In the end, it was not a half-ton of snorting animal fury that doomed Spain's lone British bullfighter, or even his age. After decades as a cultural oddity, a tireless quest for respect and duels with hundreds of horned beasts, Frank Evans, 62, has succumbed to a bum knee.

The butcher's son from Manchester who goes by the showbiz name "El Ingles" -- the Englishman -- is quick to admit he never hit it big, never fought in the top-rate arenas in Madrid or Seville that are bullfighting's most hallowed grounds.

"I am probably a second-stroke, third-class bullring type fighter," Evans said in an interview. "I am not a star."

Indeed, his first stab at Spain's national pastime back in the 1960s was a flop. Later, he would endure long dry spells with nothing but small-time bouts and the embarrassment of sharing the bill with teenagers as he neared 50. Alas, he blossomed late in his career.

Still, Evans is the only Briton ever to reach the profession's top level -- matador. These men kill animals weighing up to 1,400 pounds, unlike novices who battle younger, lighter bulls or simply poke the animals with spikes, bleeding and weakening them before the full-fledged masters step in for the death blow.

And Evans is going out kicking and screaming -- literally. He curses the old rugby injury that's back to haunt him, forcing him to fight sparingly on a leg shot full of cortisone. Knee-replacement surgery awaits after this, his last season, and then he hangs up his cape and sword.

Evans can barely get his lips around the word retirement, however, and if the operation goes well, he doesn't know if he'll withstand the lure of the ring.

"It's like your old girlfriend ringing you up. You shouldn't go back. But you just can't resist, and you go back again," said Evans, a loquacious man with an easy laugh.

The ancient and deadly minuet has very few practitioners from countries with no bullfighting tradition -- perhaps 1 percent of the 1,000 bullfighters active in Spain, said Juan Belmonte, a bullfighting critic for the TV station Canal Sur in Seville.

But over the years a few have made names for themselves. Sidney Franklin was a renowned Jewish matador from Brooklyn. Later came another American, John Fulton, who fought in Madrid's Las Ventas ring, bullfighting's equivalent of Madison Square Garden, with famously demanding fans. He became an accomplished taurine artist, painting bulls with blood from animals he'd killed.

From Japan came Yasuhiro Shimoyama, who called himself "El Nino del Sol Naciente," or Child of the Rising Sun. He was gored and partially paralyzed in 1995. Kazak Manzor Said, an apprentice bullfighter, is a Palestinian born in Haifa, Israel.

Evans says being British helped land him gigs as a novelty attraction. But he struggled to be taken seriously -- indeed, to make a living -- even in his best years.

Fulton, who died of natural causes in 1998, used to complain that being American denied him outright stardom, according to Bill Lyon, an American writer and bullfighting critic who has lived in Spain since the 1960s. But, Lyon said, "an argument could be made that Fulton fought as much as he did only because he was a curiosity."

Not so, says Belmonte, who insisted Spain's bullfighting world is blind to passports and gender -- a few women have made a modest mark -- and if you're good, fans will clap.

He described Evans as run-of-the-mill. But Juan Miguel Nunez, a bullfighting writer for the national news agency Efe, praised the Briton's bravery and showmanship, which he called "a duality that's hard to juggle in bullfighting."

Evans stands out not only for his Britishness but for sticking it out until age 62. Bullfighters tend to retire in their mid-fifties and most active ones are in their twenties and thirties.

Toreador Julian "El Juli" Lopez, fighting in Pontevedra, Spain, in 1999. Most active bullfighters are in their twenties or thirties, and nearly all are Spanish.