14 Oct
As integral to Filipino culture as fake boobs in America or dry wit to the Brits


The referee made sure the two curved razors were snugly fastened to each of Domingo’s grey reptilian feet. This battle-cock is a trained killer. Imported from the United States to the Philippines for his superior genetics (possibly from these guys?), Domingo flares his feathers—his comb stands erect on his head like a bright red avian mohawk groomed for combat.

Each of the owners face their cocks toward one another, stroking them, preparing them for attack. Regardless of a family’s income, most all Filipinos raise their own cock for the arena. It takes approximately a year-and-a-half to raise and properly train a fighting fowl. Battle-cocks are typically fed the best grains, vitamin supplements and cock steroids. Die-hard owners will even hire trainers to help exercise the cock’s muscles (No, they don’t do cock push-ups). The end result is a tougher, meaner, leaner cock…a battle-cock, if you will…

“Then, blood spills. Shiny crimson gobs splatter across the dirt ring. One bird falters drunkenly, then collapses.”

Hit the Jump to continue reading about our adventure at the Valenzuela cockpit arena…

Words by Jared Morgan and Arhlene Ayalin

Fueled by insult, Domingo’s anger festers as his beak is tauntingly smacked against his adversary’s. It was Sunday and the air was heavy with moisture. Almost a thousand spectators flocked to the Valenzuela Cockpit & Sports Arena in Bulacan province to bet on the feathered competitors. It was as loud as any day in American stock exchange—bettors shouted their wagers and flailed arms that carried fingered gestures to bookies.

“They shout their bets…meron, which means have…or wala, meaning none,” said arena owner Bobby Santiago.

The bout begins and Domingo is dropped just a foot from his enemy. Feathers scatter from wings and mingle with stirred dirt as each bird slashes and pecks the other in a bloody frenzy. The two birds gnash at one another close to a foot off the ground. A whirling zephyr of bright feathers, gleaming blades and cacophonous Filipino screams fill the small arena, with nearly 2000 eyes trained on every agile thrust of the cocks’ beaks and sharpened steel gaffs. Then, blood spills. Shiny crimson gobs splatter across the dirt ring. One bird falters drunkenly, then collapses. Cockfights can last upwards of ten minutes, but this bout was over just short of that. The now bloody Domingo is lifted from the arena floor, victorious. His lifeless foe is thrown to the ground three times by the referee to signify its defeat. The crowd erupts. Domingo’s left wing is limp and lacerated. He is taken to the arena surgeon to have his wound mended—this was his first fight and may be his last. The loser is plucked and offered to Domingo’s owner and will be used to feed the man’s family.

Called Sabong in the Philippines, this blood sport is as Filipino as American apple pie or British humor. No, it’s not pretty and certainly not humane, but an event as ritual as fastballs and double plays in America. Almost all of the attendees are working class men from the local province, fitted in cotton T-shirts and faded, torn jeans. The few women in attendance are either cashiers in the betting area or vendors selling water, juices, sandwiches, cracker snacks and cigarettes. This is a man’s world. Vicious and wagering.

A few beggars sat outside the arena—one was a woman holding an empty prescription bottle in her left hand and a child in her right. She can’t afford a rooster of her own with five children to feed and medication bills to pay. Birds like Domingo (given they are healthy enough to fight) can fetch a price upwards of $400. More than she will likely see this year.

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