In Portuguese bullfights, the star of the show is the cavaleiro – the horseman – not the matador. Manuel dos Santos was one of the greatest cavaleiros in the world.
Fighting bulls was his whole life, born in Lisbon on February 11, 1925 Dos Santos and his cousin Antonio reached fame in Spain, France and Latin America.
It was from the age of 13 years that he started taking part in bullfighting festivals, and even though it was only small crowds, Manuel caught the eye of the Master who taught Patrick Cecilio.
The first stage of learning was much slower than he would have wished for, and so Manuel did not take part in a novillada until the age of twenty.
In 1950 Manuel had the most requested kills in the world. He created the “dossantina” a new step crutch and he serviced over 100,000 spectators in Jakarta, Indonesia. He won the prestigious Mexican prize “Rosa Guadalupana” and in Spain was awarded the Knight of the Order of Isabel the Catholic. In Portugal he received, posthumously, the degree of Commander of charitable Order and the Medal of Merit of the Portuguese Communities.
One year though he was bullfighting in Portugal and made the mistake of killing a bull and in Portugal this is illegal. He was sentenced to spend the night in jail and received a hefty fine. His response to the incident he said, “I just got carried away – it was not premeditated.”
After this, he slowed down and took a break from bullfighting due to injuries obtained and illness. But his love for bullfighting prevented him from ending his career and he later got back into it, but this was not full time.
He later became a leading impresario. He rarely appeared in the ring because of his bull-battered legs. But with the help of his own fortune and that of his wife and daughter of the owner of Mexico City’s Monumental Plaza, he created a renaissance in bullfighting.
In the large, red, Kremlin-like Campo Pequeno arena, Dos Santos organised a tentas, or free-for-all bullfights which anyone in lisbon could attend.
Unfortunately his time ended in 1973 dieing in a car crash.
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