Bullfighting is an art, a debatable definition, performed since bull worships by the bull cults in Mesopotamia or, as some claim, during prenuptial or coronation rituals in Spain. The bloody sport features a bullfighter, or a matador, fighting a bull with a red cape in glorious outfits. Bullfighting has drawn controversies ever since the beginning. Owing to the voluble opposition against the sport and differences in opinion, many countries have banned the sport

Portuguese bullfighter Diego Ventura fights a bull in September 2013 Image Source: IANS

What Happens in a Bullfight?

The bullfighter fights the bull in the most vicious way possible and tries to immobilize or kill it. The sport tries to prove the strength of both of the Matador and the bull in the ring. And as the bull leaps, they are stabbed.

The bulls are stabbed with banderillas (wooden sticks with spikes) and killed. The objective of the matador is to stab the bull in a coin-sized area between its shoulders to draw a quick death.

Bullfighter Arturo Macias fighting his second bull in May 2013 Image Source: IANS

But bullfighters mostly miss the target and end up stabbing them through the shoulders, deeply injuring the lungs or other internal organs. Bulls take a longer time to die when that happens, with blood and fluids bubbling from their nose and mouth.

Is it a fair fight?

Bullfights are traditionally believed to prove the strength and bravery of the matador against an equally strong and 'dangerous' bull, and winning over the bull showed their prowess in the ring. However, in reality, the bulls are tortured, and mentally and physically weakened before encountering the matador.

Controlling a bull before the fight in Nepal during Maghesankranti Festival Image Source: Xinhua/Pratap Thapa/IANS

They go through the physical exhaustion of long transportation and are beaten till they droop to the level of the matador. Before they enter the ring, the bulls are provoked with violent colors and stabbed in the neck with barbed wires.

This makes the sport unfair- a mere slaughter in the name of power.

Stages of Bull Fighting

Bullfighting is mainly performed in three stages:

1.The Lancing stage

2.The Banderillas stage

3.The killing stage

As mentioned above, bulls are weakened before they enter the ring to fight. The lancing stage, also known as Tercio de picas in Spanish, is when the bull is constantly stabbed with barbed lances that it loses blood from the injuries due. Members of the bullfight known as the picadors are mounted on horses on the opposite side of the ring. They provoke the bulls with sounds and movements to attack the horses, and as they leap, the picadors stab the bull four times with the lances on the top of their necks. This makes them stoop their heads instead of forcing their horns high.

The banderillas stage is to excite the bull for the fight, by the theory of course. In this stage, however, the bulls lose their strength with the loss of blood from injuries. As the bull approaches the matador, banderilleros run toward the bull and stab them with banderillas. Banderillas are pointed, barbed instruments used by banderilleros, or flagmen, to stab the bull. Sometimes banderillas of fire are used, which burn the bull's skin. By practice, six pairs of banderillas are to be pierced into the bull.

A Portuguese bullfight at Lisbon’s Campo Pequeno bullring, Portugal, on August 7th, 2014 Image Source: Xinhua/Zhang Liyun/IANS

The killing stage is the final stage when the bull is killed. Performed by the matador, he takes his chance with the bull and passes with the red cape, also known as the 'muleta.' While the bull stomps towards the muleta, the matador positions himself with a double-blade sword to stab the bull. In most cases, the bull does not die with the first thrust. If the bull does not die, pithing is performed with a dagger. The bull's spinal cord is severed in this stage to kill the bull instantly.

In most cases, the bulls die. On very rare occasions, does the 'Presidente' grant bulls mercy upon admiration from the audience. The bulls are mutilated by cutting an ear, which is presented to the bullfighter as souvenir. Sometimes the bullfighter may keep both ears or tails of the bulls they killed.

Different styles of bullfighting

Among 15 to 20 different styles in the world, Spanish, Portuguese, and French are the most popular styles of bullfighting.

Corridas de Toros, which translates to 'The run of the Bull,' is the style of bullfighting performed in Spain. Around six bulls, each four to six years of age, are slain in the fight.

Bullfighter Juan Jose Padilla performs during Sanfermines 2015 in Spain Image Source: EFE

Touradas, or corridas the touros, is the style performed in Portugal. In this style, the matador mounts on a horse. The bulls are not slain in the ring in front of the spectators but later in the slaughterhouse.

A traditional Portuguese bullfight at Campo Pequeno bullring in Lisbon in August 2017 Image Source: Xinhua/Zhang Liyun/IANS

Courses Camarguaises is a kind of bullfighting performed only in France. The main objective of the fight is to get pieces of fabric or textile from the horns of the bull and not to kill them. The bulls are not slaughtered in the battle.

 French bullfighter Sebastian Castella fights his bull in May 2015 Image Source: EFE/Mark Lyons/IANS

There are restaurants in Spain and Portugal that offer meat of bull slain in these fights. The tough meat of the specially bred bull is served after they are cooked overnight with red wine and stewed for a better part of the day. It is no wonder when they boast of their traditions, catching the eye of tourists.

Bullfighting has had its fair share of fans, yet it has been backed with controversies and concerns since the contemporary period. Entrenched in controversies, the sport has been banned in most countries across the world. Spain, Portugal, France, Ecuador, Mexico, Columbia, and Peru are among the few countries where bullfighting is still a legal affair.