Birds of Prey: Hispanic Bloodsport of Cockfighting

Culture Facts

Where: Most hispanic communities like mexico, Cuba, Philippines, New Mexico
What’s it about: Grizzly death to the hilt between two cock birds, armed with razor blades
Where to see: Still legal in parts of South America, Philippines and Southern US States

Where It’s At

Cockfighting originated in Asia more than three millennia ago, and took root in the Iberian peninsula (after reaching Europe from South Asia). All over the world, in Hispanic influenced cultures like Cuba and Puerto Rico, cockfighting is practised in formal and informal settings alike.

As a former Spanish colony, the Philippines is no exception, and here, both rich and poor, rural and urban, enjoy the sport immensely. With unemployment so high here it’s no wonder cockfighting is so popular as a way to escape the grind of daily life. Called ‘cockpits’ these venues are scattered all over the country and Sunday is the biggest day for fights.

What Happens at a Cockfight

Men spend years breeding, raising and training their birds to perform at their best and it’s a frequent source of tension between spouses. Money needed for raising children is often diverted to the practice, and some birds eat better than the owner’s kids. The island of Negros is considered to the best breeding ground for cocks.
Only male cocks are used because their innate sense of territory pushes them to kill their opponent with their sharpened blades of razors attached to their claws. It’s a brutal way to win some money though the fight is over extremely quickly; the winner is declared once the loser has been dealt the mortal blow or by the least injured animal.

Cockfighting isn’t for the squeamish because the loser either ends up being killed during the fight or suffering an untimely fate in the owner’s cooking pot. Four cock derbies are popular, with each contestant entering 4 birds; winning earns one point, a draw a half a point. At the end of the day the largest number of points wins. In Cebu recently, a prize of over $300,000 US dollar was offered to the winner.

Visiting a Cockfight

If you’re interested, you can attend cockfights from Manila to all over Mexico, where small indoor stadiums are set up to accommodate the crowds. In Baja California it’s particularly popular, and even in some US states it’s still legally practised. In New Mexico, where the sport was recently banned, illegal fights continue though the penalties for being caught are high.

Animal rights groups believe the sport is cruel, and amounts to nothing more than torture. (Cocks are defending themselves with their own claws is one thing, but attaching razorblades to make it a fight to the death can be considered to be inhumane). Attempts to outlaw the sport (still legal in States like Arkansas, and Louisiana, USA) have increased in momentum. The activist’s focus has been on the illegal gambling it encourages (because a ban on cockfighting may be impossible, as residents enjoy hunting and rodeos, too), something the tax authorities and state governments want to stamp out.

Though advances in some countries, like Vietnam, have wiped the sport out an all out ban on the sport is dismissed in places like Mexico and the Philippines, because people have been doing it for so long it’s an integral part of their Sunday culture.

More Information

Cockfighting: Chicken Soup for the Soul
A traveler’s recount of a Cockfight in Mexico

Facts about Cockfighting
The factual and legal lowdown

By Dave Lowe