July 1990-July 2020

Thirty years Poncismo

On Saturday July 28, after a lunch with the medical staff of the bullring I went back to Tinto y Oro for my daily siesta. Although it began sunny, the day had become overcast and now it looked like rain and a thunderstorm threatened to burst. But the weather wasn’t the least of our worries. Some evenings earlier, during the traditional ‘desencajonada’, one of the animals from the Galache ranch, after being released from his travelling crate, had gone berserk, killed one of his brothers and injured two other.

Upon learning that three Galache bulls had been taken out by the vets (well one was dead wasn’t it?) the empresa got four animals from Martin Berrocal’s El Toril. And because they had left it so late, he could only get them four five year-olds. When told about the change, first matador Roberto Dominguez  bluntly refused to face them arguing that he was medically unfit and hadn’t been able to get up in the morning and that his ‘Santander knee’ had locked. A medical certificate was promptly produced and presented. Second on the bill was Vicente Ruiz El Soro who apparently had done the same thing. He also argued that his bad leg had gotten worse and hastily required the necessary document from his personal physician in Madrid who sent it to Valencia by fax. So who would substitute Soro? And, who would be the substitute for the suddenly indisposed Roberto Domingez? Would it be Juan Carlos Vera, Rafi de la Vina maybe? Would they now see a chance to appear with Enrique Ponce? Soro II was also just around the corner too. Would he substitute his brother?

The third matador was Enrique Ponce, a young hopeful valencian matador with less than a handful taurine performances to his name since he was promoted to the ranks of matador de alternativa. Would he go through with it when three of his colleages given up? Today’s corrida hung by a thread.

At three in the afternoon came the reassuring news: Enrique Ponce, the twenty year-old Valencian prodigy agreed to face three five-year-old bulls from El Toril with horns and the three left overs from Paco Galache on his own. Among those Galaches, the killer berrendo-colorao that had turned the desencajonada into a battefield.

Now the panic started. Cuadrillas had to be found, at five o’clock José Hernández ‘El Melenas’ received a telephone call to say that he was to be one of today’s sobresalientes. Melenas hastily brushed his traje de luces and cleaned his capote. Nine men were found as peones.

At six thirty the sun came out again. The corrida was on. The sand was moist and in perfect condition when the first bull made its entrance: ‘Jugueton’ weighed 552 kilos. Enrique received it with perfect pases with the capote and the bull responded. It only received one pic but it was in place without the usual correcting and stabbing. Although the pic made it lose a bit of its initial fire, it kept the bull in perfect condition for the final act. After two pairs of banderillas, the boy from Chivas saluted the president and started his faena. An incredible and unbelievable faena. Reminding ourselves that Ponce only took his alternativa last March during Fallas, with this faena he showed everything that had been hidden during that ceremony. He produced a ‘faenón’ with an incredible series of muletazos and beautifully constructed pases de pecho. The estocada was slightly perpendicular but effective and the first two ears were cut and handed over to the young matador. Then the clouds that had started to appear again closed in, darkened the sky and burst into the dreaded tormenta. Never did I see such strange dark purple coloured clouds, white internal explosions ripped open the black canopy while lightning flashed and the ring emptied of people. While the rain hammered down from the sky, the sand floor became a slippery, dangerous place. Meanwhile a red and white bull had been let into the ring but the people ran from their seats to take shelter. I too left and waited underneath an arch. Then, as suddenly as it started the heavy rains stopped and the corrida started again. The bull that had caused so much havoc during the desencajonada was no man-killer after all and had been quite meek.

The third bull was the first from El Toril. It was manso and violent and was quickly dispatched by two pinchazos and a ‘media estocada’.

Number four, was a black and white bull. It weighed 505 kilos but its weight proved too much and four heavy puyazos didn’t help to bring out its bravery. Suddenly a double rainbow appeared over the plaza, covering it from side to side and we were sure that this was Rafael Ponce ‘Rafaelillo’’s doing, Enrique’s ancestor whose portrait adorned the ticket. Surely he was up there in the famous ‘palco in the sky’ looking down on his succesor.

The fifth bull (another specimen from El Toril) was almost impossible to torear but Ponce worked hard to get it to react to his muleta. Right hand passes were followed by left handed naturales. A bad kill of two pinchazos, a media estocada and three descabellos ended twenty minutes of hard labour.

The bull that came out in sixth place weighed 580 kilo’s had the chilling name Islero. It was fast and violent with large, astifino horns. After El Melenas performed a one-pass quite ‘de frente por detras’, the bull’s hooking right horn forced Enrique to start on the left which he did with almost perfect, natural passes. Right-handers followed, citing the ‘worrying’ horn from the front while every series ended with an excellent breast pass. Like magic every impossible move became possible and before Islero was towed away, another ear was cut. Ponce was lifted onto the shoulders of the rain sodden aficionados, was carried around the ring in pure extacy and went out by the Puerta Grande. That night saw the beginning of a new era. Poncismo now ruled Valencia.

At the hotel Rey don Jaime Molés did his interviews and afterwards everyone was congratulated, from humble peon to triumphant torero. El Melenas shook many hands and the next day, was seen talking at the bar of San Remo looking for contracts to get back in the circuit.

Crónica de Pieter Hildering

Fotografias de Mateo . Tauroimaenplus