OLIVENZA, Spain — A Spanish bullfighter who lost sight in one eye and has partial facial paralysis after a terrifying goring returned to the bullring Sunday, five months after his injury.
On Oct. 8, a bull's horn ripped into Juan Jose Padilla's lower jaw and caused his left eyeball to protrude as spectators screamed in horror. Padilla was seen getting up shouting, "I can't see, I can't see anything," his face gushing blood as assistants distracted the bull.
Now, wearing an eye patch and speaking with a lisp, Padilla fulfilled what he describes as an unquenchable desire to once again face massive 1,100-pound (500-kilogram) fighting bulls with the aid of only a cape and sword.
The 38-year-old Padilla, the star attraction at the southwestern town of Olivenza's annual taurine festival, said he was returning to the ring because of a need "to win, to triumph, to be a better man."
A capacity crowd of about 5,400 people, including die-hard connoisseurs, fashion models and well-known personalities, had packed into this town's historic bullring, which was built in 1854.
The matador, who is also known by his professional name of "the Cyclone of Jerez," wore a glittering matador's "suit of lights" outfit that had been made for the occasion in gold braid and olive green, "for hope," according to his tailor, Justo Algaba. Stitching on the suit traced the shape of laurel leaves because "they were used to crown the brows of audacious combatants and great heroes," Algaba said.
Padilla was greeted with loud cheers and enthusiastic hand-clapping as he walked into the ring to the traditional "pasodoble" brass band music, before having two unaccompanied flamenco style "saeta" songs dedicated to him, an honor rarely accorded to bullfighters.
Despite lacking the two-eyed stereoscopic vision that allows people to judge distances and the speed of approaching objects accurately, Padilla had little trouble killing his first bull before dedicating the second beast to his tearful father, who embraced his son after the kill. Padilla was awarded one ear for each of his two kills. The maximum accolade a matador can achieve is two ears and a tail for each bull slain.
"He's been looking forward so much to starting this new phase in his life," his manager, Diego Robles, said.
After slaying his final bull, Padilla was carried out of the ring among jubilant crowd scenes on the shoulders of fellow bullfighters who had shared the billing with him, a very rare salute.
Celebrations commemorating Padilla's successful return were expected to last well into the night in the rural town.
Harold Heckle in Madrid contributed to this report.