CACERES, Spain — A 16-year-old Spanish matador killed six bulls in one afternoon Saturday, pulling off a feat normally attempted only by seasoned veterans and winning trophies for his skill – ears from animals he had just slain.
Jairo Miguel Sanchez Alonso, who nearly died from a horrific goring in Mexico in 2007, smiled broadly and waved to a friendly hometown crowd after a pageant that took about two and a half hours.
A tall and slender boy who is also amazingly articulate for his age, he showed off his stuff in an arena called Plaza Era de los Martires, or Time of the Martyrs.
The bullfighter, who goes by the stage name of Jairo Miguel, turned in his best performance with bull No. 5, a hulking black specimen that weighed 435 kilograms (959 pounds).
After skillful cape-work, he finished off the bull with a single deathblow from his sword, sliding it into a spot where it severed the beast's spinal chord. With the rest of the bulls he needed around three stabs.
This is considered too many, and Jairo Miguel acknowledged frustration with that part of his work, although he felt his effort was a success overall and said he was never scared.
"I brought out the best in myself that I could," he told The Associated Press. "It was a good afternoon of bullfighting, and people were not bored."
For the fifth bull, he was awarded the animal's severed ears, one of the bullfighting world's prizes for a job well done. He took a slow victory lap around the ring, showing the organs to the crowd.
Minutes before he stepped into the ring, Jairo Miguel hugged his father Antonio, a former bullfighter, and in a powerfully emotional scene they both cried.
Wearing a sparkling white suit of lights with gold sequins that twinkled in the late afternoon sun, the young toreador was greeted by a two-thirds full 5,000-seat bullring in Caceres, in Spain's southwest Extremadura region.
The average age for matadors in Spain is 25 to 30. Jairo Miguel spent around four years fighting in Latin America to escape the strict age limit of 16 in Spain.
The normal format for a bullfight is three matadors taking on two animals each. Aficionados say it is extremely rare for a matador as young as 16 to fight six, a challenge requiring great physical and mental stamina.
In an interview the night before the big fight, Jairo Miguel said he was nervous but confident. A boy with a baby face and a nice smile, he bears a scar from the ghastly goring that nearly punctured his heart in Mexico.
He got started at age 6, locking horns with a young cow.
"Ever since I was very small I have had this in my genes," he told AP. "I have practically grown up with bulls."
Juan Belmonte, a bullfighting critic for Canal Sur television in Seville, said Jairo Miguel is largely untested but a promising matador.
"Imagine a class of first-graders. There is always one that stands out. That is Jairo Miguel," he said.
Belmonte said that of the 800-odd bullfighters active in Spain, just a handful took on six of the 500-600-kilogram (1,100-1,300-pound) beasts at age 16.
One of them was Julian Lopez, who did it in 1998 and is now one of Spain's top bullfighters. He did it in Madrid's storied and very demanding Las Ventas ring, bullfighting's equivalent of Madison Square Garden. He won top honors, being carried out of the ring on fans' shoulders and claiming two trophies – ears from bulls he had just slain.
Jairo Miguel's setting was much less grandiose: a smallish, second-category ring in a preseason charity event to benefit children with autism.
Jairo Miguel said bullfighting gives him a potent, irresistible rush from a cocktail of fear, adrenaline and applause from the crowd. Still, sometimes he feels sorry for the animals he kills.
"I feel quite bad when the bull has been good, and you see the expression on his face, the innocence. He has given you his bravery, he has collaborated so that you win praise and people stand in ovation," he said.
His mother, Celia Alonso, said she chain-smokes in the days leading up to one of her son's fights, cannot sleep even with tranquilizers and would prefer he do anything but this – "football, computers, whatever."
"But he has chosen this and I have to support him," Alonso said. "All I know is what his eyes say when he struts out into the ring."