By Ric Polansky ©2013

Papa said it best: “Beware of all generalizations, even this one!” He could have said the same about any “ranking’s list”; inevitably they become personalized and minimalized by the preponderance and proclivity of “other lists”. Yet, without them, we lack guide lines and probable direction.

This Top Matadors list differs only in the extent that it tries to inculcate both the popular sentiment of the masses with the learned analysis of the ardent and well traveled aficionado. It will lack numerical classification to avoid bar room quibbles. After all, cutting an ear in Madrid is worth much more than a tail in Vera, Almeria—for most exacting observers; but not necessarily the majority of voters.

The “top ten” ironically elected themselves. The group chose itself back in 2011 as those most concerned about maintaining their own “image rights” for selling photos, posters and TV contracts. Shortly there after a group was formed that has attempted to extend itself amongst all the current practicing toreros. They found it easy to get together as they all had one thing in common, popular demand by the masses coerced them into obtaining “full cuadrillas” (traveling helpers) that went with them as they transverse the taunt stretched hide of bull, (a similar design to Spain’s own geographic layout) as they played their show to the waiting festive public.

Rankings have been generally done in the popular taurine magazines by number of appearances in differing plazas throughout Spain, France and Portugal. But, that too has changed over the years. A new style of torero emerged that allowed flamboyant showmanship to excite the adoring unlearned fiesta masses. Gestures and antics not appreciated by the more reserved and historical public of larger town’s whose plazas had become bastions for their established and customary demeanor. Home town antics of playing to the crowds in the provinces didn’t work in the older larger reputable plazas, nor was it even acceptable to try.

The riddle of solving the formidable problem of formatting a list is by the wording of the question. Almost everyone knows the names of 5-6 matadors “they have liked”. But, their perspective changes radically and they become more discerning when asked who is the “greatest”, the very best of the toreros. Then, they delve into the darkest subconscious realms of their most inner thoughts and past conversations with learned others and produce names that often wouldn’t be spoken from the tips of their tongues in local village conversation. Then more heroic figures would be brought forth and suggested to take their substantiated place in current history. Ironically enough, that list and this one hasn’t changed much in the past five years.

The most highly compensated of all toreros ever is none other than Jose Tomas, rumored to have received 900,000 Euros for his two performances in Madrid a couple of years back. No one else even came close to that figure. Last year’s minimalist performance schedule was more than compensated by his end triumph in Nimes, facing off toros from six different ranches-- solo. Those that witnessed the event already refer to it as the greatest day of “torero” ever!

When viewing JT you must always be prepared to witness his final corrida. It is as if he expects nothing less but giving his all; always taking the fight to the bull and playing within the toro´s realm and terrain. JT´s never back away style has earned him critics as the "ultima tremendistra". Nevertheless, he takes toreando to an entirely different level than the rest. So close, daring and frightening. And there are no others that can be mentioned in the same category. JT commands absolute dominance and doesn’t back down even if he is in the bulls terrain. He goes after every bull as if it is the last one he will ever face and the crowd must accept him for just that one singular performance. His followers adore him and his distracters are few. He kills well too. His style and principles are His own cross to bear! He has no way out of His own self styled querencia. Unless, he changes. And that would be for the worse for all-- but Him.

Julian Lopez, EL JULI had a year that all toreros dream about. Triumphant in almost every plaza where he performed. His knowledge of the bulls and how to lead the many different ranches he faces is Juli´s strongest point. He is a master with both the cape and muleta. His routine brilliance often offends judges that wish to be more noticed themselves, so, frequently he is not awarded the trophies he so honestly has earned.



Jose Maria Manzanares was the indisputable conquer of the prestigious fair in Sevilla wherein he popularised the old suerte of killing recibiendo. This “ancient style” was then displayed throughout Spain at each feria where he performed. Jose Maria, son of a well know “artistic torero” from Alicante was one of the year’s continued success stories. He is already better than his father ever was and his legend grows.





David Fandila, El Fandi has finished top of the charts (meaning most corridas performed during the year) in Spain for 8 of the last 9 years. He is a whirl wind of emotion and attracts the masses with his flashy and domineering presence. Many of the more seasoned aficionados wander off to the bar when the “Fandi show” starts. Each of his corridas is very much the same, pass after pass, exciting banderillas, plaza after plaza. He kills exceedingly well. For first timers and the unsophisticated he is exactly what the Fiesta Nacional needs to re-attract the masses.



MORANTE DE LA PUEBLA is a must for every feria. He is one of those “artists” that can light up plaza with breath taking symmetry of passes—gypsy magic. He has his days, and when he doesn’t feel like exciting anyone, he doesn’t, simply strolling through his allotted duo without caring or pretence of caring. Yet, he is by far better than the legendary Curro Romero. I had to see Curro about 700 times before I saw him good whereas with Morante he is wonderful in 1/10 viewings. He is so good in fact, he is well worth following just for that special day. If you are learning, he will change your whole concept of “torero” in just one afternoon. He did for me in Granada and displayed for me 60 of the best photos I have ever taken, all from one man—one bull!

Enrique Ponce spent 10 consecutive years doing more than 100 corridas per year. Something quite unimaginable ever occurring again. He is wise, knows bulls; has had more toros indultados (pardoned) from him than any other matador. Clean, nothing showy, but watch him closely as he knows bulls and how to play them. A damn good golfer and a first class gentleman. See him before he retires as he never leaves empty handed, Ponce always earns a trophy. So pleasing and comfortable to watch, none of the frantic antics or gimmicks so many others use to be recognized. His “wrist” is one of the best in the business. He is always in the top 3 on anybodies list.


