During the time I was there Manuel El Cordobez was a rising star, more like a comet. He came from the poorest of the poor and learned to fight bulls as a youngster by jumping the fences at night on ranches where the bulls were raised, taking his chances with an old coat for a cape. His courage was so astounding that he began to attract attention and with every opportunity he proved again that he had great skill and also the biggest pair of balls in all of Spain.
He was just a year or two older than I and people said we looked alike. It was true to a certain degree. His first fight in Madrid was scheduled while I was there and it was a very big deal. Some of the controllers of the bullfight had tried to keep him from fighting in this greatest of all venues, (Madrid in May, La Feria de San Isidro), because his style wasn’t classic but mostly because he came from a poor background. In those days less than a hundred families controlled all the wealth in Spain and they didn’t like this kind of upstart kid giving the peasants ideas. But he was too good and too exciting and everybody felt it.
It was impossible to get tickets for the arena but it was on TV. Every bar and café was packed with fans when he strode out into the ring, faced the bull, and made a series of breathtaking passes before getting gored in the groin and rushed to the hospital.
Many bullfighters have been killed in the ring. In the museum in Ronda, you can see stuffed heads of the famous bulls that killed them. The bulls all have names and there’s a plaque to tell how those bulls fought and won before dying themselves, the meat given to the poor.
El Cordobez recovered to fight many more times and gain riches and fame. I had heard he played the guitar. One day I went to get my motorcycle, which was getting some mechanical attention, and there he was, coming out of a house on the alley with his guitar. His guitar teacher lived there. I went up to him and asked for his autograph and he signed my passport “Con todo afecto, Manuel El Cordobez”. I still have it.