Roosters at a Cock Fight in the Philippines

Cock Fights in the Philippines: When Roosters Attack



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However we may feel about cock fighting in America, it is a Sunday tradition here in the Philippines for many of the men in the community. Women generally do not attend, but despite the brutal and bloody main event the cock fight is certainly an interesting look into Filipino culture. I found myself watching the intricate ways that bets are placed, how roosters are sized up for the fight, and the gamesmanship and bluffing that go on both inside and outside the arena. In fact, to me watching the people was much more interesting than watching the roosters.

  • The Cock Fight - March 2004

    The Cock Fight - March 2004
    Before the roosters even get near the "Cockpit" arena, they are matched up for their bouts. Depending on whether the owner of the rooster thinks his bird will win or not, he will bet meron (winner) or wala (loser). He will ante 2,000 pesos (over $35) just to enter his bird, and depending on whether he picks the correct outcome of his bird's fight, his payout can be substantial. I have no idea how they matched the cocks up for the fight, but there was an intricate system going on with the man in the center of the group weighing a hundred unseen variables to match the right pair for each fight.

  • The Cock Fight - March 2004

    The Cock Fight - March 2004
    ...And the betting began again with renewed vigor! Even though one bird might seem to have more spunk or better physical attributes as a fighter, the outcome of the fight really came down to a coin toss in terms of odds. An errant flick of the spur often seemed to deliver an unlikely death blow leaving the supposed champion to be cooked up for loser's lunch. More than most other types of gambling that I've seen, cockfighting really is completely a luck of the draw. Although it certainly is more violent than any other type of gambling I've seen.

  • The Cock Fight - March 2004

    The Cock Fight - March 2004
    Let the games begin!... Oh wait. Several times during the afternoon I spent at the cockpit, the roosters would behave like...well, roosters, and peck at the bloodied floor of the arena looking for little bits of food while walking nonchalantly within a few feet of each other.

  • The Cock Fight - March 2004

    The Cock Fight - March 2004
    Then by some unseen cue they would become aware of their mortal enemy they just met who was brazenly occupying the same cockpit. The roosters would spread their neck feathers in an effort to look more like a feather duster and size each other up. Playing a game of...well, chicken to determine who would strike first.

  • The Cock Fight - March 2004

    The Cock Fight - March 2004
    The fight would begin with blur of feathers and blood with the bird who held the high ground usually ending up as the victor.

  • The Cock Fight - March 2004

    The Cock Fight - March 2004
    Very quickly one or both birds would fall unresponsive to the floor of the arena. When this happened, the referee would force them together to try and spark another bloody exchange.

  • The Cock Fight - March 2004

    The Cock Fight - March 2004
    Very often this technique would work and the seemingly lifeless birds would spring up for one last lethal dance.

  • The Cock Fight - March 2004

    The Cock Fight - March 2004
    The spectators were completely unfazed by the bloody fights to the death going on below.

  • The Cock Fight - March 2004

    The Cock Fight - March 2004
    ...Then the money changes hands, and the next fight begins. Typically the event will last for the entire afternoon and include up to 40 fights.

  • The Cock Fight - March 2004

    The Cock Fight - March 2004
    The Cockpit: It's appropriate that this steel cage death match was indeed surrounded by a steel cage. Built like an amphitheater with balconies, the spectators crowded as close as possible to the railings and arena. Not so much to get the best view of the carnage below, but to be sure they could get a taker for their next bet. You see, the main point of cockfighting is the potential payout for those betting on the birds.

  • The Cock Fight - March 2004

    The Cock Fight - March 2004
    A peanut vendor was working his way through the crowd, almost like you might see at your local ball park.

  • The Cock Fight - March 2004

    The Cock Fight - March 2004
    The Cockfighter: From the way this fellow behaved around the cockpit, I could tell he didn't come there to lose. Roald Dahl described one of his more memorably disreputable characters in a story as "having arithmetic in his fingers". As I watched this cockfighter nimbly preening his bird I couldn't help but be reminded of this description.

  • The Cock Fight - March 2004

    The Cock Fight - March 2004
    The referee inspects the sharpened steel spurs that make these fights so brutal and quick. I couldn't help but think that Mr. Arithmetic in his fingers might also have something up his sleeve to better his odds.

  • The Cock Fight - March 2004

    The Cock Fight - March 2004
    Just moments before the actual fight, the cocks are forced to face off so the crowd can gauge which bird has more fire in his belly. I still have no idea what makes roosters fight each other to the death upon sight with no hens in the area, but this faceoff ritual seems to really get them hopping mad at each other.

  • The Cock Fight - March 2004

    The Cock Fight - March 2004
    After the birds are pulled away from each other the bedlam of betting begins!

  • The Cock Fight - March 2004

    The Cock Fight - March 2004
    Standing on the balcony and looking down on the jostling, yelling chaos below me I was reminded of the footage I've seen of the New York Stock Exchange. Ironically, one of the bettors even had a baseball cap with the NYSE logo on it. The men in this photo are all trying to find a taker for their bets using hand signals that I could not comprehend. They actually would throw money back and forth to the bookie using a system with no records, receipts or anything like that, but to my uneducated eye it seemed to work flawlessly.

  • The Cock Fight - March 2004

    The Cock Fight - March 2004
    Often in an effort to heat the betting to a white hot fever pitch, the cocks would be placed on the ground to face off again so the crowd could divine which one to put their money on. Note the rooster on the left had to be held by his tail feathers to keep him from prematurely attacking the bird on the right.