamity returned as the baying crowd once again cheered another showman Jesulin de Ubrique who did the impossible by appearing in 153 Corridas in a single year. In the same magical year of 1994 (which by the way is still the best wine year we have had in Spain for 100 years) other toreros notched up 100 appearances; Enrique Ponce, and Miguel Baez “Litri”.
1995 was an even better year because the “son” of El Cordobes, Manuel Diaz, whose mother lived just down the road in Roquetas del Mar, performed 126 times, whereas Jesulin did the impossible by toreando 161 corridas, “Litri” did 133, and Ponce finished with 120. Unheard of, unprecedented and the greatest year of Corridas in Spain’s history: (another vintage wine year too)!
The very next year things dropped a little bit with only 4 Matadors joining the 100 Club. Francisco Rivera Ordoñez, the son of the number one Torero of 1972, Paquirri, who married into Antonio Ordoñez’s family. Enrique Ponce and El Cordobes completed the 100 Club lineup.
1997 ONLY the steady Enrique Ponce reached the “cien” barrier. In 1998 it was Ponce and Cordobes. 1999 brought the explosion from “south of the border” a new brand of torero type full of lots of fun cape work, daring banderillas and brilliant passes close to the bull. Julian Lopez who at the age of 16 was thrilling crowds of 75,000 people in La Mexicana, the biggest stadium for toros in the world, finally RETURNED to Spain. In his first year, 1999 he did 124 Corridas and became instantly No:1. Ponce too finished with more than five score.
El Juli led again in 2000 knocking up 106 fights, just ahead of Ponce’s 102 fights. El Juli brought back all those wonderful cape passes forgotten long ago and only read about in books. Almost everyone today copies El Juli’s cape work—which makes the corrida a lot more interesting.
Finally in the year 2001 a torero from Cordoba by the name of Finito de Cordoba took the limelight and the number one spot along with completing 100 corridas. He had been encouraged by the sisters of the great Manolete who claimed that Finito was the reincarnation of their brother. Finally I went to Cordoba and at last witnessed his brilliance. Still, in 2001 Enrique Ponce managed ANOTHER 100 Corridas.
El Juli ruled 2002, and Finito de Cordoba started making efforts outside of Cordoba and again notched 104 fights and was gaining fame with the populace “outside of his home town”.
In 2004 I saw Caesar Jimenez for the first time. He bounded onto the scene like a rocket and continued ascending to the No:1 spot that year. What a breath of fresh air! Classic and pure. He is still my favourite Torero of those competing now.
El Fandi, who finished No:1 last year and joined the 100 Corrida Club for the first time is so exciting and enjoyable to watch you cannot get bored. An attraction that guarantees your heart to skip a few beats as you watch him put in the banderillas.
The CLUB ONE HUNDRED is a distinguished group. Yet, there has been great toreros of international repute to never make it (or even WANT to belong). Whose missing? well, Manolete, supposedly the greatest ever, and the great Belmonte, Domingo Ortega, Paco Camino, Antonio Ordóñez, Antonio Benvenida, Paco Ojeda, Joselito, Jose Tomas and me.
Yes, Mr Moi. I have never been able to do 100 corridas in one year BECAUSE OF THE 100 FACTOR! What’s that you suggest? First, can you imagine how insanely in shape you would have to be for the required drinking? Forget that, lets talk the 100 FACTOR. There is the travelling, figure 100 Euros per day for gas. Then, there is lunch and dinner at another 100 Euros. And, a place to stay at another 100 Euros and of course the ticket, well Hell, we’re not sitting in the highest seats are we? Its another 100 Euros. So, a flat 100 corridas per year with the other 100’s thrown in…adds up to just 40,000 Euros, NOT INCLUDING the drinks you owe for your round or if you fall in love on the way.
Copyright © Ric Polansky Spanish version