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Last Updated: Wednesday, 15 November 2006, 01:02 GMT
Mexican boy takes bull by horns
By Duncan Kennedy
BBC News, Mexico City

Rafael Mirabal, Rafita
Nine-year-old Rafita is thought to be the youngest-ever bullfighter
It has horns, weighs 400lbs (180kg) and does not like humans.

For most people that would be invitation enough to make one's excuses and leave.

But not Rafita Mirabal. When he is facing the bulls of Mexico he stands his ground. Even though he is only nine years old.

Rafita is believed to be the world's youngest-ever bullfighter - a miniature matador.

He has become a star in his home country, thanks to his cute looks, built-in charisma and sheer guts.

"I just like it," he tells me. "I'm not afraid".

We meet as he is getting ready to fight. It takes a full 30 minutes to put on his costume. Grey with black embroidery stitched into the sides of his trousers and his tiny jacket.

"Everything has to be perfect, no clothing must be left loose, otherwise the bull's horns can catch it", says his father, Rafael.

When he is dressed there is just one more thing Rafita has to do - pray.


In a little shrine erected in his room by the television there is a statue of Jesus Christ and a candle. For a few minutes Rafita stands in front of it and says his prayers. Within the hour he will be in the ring.

I ask Rafita how he got into bullfighting.

"It was stories my dad told me when I was younger," he replies.

Rafael Mirabal, Rafita
Many Mexicans do not like the cruelty of bullfighting
"He would read me tales about bull fighting and draw me pictures of the bulls."

Rafael, the father, confesses to being obsessed with bull fighting.

"I've always loved it," he tells me, "but I never expected Rafita to become a fighter."

After a short drive to the stadium, Rafita joins the other adult fighters, ready for their grand entrance. The men are twice his size, the bulls five times bigger.

A betting person would put their money on a bovine bonanza, but Rafita has other ideas.

Raging bull

The fighters all walk out together. When Rafita waves, the crowd spot their new hero and the cheering intensifies. They love him.

Rafita has to wait his turn for his fight to start.

When the time arrives, he struts out into the circular dirt-covered ring, red cape in hand.

The bull was tough, but I got the better of him

The gate opens and the caramel-coloured bull charges out. It is not full grown, but is big enough. And comes with attitude.

Rafita immediately goes into action. A side step here, a jump there - and all the while bull and boy trying to outwit each other.

After each crafty piece of two-legged footwork, the audience screams its approval at Rafita. That, in turn, is the cue for him to arch his head backwards, acknowledging their adulation.

Allegorical struggle

He may not yet be in double digits so far as his age is concerned, but he has the kind of "I-am-the-king-of-the-ring" confidence of a fighter twice his age.

The difference with Rafita is that he does not kill the animal. And, for many, that seems to have an inherent attraction.

Bull fighting has been a tradition here for 400 years. People are drawn to its allegorical properties about the struggle between life and death.

But one recent survey found 84% of Mexicans do not like the cruelty. And whilst there are more bullrings than ever, the number of "corridas" or bullfighting festivals, has dropped from 500 in the 1970s to fewer than 400 today.

Rafael Mirabal, Rafita
Rafita does not kill the bulls he fights
It seems that with Rafita, spectators get the spectacle without the violence.

After 10 minutes, Rafita triumphs. The bull is led out of the ring, disorientated but alive.

It is time to soak up the deafening appreciation of those watching with a lap of honour. Rafita looks born to the part, courteously throwing back the hats that have been tossed his way in the ancient sign of recognition and respect.

Afterwards, in between the autograph hunters and photo seekers, I manage to talk to him again.

"I really enjoyed it," he says. "The bull was tough, but I got the better of him."

I also snatch a question about the rest of his life.

"Of course I also like playing with computers and with my friends," he replies.

"But right now I have my fighting to concentrate on."

Focused words from this highly driven young person. Maybe the bulls should take note.

The mini matador wows a Mexican crowd

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30 Jan 06 |  Americas
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16 Aug 05 |  Manchester
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21 Jan 05 |  South Asia
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