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Border cities see a resurgence in bullfighting

It had been a clean kill. The sword plunged smoothly, three feet deep between the shoulder blades.

Matador Armando Moreno sobbed with joy as friends hugged him, 30 feet away from the dying moan of the 600-pound bull.This had been Moreno's first appearance in the bullring in five years. The first time since that humiliating day in Cananea, Sonora, when a bull got entangled in his cape and gouged out his left eye with a horn.

Moreno's depth perception may be gone. But not his skills, for which he thanked the Virgin of Guadalupe at a tiny candle-filled altar beneath the stands of the grand Plaza del Toros.

About 200 people were invited on Sunday to the classic bullring in a private event organizers hope will usher in a new era of bullfighting in Nogales.

In the 1950s, movie stars such as John Wayne, Gary Cooper and Ava Gardner were regulars here as cries of "ole" and "bravo" from huge crowds on Sunday afternoons echoed off the cliffs of surrounding desert hills.

The blood sport lost its appeal in the early 1970s, partly because of poor management at the plaza, partly because of the rise of the animal-rights movement. The plaza had fallen into such disrepair that peasants hauled away the rotting boards in the interior ring for firewood. But recent repairs have brought it up to speed.

Now, the fire of renewal burns brightly for people like Victor Fontes, a Nogales, Ariz., engineer who was raised on a nearby ranch during the storied days of local bullfights, and for Silviano Tanori, a former top-of-the-line matador living in nearby Rio Rico, Ariz.

They have seen the recent surge in popularity of bullfighting in Mexican border cities. They are also aware of the thousands of inquiries that Nogales tourist officials receive about seeing bullfighting.

For now, the city's bullfighting efforts are on a treadmill. Fontes said the absentee owner of the bullring, who lives in distant Mexico City, will not allow commercial bullfights, despite repeated pleas by local businessmen.

But Mario de la Fuente, a prominent Nogales, Sonora, entrepreneur, says he is prepared to go his own way to fill the demand for bullfighting.

De la Fuente said ground will be broken in December on a domed bullring in south Nogales near the city's factory district and adjoining Nogales' largest supermarket.

"The city has received thousands of letters about reviving bullfighting from the Americans," de la Fuente said. "But the Americans have also made it clear that they don't want to see the bulls get killed. We won't be doing that at our events."