“Wake up!”

My eyes snap open. My first thought is that it’s past noon and I slept in. I look at my phone and see it’s barely 8. At this realization I say what all daughters say to their dads, “five more minutes.”

My dad knows this trick.

“Wake up, we’re going to the fights.”

At that I jump out of bed and pretty much run to catch up.

The fights. I’ve been waiting all year to go the the fights. I know what you’re thinking, she’s in the Philippines, the home of MannyPacquiao, she must be talking about some awesome traditional boxing. Sadly, this story isn’t about the Pac Man, unless you’re referring to the rooster I named Pac Man but I don’t think you are. No, this story is about rooster fighting. Or “sabong” in the Philippines. Also known as cockfighting but I refuse to say that word because it makes me simultaneously giggle and cringe, so instead I call in Chicken Fight Club, much to my dad’s dismay.

Some people have dads who are butchers, bakers, and maybe even candlestick makers. My dad, in addition to many things, raises and fights roosters. At our home in Cavite, he houses 5-6 roosters at a given time, which makes sleeping in past 6am nearly impossible. He has another 30 or so roosters at what I like to call The Rooster Farm. It’s essentially where other owners house their rooster fighters. Almost like a rooster stable, or co-op. I don’t know how he chooses which roosters to fight, but I do know “it’s never a young one.”PI_2015-16

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The journey to the fight is more populated than I thought it would be. For some reason I pictured Chicken Fight Club to take place in some secluded part of a jungle with panthers or tigers roaming around the outskirts.  Nope, apparently it takes place behind a gate off a well populated street right next to a Jollibee. After passing through the gate we walk a down a dirt path, tropical foliage on either side of us.

Cockfighting in the Philippines

Slowly I start hearing chaotic yelling. There’s a bit of a rhythm to it, like everyone is saying the same word, but at different times. “Ah,” I say to myself as we round the corner, “it’s the cockpit.” The cockpit itself is exactly as I imagined it. Beneath a tree, made out of bamboo, surrounded by a crazy amount of people. Very Filipino.

Cockfighting in the Philippines

The crowd around the pit is large and I can barely see over anyone’s head, but before I can complain (something I’m extremely good at when things don’t go my way) my dad pulls me through the crowd and past a small bamboo fence. I start to feel bad for the crowd behind us, I feel like we’re cutting this non existent-line. Those feelings vanish when I see my dad is pulling me towards are front row, boxed seats. Apparently my dad is important in the chicken fight club world because one of the guys who runs the place make people move off the bench so my brother and I can sit. He’s essentially the Tyler Durden of Chicken Fight Club. “Oh my god,” I think to myself, “is this what’s is like to be famous? This fighting pit in the middle of the junk is Vegas and I am Beyonce. Finally. 

Cockfighting in the Philippines

The gist of chicken fight club is pretty straightforward; two roosters, or cocks, are place in close proximity to each other and fight. To the death. And there are blades attached to their feet. Oh, and there’s betting. Very loud, chaotic, but somehow very organized betting. The process of betting can be complicated so let me walk you through the process in a way only an observant person can. To place a bet you wait for a couple of guys to go into the middle of the ring and yell something to the crowd. You yell back. Bet made.

My brother is quick to tell me I’m wrong. Apparently, when the guys go in the middle of the ring they ask something along the lines of “which side?” In response, people in the crowd will gesture with their hands which side they want to bet for. Then, once they get the attention of the “bet keeper” they say how much they’re betting. The “bet keeper,” by the way, remembers everyone’s bet without writing a single thing down.

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The fight itself is a bit anticlimactic. Actually, the problem is the most exciting part is the fight is the first 3 seconds when the roosters jump and attack one another in the air. According my dad, whoever is higher during those first moments of the fight will win. This is mostly due to the fact that the blade attached to the rooster’s foot extends backwards and is curved in such a way that a downward strike is deadly to the opponent. It’s gruesome, it’s animal cruelty, it would make PETA and SarahMcLachlan very very sad.

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The entire experience is new and exciting. I mean, I’m in the middle of the jungle, sitting on a bamboo bench, watching the Filipino version of baseball. Though I enjoy watching this sport that has become a part of Filipino heritage, I don’t enjoy watching animals suffer and soon the excitement of the fighting starts wearing off. My brother and I make our way to the main road to catch a tricycle and I pass a young girl and her father defeathering a rooster together. It’s a bit like a child and their parent playing catch in the front yard together. Except instead of a yard it’s a pit in the middle of the jungle, and instead of playing catch they’re fighting roosters. But other than that, exactly the same.

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I don’t enjoy watching animals suffer, and I don’t enjoy gambling. But I do enjoy spending time with my dad and experiencing something that has a strong place in my heritage. I don’t know what kind of person that makes me. Definitely not Beyonce.

If you’re in the Philippines and want to experience Chicken Fight Club, by all means do. It’s exciting, it’s a look into our culture, and it’s a great story to tell the folks back home. If you have any aversion to animals dying, then I recommend you don’t go to Chicken Fight Club and instead go to the Jollibee on the main road. It’s delicious.

Thanks for reading, folks.

Til next time.

Much Love. Always.

-SAM