Blinded matador returns to ring to fight another day

 

Madrid

His face is still partly paralysed, he cannot chew food, his balance is shaky and he has lost the sight in his left eye for good – but less than five months after a horrific goring, matador Juan José Padilla is to make a triumphant and unexpected comeback.

The last time the public saw Mr Padilla, he was stumbling out of a bullring last October in Zaragoza, blood gushing from major head injuries, and screaming: "I can't see."

In an interview with the newspaper El Mundo, friend Adolfo Suarez Iliana – who was at the fight and in the ambulance with Mr Padilla afterwards – said that when the bullfighter was struck by the horn of the 600kg bull, named Marques, the impact had been so violent that "[Mr Padilla's] face was torn off, from the ear to the nose, destroying his hearing, his facial nerves and muscles.

"His eyeball was pushed out of its socket by the horn's point. I have seen countless gorings and this was the most damaging I have ever seen. He was close to losing his life."

A five-hour emergency reconstruction of his lower face with titanium plates and mesh was successful, and Mr Padilla, 38, took the first faltering steps along what has been an exceptionally fast recovery.

"The most glorious moment came when I announced to my family I was going back to bullfighting," Mr Padilla, whose nickname is El Ciclon de Jerez [The Cyclone of Jerez], told El Mundo, ahead of tomorrow's comeback in Olivenza in western Spain.

"My wife didn't want me to go back, but she had seen me in the hospital's corridors using a towel to make [bullfighting] passes. And when I got home, she understood my happiness lay with bullfighting."

During his recovery, Mr Padilla – 18kg lighter than before his accident and wearing a large eyepatch – has killed 10 bulls in training.

And while he recognises that when he re-enters a ring for real, his limited field of vision could cause him problems when the bull brushes past his left side, Mr Padilla insists he is determined to make a go of his career again. "My top priority is to be a bullfighting star," he said. "Questions like getting my eyesight back come second."

The goring in Zaragoza was the 26th of his 18-year career, the previous most serious was when a bull's horn pierced his neck in 2001 in Pamplona.

"I love my profession more than ever. This time it's been my turn, but everybody knows when they get into this what can happen to you," Mr Padilla said. "Gorings are like medals."

Mr Padilla will not be Spain's first one-eyed matador. In 1983 in Seville, a bull gored Lucio Sandin in the right eye but he returned to the ring two months later. "The difference is that Padilla's goring was far more violent," Carlos Iliana, one of Spain's most longstanding bullfighting correspondents, told The Independent. "And it was live on TV, so it had a huge media impact. Either way, it has enormous merit that, with his face half-paralysed and blind in one eye, Padilla is prepared to face a bull again. He is a very brave man."

"I'm not coming back to make people feel sorry for me, I'm coming back to fight," said Mr Padilla, who faces more surgery before he makes a full recovery. "I will go in the ring, I will look at the sky and give thanks to God."

In the ring: A dying sport

The comeback of Juan José Padilla is one of the few pieces of good news in recent years for Spanish bullfighting, beset by economic difficulties, a steadily aging fan base and an outright ban in Catalonia since 2011.

Since the start of the economic downturn in 2007, the number of bullfights held in Spain has dropped by a third, and polls last year showed more than 60 per cent of Spaniards disliked it. It is now most popular among the over-45s.

Suggested Topics
Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
PROMOTED VIDEO
ebooks
ebooksA year of political gossip, levity and intrigue from the sharpest pen in Westminster
Arts and Entertainment
Under the skin: Sarah Kane in May 1998
theatreThe story behind a new season of Sarah Kane plays
Arts and Entertainment
Preening: Johnny Depp in 'Mortdecai'
filmMortdecai becomes actor's fifth consecutive box office bomb
Sport
Bradford City's reward for their memorable win over Chelsea is a trip to face either Sunderland or Fulham (Getty)
football
News
Lars Andersen took up archery in his mid thirties
video
Voices
Focus E15 Mothers led a protest to highlight the lack of affordable housing in London
voicesLondon’s housing crisis amounts to an abuse of human rights, says Grace Dent
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Warehouse Operations & Logistics Manager

£38000 - £42000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: One of the UK's best performing...

Recruitment Genius: GeoDatabase Specialist - Hazard Modelling

£35000 - £43000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Our award-winning client is one...

Recruitment Genius: Compressed Air Pipework Installation Engineer

£15000 - £21000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This leading provider of Atlas ...

Recruitment Genius: Operations Coordinator - Pallet Network

£18000 - £20000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Opportunity to join established...

Day In a Page

Woman who was sent to three Nazi death camps describes how she escaped the gas chamber

Auschwitz liberation 70th anniversary

Woman sent to three Nazi death camps describes surviving gas chamber
DSK, Dodo the Pimp, and the Carlton Hotel

The inside track on France's trial of the year

Dominique Strauss-Kahn, Dodo the Pimp, and the Carlton Hotel:
As provocative now as they ever were

Sarah Kane season

Why her plays are as provocative now as when they were written
Murder of Japanese hostage has grim echoes of a killing in Iraq 11 years ago

Murder of Japanese hostage has grim echoes of another killing

Japanese mood was against what was seen as irresponsible trips to a vicious war zone
Syria crisis: Celebrities call on David Cameron to take more refugees as one young mother tells of torture by Assad regime

Celebrities call on David Cameron to take more Syrian refugees

One young mother tells of torture by Assad regime
The enemy within: People who hear voices in their heads are being encouraged to talk back – with promising results

The enemy within

People who hear voices in their heads are being encouraged to talk back
'In Auschwitz you got used to anything'

'In Auschwitz you got used to anything'

Survivors of the Nazi concentration camp remember its horror, 70 years on
Autumn/winter menswear 2015: The uniforms that make up modern life come to the fore

Autumn/winter menswear 2015

The uniforms that make up modern life come to the fore
'I'm gay, and plan to fight military homophobia'

'I'm gay, and plan to fight military homophobia'

Army general planning to come out
Iraq invasion 2003: The bloody warnings six wise men gave to Tony Blair as he prepared to launch poorly planned campaign

What the six wise men told Tony Blair

Months before the invasion of Iraq in 2003, experts sought to warn the PM about his plans. Here, four of them recall that day
25 years of The Independent on Sunday: The stories, the writers and the changes over the last quarter of a century

25 years of The Independent on Sunday

The stories, the writers and the changes over the last quarter of a century
Homeless Veterans appeal: 'Really caring is a dangerous emotion in this kind of work'

Homeless Veterans appeal

As head of The Soldiers' Charity, Martin Rutledge has to temper compassion with realism. He tells Chris Green how his Army career prepared him
Wu-Tang Clan and The Sexual Objects offer fans a chance to own the only copies of their latest albums

Smash hit go under the hammer

It's nice to pick up a new record once in a while, but the purchasers of two latest releases can go a step further - by buying the only copy
Geeks who rocked the world: Documentary looks back at origins of the computer-games industry

The geeks who rocked the world

A new documentary looks back at origins of the computer-games industry
Belle & Sebastian interview: Stuart Murdoch reveals how the band is taking a new direction

Belle & Sebastian is taking a new direction

Twenty years ago, Belle & Sebastian was a fey indie band from Glasgow. It still is – except today, as prime mover Stuart Murdoch admits, it has a global cult following, from Hollywood to South Korea