COALINGA, Calif. – Bullfighting (search) might be more common in Madrid or Lisbon, but under a canopy of oak trees in Coalinga, Calif., Dennis Borba makes his stand.
Borba is the lone American matador in the Fiesta Brava (search), a Portuguese tradition of bloodless bullfighting, now held in the United States.
"To the Portuguese people, it's like a spectacle, a show, and to myself, this is an art. It's an art, a profession, what I do," Borba told Fox News.
The term matador comes from the Spanish verb "matar," with means to kill. Bullfighting has been traced back to ancient Greek culture, where the sport was known to be practiced on the island of Crete 6,000 years ago; gladiators fought bulls in the Roman games during the time of Julius Caesar (search).
Borba is also a trainer, teaching truckers, salesmen and even Hollywood stuntmen the secrets of the ring. Unlike traditional bullfighting, Borba spares the bulls from injury or death; the animals are only wrestled, not stabbed. Borba developed custom Velcro darts to replace the sharp lances used in Spanish-style contests.
"I wouldn't say it's a sport because we're not really fighting with the bull, and we'd never probably beat the bull if we had to take him on one-on-one," Borba said.
But critics aren't satisfied with Borba's protective measures. Gretchen Wyler of the Humane Society of the United States (search) said that even bloodless bullfights exploit animal rights.
"There is no doubt the animal is teased, harassed, frightened, confused, what am I doing here, and that's not kind, that's exploitative," Wyler said.
Under California law, bullfights must coincide with a religious celebration, often as part of fundraisers for local churches.
Bullfighting is banned in every state; some, like Massachusetts and Florida, have a ban of bloodless bullfighting as well. But the matador doesn't always have the upper hand. In bloodless bullfighting, only the bull is guaranteed a bloodless fight; sometimes the matadors don't fair so well.
Although amateur bullfighting has grown in popularity in Europe and Latin America, it still is not widespread here. Only a few organizations exist that promote or offer information about bullfighting.
A matador school in San Antonio offers tours of Mexican buildings and information on the cultural aspects of bullfighting. California's Portuguese community stages around 30 bloodless bullfights each year.