Sebastian Castella refers to himself as a Frenchman. Puts on a good show and always performs well in important corridas and especially the first class plazas. He always brings something to the corrida and refuses to go home without being noticed. He plays to the public well and transmits his style exceeding well. They adore him for it.


Miguel Angel Parera is on the very edge of breaking into the very highest class of torero—the kind that you count on one hand. He´s not afraid to make the dramatic gesture of taking on 6 toros solo in Madrid then attempting it the next day back in Extremadura where he is from. Great courage and control. He hasn’t the wisdom yet of El Juli, but is learning quickly.

Basically he is classical with quite a few moments of tremendista thrown in for the new fans. Brave and firm he allows the world to judge him within the plaza—just like the old time toreros.

Alejandro Talavante I have followed since he was a novillero. He has had a meteoric rise to the top, so quickly in fact that he never had a chance to develop his own concept of “torero” and consequently can be viewed in segments, a little Jose Tomas, some Fandi, a pinch of Manzanares, etc.; a Forrest Gump box of chocolates. You just never know what you’re going to get. Yet, when he is on he has a beautiful rhythm and flow. Lately he hasn’t been killing well, but that will pass. When he arrives within himself I believe he will be a major "figura".

Cesar Jimenez has always been one of my favorites. He has the complete deportment of how I envision a top Torero should be! A quiet calm demeanor, always in control and rarely getting upset. A bit pompous for some. He has just passed through two very down years in which he lost lots of contracts for not killing well, but lately has come back as a crowd favourite, even though he has been slipping a little too much into the tremendistra camp.

Daniel Luque loves toreando. If there wasn’t a time clock on his typical faena he would continue through the tres avisos OR the bull learned so much that Luque’s life was in imminent danger. I guess you could say, he is value for money. Furthermore, he loves being in front of the crowds and responds to them readily.

A couple of years ago in Granada he was on the same cartel as Jose Tomas and didn’t leave the ring until his bull had been pardoned. Luque is well worth seeing, good with both the cape and muleta he obviously wants to be considered a figura and is imposing his will not only on the bull but the public as well. Better every year he will make it big by his own sweat and aptitudes.

JUAN JOSE PADILLA was applauded vigorously in every corrida he attended this past year. And why not? To get a glimpse of the heroic figure once again confronting the toros with his particular disdain and bravado following the horrible goring he received in the cheek with the tip of the horn curving and exiting out through his eye. The brutal photos flashed around the entire world. Appalling, beyond belief. Yet the archaic type showman recovered slowly and has reappeared on a tour to a much vaunted and deserved standing ovation by his adoring public.

Can you believe it? He still puts in his own banderillas using his minimal depth perception allowed by having just one eye. And he still brings the toro in tight to his body as if it is just another day at the office and nothing has ever happened to alter his honest form of torero. JJ has always been a real character and a truthful one too. He’s back just like before. And with thousands of fans waving “pirate flags” as if to compensate for their hero’s patched eye.

Cayetano would have been on the list. But he has retired for an uncertain period of time. He is deserving to be as he’s been a wonderful ambassador during these critical times.

Almeria has long been known as the “forgotten province”. Yet, it has a really fun feria and clubs from around the world visit it. Most noticeable is the Club Taurine of London and the New York club.

During the years I have gotten to know a few of the local toreros and two in particular stand out. Ruiz Manuel and Torres Jerez.

As they are not on the main circuit of ferias they anxiously wait in the wings for an injury or cancel that might be their ticket to show their stuff in front of the home fans and possible be picked up by some important manager. Bulls aren’t grown around our area so they have few corridas other than the feria. Can you imagine sitting, waiting for an entire year to prove yourself in front of packed audiences all your local friends wherein you have possible only fought just twice the entire year. Then, being listed on the same cartel as with some of the world’s major stars. How do you slow a bull down with maximum temple when your heart is racing at a hundred miles per hour? Keep calm? Collected? Yet in the last 3 years they have taken the coveted capote de paso for the best faenas once each.



Lastly I need to mention, that there are no good toreros without good TOROS. I should probably do a list of the best ranches, but they seem to change each year so radically it is hard to rely on consistency.

The bulls have been altered dramatically since I first viewed them back in ´69. They no longer are the feared historical beasts. So much so in Madrid they are often referred to as “little cats” (gatitos) amongst those sitting in the notorious tendido seven. As vulgar and noisy as that crowd appear—they do make a point.

WANTED: Toros Bravos for the Fiesta Nacional....

I would be most interested in learning YOUR TOP 15 LIST.

I have discovered while doing this piece that the long hours and frenzied scrutiny of the photos can be very therapeutic. It has helped me forget the crazy economical nastiness of this world that has infected all of us.


It gives us more time to think and blame.


Consequences to almost all, excepting those that caused this economic mess.


I have been very fortunate in sales of these photos and am NOW offering a new style. I am sending out the full version as a .jpg and YOU have it printed—as LARGE as you like. I can only print up to A-3 = 297 X 420 mm - 12 X 17 inches. If I print on canvas the charges are:

Small – 43 X 61 cms. ……… 80 Euros
Medium – 76 X 51 cms ….. 100 Euros
Large – 60 X 90 cms ……. 120 Euros


OR you can negotiate a price and I’ll just send you the original jpg.

I have such a large collection all you really need do is tell me your favorite matador and then let me suggest by sending you 15-20 photos to choose from.

Final prices usually vary from $50-125$. Some have already been used in major advertising campaigns.

Write to me & tell me what you need:

Web site © Ric Polansky 2013