Merced team tackles ‘bloodless’ bullfighting with passion, energy

rgiwargis@mercedsunstar.comNovember 19, 2013 

— Every time Saberina Toste walks her boyfriend to the bullring, she gives him a kiss – always wondering if it will be the last time.

“We kiss each other, I wish him good luck, then I go in and watch and pray for the best,” Toste said. “It could be the last time we kiss. You never know.”

The 18-year-old Gustine resident and her boyfriend of two years are involved with the Amadores de Merced, a 24-member team of area forcado bullfighters.

The traditional Portuguese “bloodless” bullfight involves eight men inside the ring with one bull. The combined weight of the men is intended to equal the weight of a 1,300-pound bull.

The goal of the forcados is to wrestle the bull into submission without injuring the animal. The first bullfighter tries to grab the bull’s head, while the other seven huddle around to subdue it. Once they stop the bull from moving, they release it and back away from the animal, marking the end of the fight.

Toste’s boyfriend, Jose Pedro Teixeira, has been lucky. Besides a few bumps and bruises, he’s never sustained any major injuries during the bullfights.

Team captain Joao Azevedo hasn’t been as fortunate. The 27-year-old has broken ribs and teeth, and has been knocked unconscious. Despite those injuries, Azevedo said, being a forcado is like playing a sport he can’t get enough of.

“It’s kind of like a bug that grows inside you, it’s just something that you want to do,” said Azevedo, who has been bullfighting for eight years. “The hardest part is when the bull wins. But when you do something you like, the injuries are not that big.”

Azevedo’s wife cheers him on from the sidelines, never forgetting the risk of associated with the heart-pounding “bloodless” sport.

“In the beginning I was nervous; now I’m just used to it,” said Kerie Azevedo. “People do get hurt; people have been to the hospital. It’s pretty dangerous.”

The Merced team practices at least once a week and travels for dozens of competitions during the season, which runs from April to October. They’ve participated in bullfights in Colorado, Nevada and Canada, Azevedo said.

Azevedo, a native of Portugal, said he began his career at age 9 with cows and graduated to bulls 10 years later.

“Before you jump the wall, you’re thinking about whether you will get hurt and what the bull is going to do,” he said. “Once you jump the wall, you just think about finishing and getting the job done.”

For the last five years, the Amadores de Merced – the youngest group of forcados in the state – have formed more than a team; they’ve become a family.

“Not everyone can be a forcado. It’s in their blood. It’s a part of them,” Toste said. “There’s a sense of ‘I need to do this.’ It’s pride for them. It’s not just their hobby, it’s truly a part of them.”

The next bullfight for the Amadores de Merced is scheduled for next year.

Sun-Star staff writer Ramona Giwargis can be reached at (209) 385-2477 or

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