Cock-Fighting in the Philippines

While baseball, football and basketball draw the largest crowds in the United States, cock-fighting is the sport of the masses in the Philippines.

Cock-fighting is a major diversion and source of income for many Filipinos. In addition to betting on the contests, many afficionados raise their own birds and invest a great deal of time, energy and money on them.

Although most Westerners find it difficult to think of a chicken cast as a fearsome combatant, these feisty birds really can put up a fight. Cockfighters are specially bred roosters trained from birth in the ancient arts of war and fed on carefully concocted diets. The inch-long, hard spurs on each rooster's legs become dangerous weapons when the bird jumps through the air, furiously beating his wings and trying to stab his opponent.

During practice sparring, the trainers cover the birds' spurs with miniature boxing gloves, but at the cockpit a deadly, razor-sharp, two-inch blade is strapped onto each bird's left foot.

Though the birds are the center of attraction during the day-long events, cock-fighting isn't all that goes on at a cockpit. The arena, which resembles an American boxing stadium, comes wildly alive during the five-minute betting interval before each fight. Unlike at the track, where betting simply involves buying a ticket at a window, placing a bet at a cockpit requires complicated hand signals and lots of shouting and screaming. Bets are set through informal bookies, who earn a healthy commission.

When the fight is over, losers settle their debts by throwing money rolled up into little wads across the cockpit to those who won. There are no guards around to make sure people pay up. Instead, fear of reprisals makes the system work.

The actual fights are surprisingly short but exceedingly bloody. Owners put the cocks in a foul and angry mood by restraining them and having other chickemns peck at them. Then the owners unsheath the fighters' swords, put them into the ring, and the fight til the death begins.

The first bird to die loses, but there is no real victory for the winner. If a bird is still in reasonably good condition after the fight, its wounds are stitched up, and it is sent back into the ring for another go.

As for those birds that can't fight anymore, their owners bring them home and turn them into dinner.