- A bullfighter is a performer in the sport of bullfighting. “Torero” (Spanish: [toˈɾeɾo]) or “toureiro” (Portuguese: [toˈɾɐjɾu]) (both from Latin taurarius, bullfighter) are the Spanish and Portuguese words for bullfighter and describe all the performers in the sport of bullfighting as practised in Spain, Portugal, Mexico, Peru, France, and other countries influenced by Portuguese and Spanish culture. The main performer and leader of the entourage in a bullfight, and who finally kills the bull, is addressed as maestro (master), or with the formal title matador de toros (killer of bulls). The other bullfighters in the entourage are called subalternos and their suits are embroidered in silver as opposed to the matador’s more-theatrical gold. They include the picadores, rejoneadores, and banderilleros.
In English, a torero is sometimes referred to by the term toreador, which was popularized by Georges Bizet in his opera Carmen. In Spanish, the word designates bullfighters on horseback, but is little used today, having been almost entirely displaced by rejoneador.
A very small number of women have been bullfighters on foot or on horseback; one recent example is Cristina Sánchez. Female matadors have experienced considerable resistance and public hostility from some aficionados and other matadors.
Usually, toreros start fighting younger bulls (novillos or, more informally in some Latin American countries, vaquillas), and are called novilleros. Fighting of mature bulls commences only after a special match, called “the Alternative”. At this same bullfight, the novillero (junior bullfighter) is presented to the crowd as a matador de toros.
The act of bullfighting is not called or considered a stand-alone sport but rather a performance art. There is no contest, simple punctuation, nor any formal classification. Further still, bullfighting, historically, started more with nobles upon horseback, all lancing bulls with accompanying commoners on foot doing helper jobs. As time went by, the work of the commoners on foot gained in importance up to the point whereupon they became the main and only act. Bullfighting on horseback became a separate and distinct act called “rejoneo” which is still performed today, although less often.
Bullfighting on foot became a means for poor, able-bodied men to achieve fame and fortune, similar to the role of boxing in many countries. When asked why he risked his life, one famous torero reportedly answered, Más cornadas da el hambre (“[There is] more goring from hunger”). Today, it is common for a bullfighter to be born into a family of bullfighters.
The established term, Maletilla or espontáneo, is attributed to those who illegally jump into the ring and attempt to bullfight for their sake and glory. While the practice itself is widely despised by many spectators and fans alike, some, such as El Cordobés, started their very careers this way.