VILLANUEVA DE LA CONCEPCION, Spain A 65-year-old retired bullfighter who had knee replacement and quadruple bypass surgery strutted back into the ring Sunday and won two trophies the ears of the beast he had just slain.
The setting was anything but grand for Frank Evans: a lowest-possible-category ring in a hillside village practically in the middle of nowhere, with fans hardly as demanding as the tough aficionados of big time arenas like those in Madrid or Seville.
Still, there stood Spain's only British bullfighter, a slightly built father of two and grandfather of five, taking on a black specimen weighing 925 pounds, as a merciless Andalusian sun blazed down on his balding pate.
"It felt fantastic. It is where I am happiest," a sweaty Evans, who goes by the showbiz name of 'El Ingles' the Englishman said in a ringside interview after his first bout in three years.
Afterward, when judges awarded him the animal's severed ears recognition of a kill well-done Evans smiled broadly as he circled the ring and showed off his souvenirs, then gave them to a friend and simply waved his bloodied hands.
Evans is the first to admit he is anything but a superstar bullfighter, having never made it to the top-flight arenas.
He retired in 2005 and had knee replacement in 2006. He started training for a comeback, but then had a quadruple bypass last September.
His four-decade career has been an endless quest for respect, seeking to overcome his status as a cultural oddity. He is the only Briton to have reached the profession's top rank: matador.
Matadors kill animals weighing more than 1,300 pounds, as opposed to novices who fight younger, smaller animals or other lower-level colleagues who poke bulls with spikes, bleeding and weakening them until the master steps in for the death blow.
Evans took part in a charity fundraiser Sunday that did involve younger bulls. Technically, until he fights an adult one, he has not come out of retirement. But as far as he is concerned, on this day he proved himself.
"For me it confirms to all these doubters that I am fit enough to do this," he said.
Most bullfighters these days are in their 20s and 30s, and tend to retire in their 50s. But is not all that uncommon for matadors to last well into their 60s. Curro Romero, a well-known fighter, bowed out in 2000 at the age of 66. Juan Belmonte, a bullfighting critic for the Spanish TV station Canal Sur, said "the head is more important that the body, and this becomes more valuable as we get older."
Evans puts it this way: "Age is just a number."
He hopes to land a bout with fully grown bulls in a major ring. The first thing he will do, though, is turn 66 on Monday.