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Bloodless Bullfighting in U.S.

February 22, 2002

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LA GLORIA, Texas (AP) _ More than 30 years ago, Fred Renk went to Mexico to become a priest. He quickly found a new dream and became a matador, but he limped back across the border after being badly mauled in a fight.

Now 65 and a small-time rancher, Renk has rediscovered his passion for bullfighting _ this time as operator of what he says is the only ring in the nation dedicated solely to the sport.

The Santa Maria Bull Ring opened last month, hosting the first bullfight in Texas since 1984, Renk said. He’s planning at least two fights a month between now and April to attract ``Winter Texans″ who head south to escape colder climes.

The roughly $100,000 venture will show people that bullfighting, which is also staged at a couple of rings in California, is not a cruel spectacle, Renk said.

Since U.S. law prohibits killing the bull, the bloodless bullfights at Santa Maria will focus on traditional steps and pageantry, with plenty of color and mariachi music and a big dose of humor.

When a bull has fought once at the Santa Maria bullring, it will go on to a gentler career cavorting with rodeo clowns, Renk said.

Bullfighting is a dance of wills that is as old as history, he says.

``Since B.C., people will fear them,″ he said. ``A bull will run, a rhino will run. It’s carved there on the walls of Crete.″

While the lack of blood is a relief to many, there are some who say something is missing from a bullfight without a kill. Among them is David Renk, Fred Renk’s son, who at 38 is now a respected matador in Mexico.

``It’s left empty,″ David Renk said. ``Even when they are charging and they are charging real hard. The act is not finished.″

He took up the sport as a child in Mexico.

``One day, he stepped out with his cape and the little vacas (cows) and they started putting him in shows,″ Fred Renk said. ``He trained with the ninos. All of a sudden, he was in a suit of lights.″

David Renk became the seventh American to become a full matador. He is one of only three fighters in the history of the ring in Reynosa, Mexico, to have fought a bull so challenging it was awarded an ``indulto,″ or pardon from death.

He and Raquel Martinez, who in 1981 became the first female matador to make the worldwide registry, fought the first bulls at Santa Maria.

On that inaugural Sunday, it seemed every car traveling the country road running past the Renk ranch _ a 100-acre patch of prickly pear and lolling cattle _ ended up parked in the dust outside its gates.

Families drove in from neighboring counties, and tourists arrived from recreational vehicle parks. It was standing-room only at the ring built for 1,000 people. Renk has since worked on building more bleachers.

Long lines at the border amid the post-Sept. 11 security clampdown make the venue especially welcome, said Webb Skinner, historian for Pena Taurin Del Valley, a local club for bullfighting fans.

Fans used to make periodic trips to the ring in Reynosa, just across the border, but trips have been called off lately for fear that half their day will be spent waiting to cross back over the Rio Grande.

In La Gloria, locals hope the new bullring will bring some new life to their tiny town, which is about 40 miles northwest of the border town of McAllen. Aside from a stray convenience store, the area around La Gloria is nothing but cattle and cactus for 30 miles in any direction.

``Everybody’s talking about how this is something that’s going to have an impact on all of us,″ said Baudy Montalvo, vice president of the six-branch Lone Star National Bank. ``This is going to boost our little economy.″

Jorge Alvarez, foreman at the 15,000-acre Diamond O ranch, another neighbor, called the ring ``the best thing that ever happened to our community.″

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